Allowed to grow old: portraits of elderly animals from farm sanctuaries

Blue, an Australian Kelpie rescue dog. Copyright: Isa Leshko
Blue, an Australian Kelpie rescue dog. Copyright: Isa Leshko

For nearly a decade, writer Isa Leshko visited farm animal sanctuaries across the United States to make photographic portraits of old rescued animals. These pictures are featured in her book Allowed to grow old.

In those 10 years of visiting sanctuaries and portraying the stories of rescued animals, she discovered how much suffering these animals endure.

Nearly all of the animals she met for this project went through horrific abuse and neglect prior to their rescue. Leshko: “Yet it is a massive understatement to say that they are the lucky ones. Roughly fifty billion land animals are factory farmed globally each year. It is nothing short of a miracle to be in the presence of a farm animal who has managed to reach old age. Most of their kin die before they are six months old.”

Book cover. Copyright: Isa Leshko

By showing the beauty and dignity of elderly farm animals she wants to invite viewers to think about what we lose by not allowing these animals to grow old.

Isa wasn’t vegan when she started the project, but became vegan during the proces: “When I began this project, I had been a vegetarian through most of my adult life, with a few occasional lapses in my early 20s. I became a vegan after I met Valentino, a Holstein cow who had been rescued from the dairy industry.”

Isa Leshko

The difference between the rescued animals and farm animals is huge. Isa: “Rescued farm animals that live at well-run sanctuaries are treated as individuals with unique likes, dislikes and needs. Farm animals on commercial farms are treated as commodities first and foremost. Decisions relating to their care, as well as when they will be killed, are driven by financial reasons.”

Wild vs bred turkeys
Isa: “Nearly all commercially raised farmed animals have been bred to become as obese as quickly as possible, including those who are reared on ‘humane’ farms. For example, most commercially bred turkeys cannot walk properly let alone roost because their breasts are so large. Even if they are kept in a yard with trees, they are unable to fly up onto tree branches. At sanctuaries I have visited, wild turkeys mingle with rescued turkeys. The difference between a wild turkey and a Broad Breasted White turkey is astounding.”

Through her experiences in the past 10 years Leshko has become a passionate advocate for animals: “The sad reality is that the vast majority of farmed animals reside in factory farms where they live in horrific conditions that deny them the ability to move freely, much less engage in any natural behaviors.”

Isa Leshko is an artist and writer whose work examines themes relating to animal rights, aging, and mortality. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and their cats Alfred and Higgins.


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