By Jason Klaiber
Situated in Skaneateles not far from Otisco Lake, Willowdale Bend Farm Sanctuary will be the place to be this summer for a host of events and a good helping of fun with animals.
In 2019, the 40-plus-acre farm owned by Rick and Joyce Frost was turned into a healing home for animals rescued from slaughter as well as animals that had been injured or could no longer be cared for by their owners.
From that moment onward, its seven-person board of directors has tried its best to acquire funding and create improved pastures and new shelters for the animals so that they’re less spread apart across the property. Just two months ago, Willowdale officially became a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the recovery and advocacy of animals in need.
Dianne Catherman, one of the members of the board, said the more than 60 animals on the farm—many of them retired former residents of Rosamond Gifford Zoo—are all “well socialized” because visitors can get “up close and personal” to pet the animals.
“The unconditional love these animals give is second to none,” Catherman said. “You can tell that they appreciate what we do for them. They’re so kind and gentle.”
Bison, goats, alpacas, emus, chickens, ducks, geese, peacocks, donkeys and ponies are among the animals that can be found at the safe haven.
At 20 years old, Marshmallow the bull is the oldest animal on the farm and oftentimes the first sight greeting people upon their entrance into the sanctuary.
“He’s like the staple of the farm,” Catherman said. “You go there and you pull into the farmhouse and he’s the first thing you see in his big pen. He’s very friendly and he loves it when people come up to him.”
Gordy, a popular pig who sits for his treats, was taken from a local police station to Willowdale Bend after falling off a transport truck in Auburn as a baby. There’s also Sammy the African sulcata tortoise, who loves to have his shell rubbed, and Walter the one-year-old sheep.
Willowdale woolies are beanies made with Walter’s shaved-off fur sewn in that can be found on the merchandise page of the new website willowdalebendfarmsanctuary.com. The purchases go toward vaccinations for the animals and trotter and hoof care.
The Willowdale property at 2080 Willowdale Road in Skaneateles contains a yellow farmhouse with country store antiques, TV monitors and a tavern where craft beers and wines are sold. Outside folks will come across picnic tables, wooden recliner chairs, a sandbox where kids can play, a small pond, and a 30-by-100 pavilion with a stage that can be rented out by bands and others.
Catherman said the farm sanctuary is a place to not only interact with animals but also unwind.
“I love everything about the farm,” she said. “You go there after a hard day of work, and it’s a stress-free atmosphere. There’s also something about knowing the backstories of the animals being rescued.”
The non-profit sanctuary is open for the season starting Mother’s Day weekend and lasting through October. Its hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Events going on this year at the property include a daylong benefit on Saturday, June 10 for both Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and the farm sanctuary. That occasion sponsored by the Cabin Cycles repair shop will feature a motorcycle parts swap meet and a music fest with Matt Chase, Nosmo Kings, Cousin Jake and The Rev as the day’s acts. There will also be a field of craft vendors and food trucks, with general admission at $5 per person and free for kids under 12.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, the farm sanctuary is having its first Pet-a-Palooza as a family-friendly way to promote other animal rescue organizations. The Skaneateles nonprofit is also working on putting on car and motorcycle cruise-ins on Sunday afternoons this season.
For more information, visit willowdalebendfarmsanctuary.com or the sanctuary’s Facebook, YouTube and Instagram pages. Catherman can be contacted at 315-382-5267, and Rick Frost can be reached at rjfr[email protected]. The main number for the farm is 315-415-8925.