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Therapy through animals 

When Pioneer Valley High School student Leslie Torres realized the lamb she had raised for the Future Farmers of America program would be auctioned off and slaughtered, she knew she couldn't let that happen. Torres had helped raise and take care of Lily the lamb, growing closer and fostering a relationship with her.

So when Torres needed help rescuing Lily, Greener Pastures Sanctuary stepped in to help. There, Lily would have a permanent place to stay, and Torres could visit whenever she wanted.

Because of animals like Lily, Diane Dieterich founded Greener Pastures Sanctuary to rescue abused, neglected, and unwanted farm animals. From abandoned goats to hens that were scheduled to be killed, the nonprofit organization offers a place of safety for farm animals and a place of education and therapy for children.

"We've been really removed from farm animals because of the growth of factory farming and reduction of family farming," she said. "Because of this distancing, we reserve our compassion for animals that are allowed in our homes like dogs and cats, but there's nothing for farm animals."

Dieterich was inspired to start Greener Pastures Sanctuary after visiting a farm sanctuary in Southern California, because she realized nothing like that exists in SLO despite its background in agriculture.

She and other Greener Pastures Sanctuary board members help rescue the animals. However, due to the fact that there isn't a central location for the sanctuary, each board member hosts a couple of the rescued animals at their residences in neighborhoods or rural areas.

Currently, the sanctuary offers group tours, education, public tours, extended youth program, special needs programs, internships, volunteer opportunities, and workshops. Children from troubled or abusive backgrounds are invited to visit the sanctuary and learn how to handle, brush, and be gentle with the animals.

"It's astonishing how a really hardened tough kid who's had a lot of abuse or neglect kind of comes out of their shell when they're with an animal," Dieterich said. "It evokes something inside of them so they can feel empathy for a living thing, and they end up becoming a protector instead of a bully."

Dieterich acknowledges that although visitors can opt to just visit a petting zoo, there is a much greater impact from visiting an animal sanctuary. She said the children grow and change after hearing how an animal triumphed and overcame their obstacles.

"We share with the children the history of each of the animals, their resilience and why it's important to show compassion for animals," she said. "They learn that even though we all look different on the outside, we're all really the same on the inside."

In addition, retired teachers create lesson plans centered on the animals themselves. Children are taught about where the animals came from, how they were rescued, and specific questions such as why goats chew, why roosters crow, and why pigs love mud.

While the program focuses on children of all ages, groups like Transitions Mental Health, Options Family of Services, and Hearst Cancer Center are also invited to visit the sanctuary. Dieterich hopes to open an at-risk youth program for children to come spend a full day helping and learning about the animals, in addition to an internship program.

Greener Pastures Sanctuary is currently seeking land to lease and monetary donations, since all expenses for the program are paid out of pocket. In the future, the program aims to take on more animals and increase access for the general public. Visit greenerpasturessanctuary.org to learn more.

Fast fact

The county of San Luis Obispo Public Libraries received a $25,000 donation from the Friends of the Cambria Library, which will be put toward purchasing hundreds of eBooks and audiobooks for adults, teens, and children. Library visitors throughout SLO County will have increased access to hundreds of titles through this donation. For more information, visit slolibrary.org. Δ

New Times Intern Kristine Xu wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tips to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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