Image: Sydney and Debra White
Chitose Suzuki  /  AP file
Debra White, owner of Winslow Farm, is followed by an emu named Sydney while she works at the farm, a wooded 10-acre shelter for abused and abandoned animals in Norton, Mass., on April 7.
updated 4/9/2004 2:24:18 PM ET 2004-04-09T18:24:18

Wilbur was savaged by a dog. Petey didn’t eat much because of his overbite. Noah had kidney stones. Chief was going to be stuffed.

As Debra White strolls through the wooded 10 acres of her Winslow Farm, she tells the stories of each of the animals that waddle, lumber and trot up to greet her, sniff her hands, and nibble at the drawstrings of her jacket.

“They’re my children,” she says, as she stands in a pen inhabited by horses, llamas, emus and other creatures she’s rescued from neglect, or worse.

Winslow Farm is nestled among colonial and split-level ranch homes, on a side street where trucks roar past the parking lot. But stepping through the handmade gate, visitors enter a seemingly enchanted world among the oaks and pines.

On the other side of the fence, soothing music is piped through hidden speakers, and the smell of burning sage fills the air from a fire pit. Stone statues peek out from under bushes, and birdhouses await springtime visitors.

But the most startling element of Winslow Farm is its inhabitants.

Cats mill underfoot, scamper up fence posts and skulk across the rooftops of buildings. Emus pick through leaves. Sheep and pigs loll side-by-side. Peacocks rattle their tailfeathers. Goats and ponies wander up to sniff visitors. The sound of crowing, clucking and honking animals fills the air.

“I’ve been blessed enough to be given this opportunity. I suppose I could have sold the land and had a good amount of money come in, and maybe traveled or something, but my mission is to do a good thing,” White said.

600 cats rescued in one year
White, 51, grew up on the property next to the farm. Her father was a mechanical engineer, but was so debilitated by Parkinson’s disease that White says she served as his hands, learning how to build the things that he couldn’t.

She inherited the 10 acres where she now lives from her grandparents, and planned since she was young to start a refuge for animals on the property. She worked three different jobs for 17 years to save enough to start the farm.

By about 1990, having saved enough to clear the land and build a post-and-beam house, she began capturing feral cats, spaying and neutering them, then setting them free again into wild colonies. In one year alone, she rescued 600 cats, she says.

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About seven years ago, she began seeking other animals. The first was a peacock kept in a small cage at a Rehoboth farm. A goose followed, then a horse that had been left out to eat poison ivy.

“There are a lot of pets at auctions, pet donkeys and little horses and so forth,” she says. “You’d be bidding against a meat man, and they could possibly go to slaughter, which I found horrendous.”

'A second lease on life'
There are about 235 animals in all, saved from slaughterhouses, auctions, abandonment and abuse. Two dozen volunteers help run the farm, which costs about $90,000 a year to run.

She rattles off the stories of each one as she walks around the farm, a bantam rooster named Napoleon tucked into the crook of her arm.

When a tubby Nigerian dwarf goat named Petey wanders up to her, she describes how his owners planned to have him slaughtered because of his overbite. They took a wrong turn on their way to the slaughterhouse, drove up to the farm and asked Debbie if she wanted him, she said.

Then there’s Noah, a pygmy Nubian goat, who faced euthanasia because of kidney stones. The vet, instead of putting the goat to sleep, operated and gave it to White.

She had to hunt to find Wilbur, a pot-bellied pig who couldn’t be coaxed from his mattress in one of the three outbuildings he shelters in. Kept by an apartment dweller, he was badly wounded by a dog. He had more than 100 stitches when White got him.

“He’s my boy,” she said. “He was one my original rescues. He’s a sweetheart.”

Charlene Smith, 35, has brought her 1-year-old son Jacob to the farm every day for months, holding him as he coos and points at the animals. He won’t sleep unless he’s come for his daily visit, Smith said.

“She does a wonderful job, because a lot of the animals were neglected or abused,” Smith said of White. “What’s amazing is they all coexist so beautifully ... They’ve got a second lease on life here, and they do wonderfully.”

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