By Charles Pearl
The owners of Good Acres — Diana and George Shaffner — moved to Kentucky in 2014 from Abilene, Texas, where they had a small ranch for rescued horses. Diana says they loved the farm. “But because we were so far from town, Diana really felt isolated,” George adds. “I can deal with isolation but she can’t. She’s more herself when she has people she can visit and talk to.”
Everybody knows how great Kentucky is for horses, Diana says, so that was an attraction.
“We had no roots to Kentucky other than thinking this might be a good place. It’s very beautiful and the cost of living and property taxes are extremely far less here.”
Diana, 47, a native of Munich, Germany, has worked in horse rescue many years. She met George, originally from Los Angeles, in 1998 and they married in 1999. He worked in information technology for oil and gas companies in Houston.
At Good Acres, George handles maintenance, mowing, building fences and stalls, and meticulous carpentry. He likes creative work and doing things for the animals. The farm had no buildings on the property before they purchased it. Now, there are four metal buildings, including a large stable for the donkeys, horses and pigs; a smaller stable for the cows; a machinery and maintenance facility; and their office and three-bedroom house, which they share with the dogs and cats.
“My obligation to the animals is to make sure they always get what they need,” George says. “What I’m hoping to see is that what we’ve got here gets finished, and everything gets prettied-up. I want more time to spend with the animals instead of building and working and mowing and fence-fixing all the time. I love getting to know the animals and their feelings.”
He says Good Acres Sanctuary will be his final home.
“I like that Kentucky is green and rolling, and that we’re close to Frankfort and Lawrenceburg. Everybody here seems to be nice. It’s a comfortable place to be,” George said.
Diana’s longtime German friend living in Austria, Michael Aufhauser — who founded Gut Aiderbichl, a network of sanctuaries for hundreds of farm and rescued animals — was her inspiration in deciding to take in a few farm animals at Good Acres.
“Michael, George and I incorporated together and formed the nonprofit, ‘GA Sanctuaries — US Aiderbichl Foundation Inc.’,” Diana says. “However, due to a near fatal heart incident, following a coma and strokes, Michael was unable to move forward with our plans of making the Kentucky organization into the U.S. branch of Gut Aiderbichl.”
But the Shaffners retained the nonprofit name and now the GA letters stand for Good Acres Sanctuary, which is funded solely through donations and sponsorships.
Aufhauser’s compassionate work led Diana to thinking about saving animals other than horses. An animal lover as far back as she can remember, Diana became a vegetarian as a teenager and a vegan 10 years ago.
“I wanted to create a place where people can come and experience animals that were typically getting zero compassion or consideration before they arrived here,” Diana says. “I think it needs to be rethought how we pick out some animals like dogs and cats and do almost anything for them. We spend billions of dollars on them and call ourselves animal lovers.
“And we put other animals to unbelievable torture. It’s not just that they get killed. The life they live is beyond torturous in many cases. And we don’t even think about this.”
Educational, healing center
Diana wants Good Acres to be a tranquil educational center where adults and children — “without being judged for whatever they eat or buy — can meet cows, pigs and donkeys and see what loving creatures they are. We have a lot of misconceptions about them — that they are dumb or smell bad. Those are ideas that help us shut them out of our idea of kindness.
“The farm is not so much a petting zoo but a place where people can visit during events. We’re not open regularly like a store would be.”
The Shaffners don’t want a lot of animals because they want to give the ones they have enough one-on-one attention that they become familiar and calm around visitors.
“However, I would like to add chickens because they’re probably the most abused animals of all in the food system,” Diana says.
One pig at Good Acres is Lex, who made TV news while running around Lexington last summer.
“We think he was in somebody’s back yard,” and probably broke loose shortly before being killed and served at a July 4 barbecue, Diana said. “That’s illegal in Fayette County, which is probably why no one came forward and claimed him.”
Good Acres had a vegan potluck lunch on July 3 and a Lexington woman, hearing about the runaway pig, was determined to go back and catch him. She purchased a “humane wire trap” and accomplished her goal.
With TV coverage, Lex arrived at Good Acres on July 5, “and has been happy ever since,” Diana says. “When he got here he was little. He since has grown into a big boy. But he’s one of the sweetest guys. He’s such a survivor. He was seen a couple of times in a McDonald’s parking lot, just standing there.”
Lex’s companion is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Charlie. “It was a case of being cute and little and then he grew big.” After two years the owner wanted to get rid of him.
“He was lonely here and then Lex materialized. It was perfect timing. Everybody told me they will fight and I would have to be careful socializing them. I put them in opposite horse stalls so they could see each other. Then I let Charlie out to walk over to Lex’s gate and sniff through the rails, and they loved each other from the start.”
Since moving to Kentucky, Diana — who has college degrees in education and business — has become involved in counseling programs for recovering addicts, traumatized children and abused women. She’s the board chair for Anderson County’s Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
“Addiction is not something I had ever experienced from my own background or family. But when I moved here I met people who told me how severe a problem this is here. I thought I could somehow incorporate healing work with the farm.
“The pigs are such characters. I love it when people come out — maybe suffering with depression and other things — and gather around the pigs or cows. The animals will do something funny, which they do frequently, and people laugh and have a relaxing, peaceful time.”
Hank, a palomino horse, is becoming famous at the sanctuary for his flamboyant personality, and his stunning yellow coat and white mane and tail.
“He was given to me by the Kentucky Equine Humane Center in Nicholasville,” Diana says. “They had him for over two years. His behavior was such that they didn’t want to adopt him out to a private person, so they asked me if I would take him.”
She said yes before seeing him, even though she had heard about his behavioral problems.
“We hit it right off. He’s one of the best horses I have ever had. He has such a funny, outgoing personality, he gets even severely-depressed people to laugh. If he were a human and had a career, he would be a standup comedian because he can’t be serious for very long. He has to do something goofy.”
Diana has a calming presence and animals sense her love, kindness and understanding. She says horses with problematic or dangerous behavior all tell her what they need from her as a trainer.
“I don’t shove a preconceived set of training methods down their throat. I feel their upset behavior is a sign of not being well, psychologically speaking. I know they want to feel balanced and well. So I just allow them to tell me what they need from me, and who they need me to be for them to grow.
“I then change my personality, communication style and training method according to the individual horse’s needs. Things usually fall into place from there within a few days. It’s really not difficult. It’s about being willing to listen and leaving one’s big trainer ego at the door.”
Mystical love story
Bridgette, a Holstein dairy cow, and Lucky, a red angus calf, came to Good Acres from Indiana.
Not long before their arrival, Diana decided to add cows to the farm but didn’t quite know how to go about it.
Then one day while standing in line at Panera Bread sandwich shop in Frankfort — waiting to order coffee — a silent voice inside told her to look at Craigslist Farm and Garden.
“I was thinking about coffee, not cows. And I don’t do Internet on my phone because of the little screen. I thought I would look on my computer when I get home.”
Then her inner voice said, “Not later…Now.” She got her coffee, sat at a table, reluctantly took out her phone and pulled up Craigslist Farm and Garden. The first ad was from someone needing to get rid of two cows.
“I instantly knew it was a listing I was supposed to see, so I didn’t scroll down further,” she said.
She replied to the ad and soon a woman named Jennifer Jackson called, saying she was trying to find a place where a calf and a mother cow could go together. Jennifer asked Diana what she needed.
Diana said she wasn’t necessarily looking for cows, but said she had a sanctuary and wanted to eventually add them.
“Then Jennifer became so emotional, almost in tears, saying she had prayed for two days and nights straight and was so exhausted trying to find a home where the two cows could go and stay together the rest of their lives,” Diana said.
Jennifer got the angus calf free from a neighbor. She was bottle feeding it. Soon, she realized it would be nice to have a cow nurse him. Jennifer visited a nearby dairy farm and found a mother cow in distress because her first calf, very young, had been taken away from her.
“She screamed and screamed for three days and refused all nourishment,” Diana said. “She was dehydrated and her weight declined drastically. Jennifer agreed to take her for a few dollars to keep her from being butchered.”
Jennifer named the mother cow Bridgette. After arriving at Jennifer’s farm, Bridgette had stopped screaming but was still depressed. She was put in a stall next to the new calf named Lucky. They could see each other and Lucky was excited. But Bridgette didn’t react to him.
“But within 48 hours, she began to pay attention to him and sniff him, and ate and drank a little,” Diana said. “Then Jennifer introduced them in one big stall and all of a sudden Bridgette made up her mind this is going to be my baby, and I’m going to take care of him. She ate and drank up a storm, and her milk production kicked back up and she has been a fierce protector of him.”
Good Acres Sanctuary answered Jennifer’s prayer, and she and her husband transported Bridgette and Lucky to Good Acres in December 2016. Then last April they returned to the sanctuary the Saturday before Easter to attend a “Blessing of the Animals” ceremony and vegan potluck dinner.
Special day at the sanctuary
The Blessing of the Animals and vegan potluck is an annual event and will be Saturday, March 31 this year, starting at 1 p.m. The public is invited.
Michelle Redmon, founder and pastor of Emerge Ministries of Frankfort, will officiate.
“I love blessing the animals because when we bless something, we are acknowledging the perfection God put into it when he created it,” Redmon says. “We are expressing our gratitude and thanking him for his creation and its purpose.”
Redmon says the animals at Good Acres are a blessing to many who are suffering and struggling to relate to people. “The animals have a rescue story of their own, which is inspirational, and they provide therapeutic relief to those who interact with them,” she says.
Curious, always-busy and a little-sassy Pearl, the blind donkey, and her companion, Rosie, a brown crippled donkey, will get their blessings. So will Hank — the handsome palomino and standup comedian — and other beautiful horses, cows, pigs, dogs and cats, who together, somehow, have mystically found a safe and loving home.
Contact Good Acres
For information on special events at Good Acres Sanctuary, go to the website GoodAcres.us or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.