Most of us know the story of the child and the starfish. After a storm, thousands of starfish are washed up on the beach. A child walks by and starts throwing individual starfish back into the sea.

A passing adult admonishes the child that his efforts can’t make a difference because there are too many starfish to save. The child throws another starfish into the water and replies, “I made a difference to that one.”

Making a personal effort resonates with the mission of the Lancaster Farm Sanctuary (LFS), says Jil Desso, 52, volunteer, part-time educational coordinator, and tour guide.

“We are surrounded by chicken, turkey, dairy, beef, and pig farms, all animals destined for someone’s dinner plate, but we focus on doing our part in making a difference for each animal that comes to the sanctuary.”

LFS has approximately 100 “residents,” including cows, pigs, sheep, goats, an alpaca, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. They are cared for by about 40 volunteers and one full-time and two part-time staff members.

Animals come to the sanctuary when they are abandoned, lost along a country road, or with health issues that make them undesirable at a neighborhood farm.

Once they come to the sanctuary, they receive medical care, food, water, and lots of love.

The sanctuary was founded by Sarah Salluzzo and her partner Jonina Turzi in 2016 to rescue farmed animals and provide them sanctuary, while inspiring humans to live with animals with compassion and respect. Desso began volunteering in 2021.

She explains the founders felt the need for a farm animal sanctuary since Lancaster County is a large hub for animal agriculture.

“Yet we’ve received phenomenal community support,” she explains.

As a nonprofit, LFS relies solely on donations that come in through small fundraisers throughout the year, monthly donations, Patreon members, the annual Extraordinary Give, and educational tours for visitors, Desso said.


Planting Seeds

With a master’s certificate in education, Desso has made a passionate commitment to educating young minds for nearly 30 years.

She has taught children in special needs and general elementary school programs and currently works part-time teaching English as a Second Language at the PA STEAM Academy in Harrisburg.

Now her passion includes helping educate the children and adults who tour the sanctuary each year. Tours include both public groups of about 20 that can be booked on the website Private groups can also contact the staff for a more personal tour.

“We provide an honest education,” she explains. “We don’t go into graphic details of what happens to animals in animal agriculture, but we also don’t hide the truth. We want to plant seeds — and provide information so people want to know more.”

During the tours, visitors are introduced to the residents. All have a name and are presented as individuals who have a right to live their lives without pain and suffering.

Desso also leads another important part of the sanctuary’s outreach to the community, the Sanctuary Pen Pal Program for kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

“I send video clips from a few animals, and the class votes on which animal will be their pen pal, whether it’s Jude the cow, Ramona the pig, or one of the other residents,” she explains.

“We correspond back and forth. They learn to look at animals as individuals when they ask about their favorite colors, snacks, or who their friends are. We keep it positive. They end up making connections to the farm animals just as they do with the pets in their homes.”


No Different from Your Dog or Cat

Desso loves to tell stories about all the residents that have captured her heart.

“Each animal is different with their own personality, likes, dislikes, and quirks. Howie the pig likes to play with toys, loves apples, and comes running when I call his name.

“Jude and Claire are two cows that are close friends and have become inseparable,” she says. “Since in the farming industry, animal families aren’t usually kept together, they come here and find their own adopted families.”

Some close friends aren’t even the same species. On the sanctuary Facebook page (, you’ll find Tig, the rooster, snoozing in the sunshine with Ralphie and Randy, two older pigs.

Currently, her volunteer shift is with birds in the sanctuary, including ducks, chickens, and turkeys.

“They follow me around, and we chat. Some have even fallen asleep in my lap,” she smiles. “They are amazing beings and just as snuggly as a cow or a sheep.

“When you spend time with these animals, you see that they feel joy, pain, grief, and attachment,” says Desso.

“If an animal has to go to the hospital, their friend often cries out, shows sadness, stops eating, or is listless. When they return, there is often so much joy and excitement, it’s beautiful. They are no different from your pet dogs and cats.”


A Personal Journey to a Plant-based Lifestyle

Desso’s personal journey to a vegan lifestyle began early.

“I had an aversion to eating meat and stopped eating it at age 13 or 14. It just didn’t seem right,” she recalls. “In college I learned more about animal exploitation. I never liked eating animals, but my reasons for stopping have shifted.”

Four years ago, she became vegan and stopped using all animal products.

“I also stopped wearing leather shoes, wool sweaters, and other products from animals,” Desso said.

Her husband, Todd, and children Emma and Kaleb, both in college, support her path.

“I taught our children respect for all beings, no matter the culture, race, religion, or sexual orientation. That includes animals,” she says.


Reducing Disease Risk and Climate Change

Desso points out that health and climate change are also factors that are encouraging some people to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle.

“It’s a misconception that we need to eat animals to be healthy,” she says.

Numerous European and U.S. studies, including research by the National Institutes of Health, link eating meat — especially red and processed meats — with an increased risk of disease, from heart disease to cancer.

Scientists at the World Resources Institute have also shown that “shifting to diets with a greater share of plant-based foods could significantly reduce agriculture’s pressure on the environment.”

But for Jil Desso and the staff and volunteers at the Lancaster Farm Sanctuary, their motivations focus on doing their part to reduce animal suffering and leading humanity to a kinder, more sustainable future through education.

“Animals are the bravest, strongest, most patient, and loving beings, and with time and care, they are also forgiving to humans,” says Desso. “They have taught me so much.”

She gets emotional when she summarizes, “I will always be part of the sanctuary. It’s a place where I can be fully myself, both with humans and animals.”       


Cover caption: Jil Desso with Jude. Photo credit: Cameron Warner

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