A Mission of Love
Freeing the Farm
Lazlo takes chores seriously at the 32-acre Blessed Be Farm, in Ellsworth, Maine, where Susan Walsh, 52, lives with her teenagers, Joshua, 18, and Cordelia, 16, and an assortment of pet ducks, turkeys, and sheep. Lazlo, a 12-year-old Belgian sheepdog, knows chickens belong in the barn and eagerly herds them in when they stray. He also thinks anything with wings is a chicken, however, so he barks and bounces on his hind legs as he tries to round up whatever flies by.
When it's time to turn in Lazlo sleeps on Walsh's bed. "He's my baby," says Walsh, a job coach to the developmentally disabled. She is a vegetarian, and she runs the farm as a hobby, keeping animals not for the table, but because she loves having them in her life. "All the animals are my family. I'm fierce about them."
Life wasn't always this cozy for Walsh and her brood. A sign in front of Blessed Be Farm reads "founded 1984, liberated 2001." The latter year was when Walsh's divorce became final -- after 12 years of marriage to a man who she says abused her emotionally, shot two of the family's sheep at close range, and wrung the necks of a dozen pet turkeys.
Though Walsh says she sometimes stood up to him, at other times she tried to justify his actions, telling herself that he must have been tired, for example. He would apologize after the incidents and promise to end his aggressive behavior, but then the cycle -- abuse followed by contrition -- would begin anew, Walsh recalls. In 2000 she received an order of protection and the following year, when the divorce was granted, she took over the farm.