A Labor of Love

The following story appeared in Clay Today on Aug. 13, 2009

Jennifer and Lee Sackett run CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm in Keystone Heights.  The farm accepts farm animals that have been abandoned, abused or abused, including Ahab, who was found alive on top of a “dead pile” at a Canadian slaughterhouse.

By Christina Leach Phillips


KEYSTONE HEIGHTS– Each weekday morning before Jennifer Sackett leaves for her job atMemorialHospital, she and her husband, Lee Sackett, feed all the animals on their farm and assess them to make sure they are healthy.  They repeat the hour and a half routine when she returns home in the evening. 

But the Sacketts are not running a working farm. They own CJ Acres Animal Rescue Farm, a shelter that rescues in-need farm animals and rehabilitates them for possible adoption.  “It’s a labor of love,” said Jennifer. 

The animals at CJ Acres include horses, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, cats, and dogs.  “They’re our own personal dogs,” she said. 

The Sacketts started rescuing dogs ten years ago and then changed their focus to rescuing farm animals that have been abandoned, abused, neglected, or come from catastrophic situations, said Lee. 

“There is no place like ours around,” Jennifer said. 

On a recent Saturday morning, the Sacketts gave visitors a tour of their 20 acre farm.

Inside a modern, well-kept, 4,400 square foot barn, several horses roamed freely and competed for guests’ attention. When a visitor petted one horse, another horse squeezed in to also get petted.

 Several chickens, ducks, and roosters walked around the barn seemingly unnoticed by the horses.

 Jennifer said people learn about CJ Acres by word of mouth and through other animal rescue groups.

 “Our vet, Dr.Tom Nauman, brought us, Nikki, a starved French Thoroughbred horse,” she said.  “She is an old gal with a sway back, but she’s a beauty.”  The former race horse has gained 350 pounds in their care. 

Jennifer said Shirley, an Arabian horse, was abandoned at a boarding facility inArizona.  CJ Acres paid her bills and had her transported “cross-country.” 

George, a chestnut Quarter Horse, nuzzled Lee for attention.  He said George was an unwanted horse acquired from a horse trader. 

A gray and white horse stood back from the crowd. “That’s Amanda,” Jennifer said.  Amanda was seized by Clay County Animal Control for malnourishment and neglect. Even though Jennifer said Amanda doesn’t usually trust strangers, she let one teenage girl pet her. 

Jennifer said they will soon get a blind horse named Angel.  “We will take her because no one else can do it.”  

In a small shed behind the barn, a goat named Henry steely watched visitors from his perch on a white plastic chair. Lee said Henry was an indoor pet who has adjusted to outdoor life and to being the only male goat among four female goats from a bankrupt dairy farm.  Henry is especially fond of a goat named Martha, who is the “object of his affection,” said Lee. 

In a separate fenced area, several mud-covered pigs roamed about, and one made squealing sounds when Lee approached.  As he turned on a water spigot to fill a mud hole, he told about Ahab, a piglet found alive on top of a “dead pile” at a Canadian slaughterhouse. He also pointed out four pigs that escaped drowning at a factory farm devastated in the 2008Iowaflood. “They were taken off the food chain,” he said.  He calls them “the hippos” because of their large size. 

Like Dr. Dolittle, the Sacketts seem to “talk to the animals” because all the animals at CJ Acres appear to be gentle and content with their surroundings. 

Lee said, “It’s well worth it as we can witness the transformation of these frightened animals who knew nothing but abuse and mistreatment into a confident, loving animal. The magic of that moment is worth the hours of work.” 

So far, the Sacketts have managed to run their farm and pay shelter expenses while holding full-time jobs.  Lee runs an advertising agency from theirKeystoneHeightshome, and Jennifer is the Director of Infections Control and Epidemiology atMemorialHospital.  

Recently, they were granted tax exempt status by the IRS, which makes contributions to CJ Acres tax deductible. They also formed an eight-member Board of Directors composed of animal advocates who will help raise funds. 

Board member Bobbi Nagle, owner of Unicorn Web Development, said, “Over the next few months, the non-profit organization will be reaching out to the community for financial support and volunteer assistance. We’re excited to announce that a long-time supporter has agreed to match four dollars for every one dollar received from new donors through October 31.” 

Nagle said a direct mail campaign and in-store displays at local feed stores, farm retailers, and vet clinics will be used to help solicit donations.  And in August, the Boy Scouts of America will build a “goat playground,” she said. 

In the past year, the Sacketts spent $45,000 improving their barn and installing fencing.

“At first coyotes were a problem, but now that we have the area fenced, we don’t have that problem,” said Jennifer. 

She said the cats keep the rats away from the food stored in the barn.  One cat, Ginger, thinks she is a goat and spends a lot of time with a goat named Kitty, said Jennifer. “When a goat says ‘hello,’ they hit each other in the head.  Well, Kitty does that to Ginger!” she said. 

When asked if they are vegetarians, Jennifer said, “As we’ve rescued animals, we’ve cut out those things, but we do eat eggs.”  She said the chickens, which she calls “the girls,” lay eggs every day, “whether you want them to or not.”  Jennifer said it would be wasteful not to eat the eggs. 

Jennifer said her nursing background helps in treating the animals’ medical needs like vaccinations, worming, and minor wounds. And her work in epidemiology includes a specialty in animal-to-human disease transmission.  Before becoming a nurse, Jennifer worked for a veterinarian. 

As CJ Acres rescues more animals, extra help is needed, and Jennifer said they like to enlist teenagers to help.  Caitlin McDonald, 14, who has volunteered at CJ Acres for a year, said,  “I love volunteering for CJ Acres as it allows me to help animals and our community, plus earn credit hours towards my Bright Futures scholarship requirements.”

Jennifer said, “I love teaching teenagers because it changes them.  They become more self-confident as they learn vet care and responsibility.  We don’t have children of our own, and it’s so rewarding to teach these teenagers because it makes them feel good, and it makes the animals feel good.” 

Jennifer said that they have great neighbors who watch out for the animals.  One day they accidently left a gate open, and their pigs, “the hippos,” got out. The entire neighborhood helped find them and round them up. “The next day, I had cookies for everyone,” she said.  “One neighbor even donated fencing!” 

The Sacketts chose the name CJ Acres in memory of one of their first rescue dogs named CJ who did not live long, said Jennifer. 

Although Jennifer said she and Lee are “city born and raised,” their love of animals has brought them to a country farm caring for the neediest creatures.  She said it is a way to give back. 

“Everyone does what they need to do to make the world a better place, and ours is animals,” she said. 

To learn more about CJ Acres, go to http://www.cjacres.org