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Tracy Murphy leaves corporate world to save animals

NEWFANE – Clean, airy and wide-open – yet protected – green spaces and Amish-crafted barns inhabited by gentle, healing animals evoke a sense of peace and tranquility at Asha Sanctuary.

But an underlying spark of driving passion burns bright in the heart of founder Tracy Murphy. She has worked day and night to establish this sanctuary, to maintain it and to envision its growth for the future.

“It all comes down to mercy,” said Murphy, a petite 52-year-old. “It’s about love and mercy and what you do in this life to help others. My calling is to help ‘farmed animals.’ ”

Murphy credits God with guiding her decision to leave the corporate world behind after nearly three decades of success in banking and to “take a leap of faith” to found the sanctuary at 2969 Coomer Road in January 2013. The sanctuary takes in animals formerly found – most in deplorable condition – on farms and at auction houses.

This followed her establishing the Buffalo Vegetarian Society (now Buffalo Vegan Society) in 2007 after learning about the common abuses of animals in factory farming. The Buffalo Vegan Society, with about 500 members, is now an outreach program of Asha Sanctuary.

Murphy’s journey from corporate executive to full-time animal rescuer and vegan educator has been studded with surprises, challenges, heartbreaks and successes – and always the conviction that she’s doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing, she said.

She recently took some time from her busy schedule to give a tour of her beautiful surroundings, which include her 1880 home and 27 acres of green space, to introduce her new charges, and to talk about her hopes and dreams for the future.

Let’s start at the beginning. Did you grow up on a farm and what exactly was the career you recently left?

I grew up in Niagara Falls and never knew anything about farming. I’m learning as I go.

I was with HSBC for 27 years and had just finished my master’s degree in leadership from Duquesne University. I was assistant vice president for operational performance improvement and owned a home in Cheektowaga. I was working full time at HSBC and started Asha Sanctuary and, out of the blue, an anonymous foundation came to me and said, “What can we do so that you can do this (sanctuary work) full time?” There was no way I could afford to do it on my own, but they made it possible.

I had a great job and a house and I was a few years from retirement and some people asked me, “How could you do this?” But others have said they wish they could do the same thing. It was a tremendous blessing, and I’ve never doubted it. When I rescued Albert (a Jersey calf) and the sheep (Tracy and Anu) – well, the day after that, in November 2014, I put in my notice at the bank, because I knew I couldn’t do both full time anymore.

Who were your first rescues?

I started by helping out another very nice sanctuary which was just overloaded and needed help, so I took in two turkeys (Abe and Abby), three Rhode Island Red hens (Edwina, Sara and Angela) and a rooster (Gary) in May 2014.

Then, I rescued Albert and the sheep from an auction house. Albert was 1 day old and shivering and crying for his mother. The vet said he had a 50-50 chance of living. Now he’s a beautiful boy who loves hugs and kisses.

Dawn and Lindsey, who are mother and daughter donkeys, came to us in May encrusted in feces. It seems they had been confined to 10-by-10 stalls and it’s evident to me they never got outside. I believe Dawn had been abused in the past, because it’s very hard for her to trust, but she’s very sweet.

These animals carry it with them and it takes some longer than others to heal, just like us. But we’re here for the long road and I just give them lots of love, hugs and kisses, and they’re thriving here.

We also have Michael, a goat, and Sara Nicole, a pot-bellied pig, who was a house pet, but whose owner had gone into a nursing home. She was very depressed and overweight, but is doing much better. You know, people have the wrong ideas about pigs – they are highly intelligent and can play video games better than chimps and are very, very clean. Her space is the cleanest spot in the whole barn.

It seems you’ve had to learn veterinarian skills to animal psychology. How did your business background help prepare you for everything – from farming and new career?

I have nothing but thanks for HSBC and all of the people I worked under who gave me the skills and knowledge to do this type of work. I learned organizational and analytical skills, project management, performance improvement, how to put out a quality product, the importance of an easy-to-use website, and the importance of customer service – when someone makes a donation, you call and thank them! And with my master’s, I learned writing skills, for example, how to write grants, work with volunteers and run a not-for-profit.

What’s on your wish list?

We need a tractor – we can’t afford one – and maybe an ATV in the meantime to help haul things. We need a transport trailer and a regular, flat-bed trailer. We really, really need a water line put into the barn, because I have to haul water to the animals by the bucket from my house, which is really hard in the winter – it’s frozen by the time I get there.

We also need electric in the barn and could use a heat source for Sara Nicole, like maybe a radiant heated floor in her area. The barn is insulated, but she needs more heat than the rest. We need more fencing and we’d like help clearing and marking hiking trails for the public. We need to finish our restroom building, which is handicapped-accessible – we need plumbing for that.

We also need more dedicated volunteers, who are passionate about our cause.

What’s your next fundraiser?

On Saturday, from 4 to 6 p.m., we’ll have a free visit with the animals and then if people want to stay, from 6 to 10 p.m., we’ll have informal music with a campfire and serve vegan hot dogs, roasted corn and vegan marshmallows, craft beer, potato salad, mixed green salad and for dessert, ice cream made with cashew milk and coconut milk. The cost is $29. It’ll be very laid-back and casual. And, if people want to bring a tent, they can stay over here and we’ll have a bonfire, too, and serve a continental breakfast the next morning. (Go to www.ashasanctuary.com for details).

We also have another vegan cooking class planned for Aug. 1 and the Western New York Veggie Fest is Aug. 2 and half of the proceeds from their Tofurkey Trot will go to Asha Sanctuary.

In October, we’re working on an Autumn Fest for the kids. In November, about a week before Thanksgiving, we’ll have an event to serve the turkeys, not eat the turkeys. And we’re planning a Christmas event in December for people to meet the animals.

What else do you envision for the sanctuary in the future?

It is very important to educate people on how these farmed animals are treated and what conditions they live in. It’s important for us to grow because I’d like to have another barn, eventually, for commercial-sized pigs. They are bred to grow fast and heavy and then slaughtered at six months. They’re just babies!

I want to create a hospital/education center, where we can quarantine the animals and rehabilitate them so they can then be introduced to the flock or herd. The education center could have books and videos and we could teach about the importance of a plant-based diet and maybe have samples of vegan foods.

I’ve already talked to some groups about having camps here, where they can learn about nature. I’ve met with some Girl Scouts and some mental health organizations. Some kids came out and did so well when they learned they had to work as a team. For example, one person might not be able to haul a bucket of water, but two working together can. I’d like to have mentally challenged or abused children come here – they really light up around the animals and I think they feel a connection when they’re around animals who have been abused.

These animals aren’t “things.” They are living, breathing, emotional beings and they deserve our compassion, love and care.

Know a Niagara County resident who would make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com.