Leilani Farm Sanctuary of Maui
By Laurelee Blanchard
©2017 Leilani Farm Sanctuary
People can purchase this book online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Costco will carry the book throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
Review by Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
I first met Laurelee Blanchard in the mid-1990s when she was working for Farm Animal Reform Movement, now Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM). Later, I became aware of Laurelee as the founder of a gorgeous sanctuary for farmed animals in Hawaii. Photos showed a world of exquisite beauty inhabited by a Noah’s Ark of rescued animals – chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, cows, goats, tortoises, pigs and deer.
Images like these convey no drama, but as the philosopher Hegel said, “Everything that is had to become so.” There was and is a struggle involved in a thing of beauty. Finding Paradise is about the struggle to create and maintain an earthly paradise for rescued farmed animals in a world that is not paradise. Finding Paradise is about the struggle to escape what Laurelee had once deemed the height of success – a worldly paradise in commercial real estate.
Laurelee grew up in Southern California and attended a high school plagued with gang violence before getting out of there. Her father had a temper and was physically abusive toward her and her cats, to birds in the yard, and a dog next door. Her parents divorced when she was in junior high, and her dad committed suicide after an injury left him disabled with pain and depression.
In the 1980s, Laurelee worked as a radiological technologist at St. Jude’s Hospital and married a medical doctor. Together they enjoyed “the good life,” which Laurelee avidly pursued after leaving her job in the thrall of ideas set forth in the book The Magic of Thinking Big. “I felt motivated to seek a career with unlimited earning potential,” she says of her aspirations at the time; meanwhile, an “inner animal activist” struggled to awaken.
This happened in a real estate office in 1992 where, one morning at work, she discovered a mouse stuck in a glue trap. Helped by two fellow brokers, she freed the mouse in a field, disposed of all the glue traps in sealed envelopes, and signed on to a campaign urging Home Depot to stop selling glue traps.
Enjoying her booming career and glamorous lifestyle, symbolized by a luxurious black Jaguar, Laurelee began trapping homeless cats and taking them to veterinarians for spay-neuter surgeries. News of horrendous cruelties to animals in everyday life entered her consciousness. She joined Orange County People for Animals, where she picked up a pamphlet describing the environmental destructiveness of factory farms and their monstrous mistreatment of animals, whereupon she and her husband Rick “agreed that the most powerful way to help animals was to stop consuming them.”
They discovered a world of delicious vegan food products including the health benefits. Still a commercial real estate broker, Laurelee plunged ever more deeply into animal rights, protesting the anal electrocution of foxes and animals being skinned alive, tortured, mutilated and murdered for fashion and food. She saw the cheap ploys of animal exploiters, as when a fur store owner “wheeled out her paralyzed son draped in a fur coat, claiming that fur was the only way to keep him warm.” She was arrested and handcuffed by a security guard inside a department store on Fur-Free Friday. When he turned his back, she managed to struggle out of the cuffs, thinking “How could this be happening to a business executive like me?”
A visit to Farm Sanctuary in Northern California introduced Laurelee to real live turkeys, enabling her to speak to the media and others with personal feeling about them as well as industry facts. The visit inspired her and Rick with “the appeal of living in the country, far away from the crush of humanity.”
Moving to Maui
In 1999, their search brought them to the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui, where they’d honeymooned years before, to establish an eight-acre paradise for themselves and the farmed animals they would lovingly rescue and care for.
And they all lived happily ever after.
In fact, the elation of relocation was fraught with troubles. Hawaii is beautiful, but for animals at the mercy of hunters, farmers, cockfighters and more, it is hell. Laurelee discovers two horrific battery-caged hen facilities close by, from which she rescues hens traumatized by the squalor and brutality they’ve endured just so humans could eat their eggs. She enters “the sad, dark cavern” of a pig factory where mother pigs are “nursing their young through metal bars” and pregnant sows lie in stalls so small they can’t move.
She describes these and other animal torture chambers and maniacal devices and the pitiless indifference of the owners and managers she meets toward the animals who are just a business to them or a form of entertainment like cockfighting which, a mere misdemeanor in Hawaii, is rampant. At one point she grabs a rooster from a cockfighting compound where hundreds of “sad souls” are tied by their legs to teepees and forced to stand “in piles of stinking manure” with empty water bowls. Gripping a rooster, she is chased to her car by gunshots.
All kinds of troubles erupt for Laurelee in her shaky sanctuary paradise, including financial ruin, a failed marriage, property problems, severe depression, things that would cause a less determined and resilient person to give up. Laurelee fights through these trials for the sake of her sanity, the sanctuary, and the animals whom she loves and whose stories she vividly tells in words and through the many expressive photographs that make this book a treasure and a virtual visit to a place where animals who have been saved find joy, peace and loving care, because Laurelee Blanchard fought to make this place for them. Leilani Farm Sanctuary became a bona fide nonprofit in 2007.
The sanctuary teaches visitors about the animals they encounter. “Visitors,” says Laurelee, “are amazed to discover that chickens are soft and cuddly and that they love petting just like cats do. . . . We show them that they can cuddle chickens by holding them close and feeling their heartbeats against their own chests.” Many people, she says, “tell us that, once they’ve looked a chicken in the eye, they can no longer eat these animals: they have, in fact, had an epiphany, after which they now see these ‘food animals’ as living beings worthy of love.”
Anyone who dreams of starting a farmed animal sanctuary should buy Finding Paradise and read it before taking on a Romance that, though infinitely rewarding for those who can do it, is replete with staggering responsibilities, uncertain outcomes, and the heartbreak of animals suffering and dying in front of your eyes, despite all you do to help them recover from the traumas that brought them to your door.
Laurelee says she went from chasing lucrative deals in commercial real
estate to finding fulfillment in animal rescue and humane education. What
she calls the “fabulous life” she now has as the director of
Leilani Farm Sanctuary is indeed a mission accomplished, but it is also a
mission that can never be over.
– Karen Davis
*All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Leilani Farm Sanctuary, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.