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October 11, 2011

Ben Callison, Director of Black Beauty Ranch

Nation's largest animal sanctuary has a new leader of the pack

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • Ben Callison in front of a herd at Black Beauty Ranch. The HSUS

  • Ben with beloved former ranch resident Friendly during Ben's days as a volunteer on the ranch. The HSUS

  • Ben greets Midge the chimpanzee every morning as part of his daily commute. The HSUS/Robin Mosler

  • Meet the animals at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch's open house on Oct 15. The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

Ben Callison has been an enthusiastic volunteer at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas for the past eight years. An architect, he helped design new enclosures for the animals and the new visitor’s center, where the public will learn about Black Beauty’s amazing rescue animals.

In July, Callison traded his volunteer gig for a new job—he’s now Black Beauty’s full-time director, and he has big plans for the ranch. Long active in the Dallas animal welfare community, Ben has advocated for animals through the Texas Humane Legislation Network. He’s also been part of The HSUS’ Disaster Animal Response Teams—training that came in handy when wildfires blazed through Texas over the summer. Luckily, Black Beauty’s land didn’t see any fires, but the ranch took steps to prepare and prevent wildfire spread.

We caught up with Callison in late September, as he was getting ready for the ranch’s big Oct. 15 open house celebration.  

What’s it like living at Black Beauty Ranch?

It is amazing. My commute in the morning is walking through a horse pasture and going past the outside chimpanzee playground. I see two horses, Dupont, who is blind, and Claire, a draft horse who is partially blind. And Midge, a former research chimp, is usually waiting for me to come say good morning. My commute is usually 30 minutes because I have to stop and visit with the animals for about 25 minutes!

What are your goals as director of Black Beauty Ranch?

Our big goal is to bring the issues of animal welfare to the forefront by telling the stories of our animals and their rescues. The animals make our case for us. It’s really hard for someone to argue in favor of horse slaughter when they're standing next to a beautiful horse who was rescued from the slaughter floor. Our horses Mariah and Sahara are ambassadors for every horse who was destined for slaughter. The rescued animals who live in sanctuary here at Black Beauty are the physical embodiment of everything we do at The HSUS.

You have some new ideas about public education. Tell us about those.

The public has had limited access to the ranch over the years. We’d like to open up a bit more now. We want to tell the amazing stories of the animals here, which tie into the work The HSUS is doing. We can do that in a way that doesn’t bother the animals.

Our new visitor’s center will be open every day, and people will be able to stop in and learn about Black Beauty and animal welfare. We’re planning to plant a demonstration garden that will showcase plantings and designs which help wildlife.

We’re also planning to build a large-animal veterinary clinic, so we could do some needed surgeries right here on-site, and not have to transport animals. We want to build partnerships with veterinary schools so that veterinary students can come here for supervised internships.

How did you become an animal advocate?

My mom says I was an animal person from the day I was born. When I was a kid, I always hid the fly swatter so the flies wouldn’t get killed. My mom had a thoroughbred horse who lived in our yard—well, our yard was in a pasture. She’d put my crib outside, and I loved to interact with the horse. When I was in my room, he’d stick his head inside my window!

Learn more about Black Beauty Ranch»

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