This year for Thanksgiving, I’m in Texas at our expansive animal sanctuary, Black Beauty Ranch. Founded in 1979, Black Beauty Ranch is home to nearly 650 rescued animals. Some came from slaughterhouses or research laboratories or cases of extreme neglect. Others came from roadside zoos or were victims of the exotic pet trade. From bison, cattle and horses to monkeys, antelopes and tigers, these individuals have permanent, safe homes on the ranch’s 1,400 acres.

This week, I had the pleasure of working with the sanctuary’s equine team. We set out bright and early at 7 a.m. to feed and medicate hundreds of horses and donkeys. Without halters or leads, horses and donkeys in multiple paddocks were led into their respective feeding enclosures. Some of the horses and donkeys are leery of people because of the abuse they’ve suffered in the past and wouldn’t approach food until we backed away; others came galloping up as enthusiastically as puppies.

We finished the morning feedings around noon just in time to take a quick break before the evening feedings started. And during that “break,” sanctuary staff is doing all kinds of necessary work, like cleaning pens, washing feed buckets, fixing fences, helping the veterinary team with procedures and gathering horses for the farrier or dentist. That’s just a normal day at Black Beauty Ranch, always abuzz with all the activity that makes it possible for animals to live out their lives in peace and happiness, and it was such an honor to be able to witness their daily routine.

Betty Larios, animal caregiver at Black Beauty Ranch, performs health checks on horses in an area of the sanctuary where they receive medications.
Megan Nicholson/The HSUS

Of course, I had to make sure to make time to meet the sanctuary’s resident turkey, Helen, who is never far from her best friend Jasmine, a chicken. In addition to her bond with Jasmine, Helen is accustomed to people and enjoys interacting with them. At Black Beauty Ranch, we let the animals take the lead, whether they decide to set boundaries and keep their distance or approach for some love.

Helen, Black Beauty Ranch’s resident rescued turkey, meets Kitty Block.

This group of rescued animals isn’t just a motley crew. It’s the manifestation of our mission to help all animals—a mission that wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated supporters who make the animal protection movement possible. 

I’ve been working in that movement for decades, and what never ceases to amaze me is how it brings individuals like Helen into view as fellow creatures, deserving of protection and moral consideration. Take, for instance, Helen’s bond with Jasmine: This friendship is more than just adorable, it’s a testament to what happens when animals are allowed the freedom and autonomy to be themselves and form the close relationships they choose.

Some of the horses and donkeys that Kitty Block met as she assisted Black Beauty Ranch’s equine team were leery of people because of the abuse they’ve suffered in the past, while others came galloping up as enthusiastically as puppies.
Megan Nicholson/The HSUS

This shift in our society’s perception of animals is at the heart of our work, and we saw it with so many animals this year. To name just a few: Nearly 4,000 beagles went from test subjects destined for laboratories to loving companions, ready for adoption into forever homes, thanks to our Animal Rescue Team and hundreds of partner groups. The needs and welfare of pregnant pigs on factory farms were considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, as we argued for the constitutionality and the necessity of the court upholding a landmark law for farm animal welfare. Mink, foxes, chinchillas and other animals cruelly farmed for their fur took the spotlight at our gala, as we offered an inside look at our fight to end the cruel fur industry. That event celebrated designers, companies and innovators who have cleared animal fur from their racks, increasingly making fur-free alternatives the fashionable norm.

One of the things that makes the animal protection movement so powerful is that everyone can be a part of making the world a better place for animals, even through seemingly small, simple gestures. This holiday season you can help shape a more humane world by shopping for products that were not tested on animals, adopting from your local shelter instead of purchasing pets from pet stores and preparing plant-based dishes for your holiday feast. (See our humane gift guide for more ideas.)

So, as we all sit down to dinner with friends and family, I’ll be thinking of the beagles spending their first holidays with loving families, as well as the homeless animals out there still awaiting homes. I’ll be thinking of Helen, as we work to spare other turkeys and so many animals still suffering in factory farms. I'll be thinking of the dedicated staff at Black Beauty Ranch, who work tirelessly every day—even during the holidays—to ensure animals have a safe and comfortable home. And I will be thinking of you, and of the support you have offered which makes our incredible fight for a more humane world possible, and my heart will be full of all that we’ve already achieved together, as well as the hopes of an even more humane world ahead.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.