“I was raised to respect and care for all living things,” says Erica Rushing, Executive Director of Flat Broke Farm in explanation of why she founded the organization in 2005. “When I was 8 years old I was diagnosed with ADHD and my mom wanted to seek alternative solutions as doctors wanted me to be on Prozac and Adderall and things like that. Instead, my parents got me a horse. That changed my life. It kept me out of trouble when my teenage years came around, taught me a lot of responsibility and patience, and I really felt that I needed to give back to animals because they helped shape my life in such a wonderful way and kept me from being on any sort of prescriptions.”
Flat Broke Farm, which first started as a horse rescue, was initially located in Santa Rosa for six years. It evolved to include other farm animals and moved to Penngrove for six years. Now it has hopefully found its forever home in its current location in Cotati, where it has been the last two years. The property has four acres and six barns, allowing the rescue to take in many more animals than before. While the number of animals is constantly changing with new ones coming in and others being adopted, Rushing estimates the current number stands at about 85 animals, which include pigs, horses, goats, chickens, sheep and more.
Flat Broke Farm works with animal control agencies and ASPCAs from Santa Cruz to Mendocino to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome unwanted, abandoned, abused, neglected or displaced farm animals. In less than 15 years they have responded to 14 natural disasters, from floods to fires, to take in animals that do not get claimed or need temporary housing after they have been evacuated. They still have some animals on the farm from the North Bay fires of 2017.
“We offer all kinds of services to the community,” says Rushing. “There are a lot of circumstances where people feel that they have to sell or rehome their animal. Of course, ideally, if the animal is loved and well cared for, keeping them in their home is the best option. We like to offer a lot of different services to help facilitate that. For example, if you’re moving and the new place does not have a pasture or shelter built yet, we’ll board your animal for a couple of months while you build your new place. Cats and dogs and horses have all those boarding services available to them across our county. But we’ll board your chickens, your pigs, or anything that’s domestic.”
The organization also offers transport services for all types of animals. The services are a win/win in that the animals are taken care of while the rescue receives much needed funding, given that the organization is 100 percent funded by the community. They do not receive any county funding or grants and even Rushing is a volunteer.
Unlike animal sanctuaries where an animal will live out the rest of their lives on the property, Flat Broke Farm is a rescue that aims to find forever homes for all their animals. Out of the 4,000 animals they have taken in over the last 14 years, they have kept only about 15 that could not be adopted due to various medical or behavioral reasons.
The rescue also frequently collaborates with the local Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.
“Sometimes they’ll get animals that aren’t quite wild, and sometimes I’ll get calls for animals that aren’t quite domestic,” says Rushing. “So we’ve been in cahoots for about twelve years now. We help each other out with different things. During the Tubbs fire all kinds of animals were going anywhere that could take them. They had taken in a bunch of sheep but weren’t equipped for sheep. She called me and was desperate to have some help with them. I was there within a couple of hours and had all the sheep loaded up.”
Recently Rushing brought a baby opossum into the wildlife rescue that had gotten caught in a rat trap on her property. Unfortunately, when Flat Broke Farm took over their current property in Cotati, it had been abandoned for many years and the previous owner had kept all the wool from their 30 years of sheep shearing operations, as well as old building supplies and materials, in the barns on the property. This allowed the rat population to exponentially grow and thrive and they were causing hazardous conditions and even predating on the rescue animals themselves.
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue stepped in to help when Rushing was clearly overwhelmed dealing with the rat problem on her own.
“They agreed to come over and assist,” says Rushing. “Now we’ve done phase one of a big farm clean up and we’re trying to remove the nesting areas [of the rats] and working on certain protections. A generous donor has offered to pay for some owl boxes to encourage more wildlife to take care of the problem as well.”
Additionally, the rescue has five cats on the property to assist with the issue and is working with Forgotten Felines to obtain a few more.
Flat Broke Farm is always looking for more volunteers to help run the organization. In addition, they are hosting a fundraiser Oct. 30 at the Redwood Café to raise funds for their animals still in residence from the Tubbs Fire and to help grow their future emergency funds. The event will include a live band and a raffle with a variety of items donated from local businesses. For more information on the event or for volunteer opportunities, visit flatbrokefarm.org.