Why Jon Stewart’s Family Decided to Open an Animal Sanctuary

The Stewarts will be opening a farm sanctuary location at their New Jersey farm late next year, and there's a lot of work to be done to prepare.

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Dec 23 2015, 9:02pm

Tracey Stewart giving a scratch to Francis, the sheep. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur/Farm Sanctuary

There's been much speculation about how Jon Stewart will spend his retirement. So far he's been using a lot of his free time to basically do what he did for 16 years as host of The Daily Show: spit truth. But over the course of the next year, he and his family will be taking on some new responsibilities: raising rescued farm animals on their 12-acre property in Middletown, New Jersey. That's largely thanks to Stewart's wife, author and founder of Moomah magazine, Tracey Stewart.

"Honestly I feel like this is what I've been working towards since the day I was born," Tracey told me via Skype. "I do feel like this is fulfilling my lifelong dream"

The Stewarts' farm, Bufflehead Farm, is already home to four pigs, but the couple recently announced they were teaming up with Farm Sanctuary—a farm animal rescue association—to create a refuge for homeless chickens, cows, donkeys, and more. Though the whole family are animal lovers, Tracey in particular has a passion for animals. She "reluctantly" became vegetarian after reading a book by Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur, which had been left on the table of a beach house the family once rented. Since then, she's written a book about compassion towards animals and has a habit of taking in creatures in need.

"We have two horses, four pigs, four dogs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, one parrot, one hamster, and two fish," Tracey recites. "I always forget about the fish."

Tracey also worked for years as an advocate and volunteer for Farm Sanctuary, dropping hints at the idea of starting her own location until finally the time seemed right. She told me she felt a responsibility to do something big, especially given the spotlight Jon's career gave to their family.

Right now, Tracey is undergoing a crash course in farm animal husbandry, learning how to feed and care for the menagerie at Farm Sanctuary's location in Watkins Glen, New York. Her mentor is the organization's national shelter director, Susie Coston, who has been showing her the ropes of caring for the more than 500 animals at Watkins Glen.

"Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, donkeys, chickens: they are all very different and have specific diets and needs," Coston told me.

Stewart says hello to a turkey while working at Watkins Glen. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur/Farm Sanctuary

Those animals find their way to Farm Sanctuary through a number of conduits—some more cloak-and-dagger than others. Animals involved in animal cruelty cases that have been confiscated by authorities are often passed off to the organization, as are livestock that have been rescued from natural disasters like floods or tornadoes, Coston said. They've even had chicks that had been sent in the mail rescued by postal workers and delivered to the sanctuary.

"Sometimes animals from industrial farms are dropped off in the middle of the night and we don't know if they're from people who work at the farms or undercover investigations or what," Coston told me. "It's kind of the mystery in the middle of the night."

Right now, while Tracey studies up on the ABCs of caring for livestock, the Stewarts are also preparing the farm. Tracey said they need to do a lot of planning, add fencing and build barns and other buildings, so they can turn the property into both a sanctuary and an education center where local school groups can come visit. They've got enough space to house as many as 150 animals (though Tracey confessed she'd love to take even more). She's also in the process of setting up a support network of caretakers and veterinarians who will lend a hand when the site is up and running—she's hoping things will be off the ground by late next year.

In the meantime the family—including the couple's two children—are anxiously awaiting the arrival of more animals to add to their growing flock, with a few possible exceptions.

"Jon has a policy: no nighttime predators," Tracey said. "But I'll take anything. I would take a monkey [that needed a home]. I'll take them all."