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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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SPRINGVILLE — Two sheep stand huddled together in the back corner of a barn stall at Hercules' Haven, a farm animal sanctuary Alison and Danny Stone run in rural Springville.
The sheep are visibly frightened when humans approach their stall; the smaller sheep, named Freya, trembles. She is malnourished, with protruding hip bones, and a sparse coat that is falling out in places. Her companion, Odin, stands next to her, his head resting on her back.
Hercules' Haven took them in after a Dec. 9 operation between numerous rescue organizations to remove animals from Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester, following a judge's order. The two sheep ran during that raid, and several days later a farmer found them hiding in a barn and called the Stones.
Outside their stall, a third sheep Juno, peers in at Freya and Odin inquisitively. In contrast to the new arrivals, Juno is gregarious and friendly and large, with a full winter wool coat. She runs up to greet approaching humans, nibbling on their scarves and gloves, and is known to play with the resident dogs, head butting and chasing them around the property. If frightened sheep are a cliche, Juno hasn't heard of it.
'We'd been hoping to find a sheep companion for Juno. She was our only sheep, and she doesn't quite know what she is. She grew up with all these other animals, she's had kind of an identity crisis,' Alison said. 'I'm hoping she'll help these other two.'
The Stones and Haven volunteers have spent time each day since the sheep arrived, just sitting in their vicinity, sometimes reading a book aloud or talking to the animals. They're hoping, with time, Freya and Odin will trust them.
'Being able to sit with these sheep is going to be a lesson in kindness and forgiveness and compassion. If we can get these animals to come around, that will be a miracle.'
Alison and Danny Stone started Hercules' Haven on about 4 acres on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, becoming official with 501(c) 3 status in 2017.
'We outgrew that space probably within six months of opening our doors,' Alison said.
They moved to the property in rural Springville in May 2019. At 40 acres, it expands their capacity tenfold.
They're using some of the land to grow hay, which cuts down on costs to feed their livestock. There is also more room for animals to roam and additional barn space. Before, all the animals shared one barn; now, they have dedicated spaces for different species.
The Stones have 49 animals, including pigs, horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs and a bevy of barn cats. Each has their own story, from Tessa the former racehorse who was injured to Babe the pig who fell off a truck onto the highway. The smaller, pot-bellied pigs — that still reach more than 100 pounds — were originally adopted by people who didn't realize how big they would get.
Two of the rescue pigs, Beatrice and Dori, sleep in the house.
'Beatrice stays in the house because she just kept trying to sneak into the house,' Danny said.
It also helps that Alison loves having pigs around, describing them as intelligent and inquisitive.
'Pigs are kind of my passion,' she said. 'I have a special place in my heart for pigs.'
The pig the nonprofit was named for, Hercules, died from a congenital heart defect a few years after the Stones adopted him as the runt of his liter. 'That was one of the hardest days we've had here,' Danny said.
Neither of the Stones draw a salary from the sanctuary. Danny is the youth director at Faith Lutheran Church in Marion; Alison is currently looking for a new part-time job in nursing. Donations and money from fundraisers helps with care and feeding of the resident animals, which can add up quickly.
'I think we've dropped about $3,000 in vet bills just this week, but that's the nature of what we do. There's always an emergency, there's always somebody that needs something, and we do what we can,' Alison said.
With the increased space, they have room for more animals, but that will have to wait for a future with more volunteers and more donations.
'We are at capacity as far as manpower and finances,' Alison said.
She said starting the nonprofit and the move to Springville were risks, but ones they felt were worth it.
'It was a big leap for us, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do,' Alison said. 'And Danny has always supported me and my dreams.'
The couple said they hope to educate others that animals like pigs and sheep have their own personalities and emotions.
'It's heartbreaking to see an animal that has no voice and no say. It's my mission to ease that suffering,' Stone said. 'I have 49 animals, there are a billion I can't help. But this is important to those animals.'
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