Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chenoa Manor: Replacing cruelty with compassion

Dr. Rob Teti is the founder and executive director of Chenoa Manor. The
Chester County, PA animal sanctuary has become well known for its
education programs, particularly a partnership with a local school that
enables at-risk young people to work at the sanctuary.

Photos and story by John A. Zukowski

Adam Glas remembers a time when he didn’t like being around pigs.

Although he grew up around animals, studied them, and learned a lot about them in school, there was something about the pigs that made him feel uncomfortable. Their massive size, the noises they sometimes made, the way they seemed so primal.

But then Chenoa Manor Animal Sanctuary founder and executive director Rob Teti found a solution.

“It ended up with me lying on the ground with the pigs,” Glas remembers with a laugh. “Now I don’t have any problem with them.”

Glas is now one of several people on the board of directors to Chenoa Manor, a Chester County animal sanctuary in Avondale near the Delaware border. Glas is one of the most active members and sometimes gives tours of the sanctuary, which is home to more than 200 animals.

A recent tour he led showed that educating people about animals is a major part of the mission of the 25-acre Chenoa Manor (named after a Lenape term for “white dove”). Many people either are somewhat afraid of animals or don’t know a lot about them, he says.

Part of the way to correct that is a program set up through a local school. Students from the School at Church Farm in Exton help take care of the animals at the sanctuary and get credit for it. Teti said the idea came from a connection he made between at-risk adolescents and at-risk animals.

“The focus here has always been on youth,” Teti says. “At their age they’re very open.”
Llamas are just some of the exotic animals at Chenoa Manor. 

And the combination has worked. Students’ lives have been changed by the experience, and the media has taken notice. A Philadelphia Inquirer article by Samantha Melamed—about how the students benefitted from the program—led to a national profile by CBS Evening News correspondent Seth Doane.

Because of the interaction between the students and the animals, some students have also started thinking about animal rights and adopting a cruelty-free diet. Learning more about animals is a natural starter for that, Teti says.

Even with the volunteers and the board of directors, Teti is the driving force behind the sanctuary. He works as a veterinarian at a nearby clinic. He confesses most of his days are packed with activity. He’s up at 5:30 a.m. to tend to the animals and then off to his job. After a day at the clinic he comes home to cook a quick vegan meal and then heads out to tend to the animals.

“Rob does 98 percent of the chores,” says Glas.

“He’s actually a superhero,” Heather Leach, another board member adds with a laugh.

Visitors on a recent tour interact with some
of the more than 200 animals at the sanctuary.
Teti began providing a home for animals when he was at veterinarian school in Oklahoma. He first took in a duck and a goose. But his connection with animals started in high school when he became a vegetarian. “I wish I would say I had a moment when I saw an animal fall off a truck on the way to a slaughterhouse, but it was really just thinking about being sensitive to animals,” he says.

After he returned to Pennsylvania he bought the farm in 2003 and set up the sanctuary where he occasionally gives tours to donors and to the curious.

On a recent tour a group of turkeys and a very friendly border collie followed the tour members around.

“One of the questions we get asked most often is if different species get along, but they certainly do,” Glas says pointing to a cluster of a cow, two llamas and about a half dozen goats.

And there are many farm animals and exotic animals at the sanctuary. All the animals have a story. Some are refugees from animal husbandry programs, lab experiments, or 4-H projects. Others are rescued from the way to the slaughterhouse or were abused or abandoned. Some are refugees from Hurricane Katrina.

Chenoa is supplying something for a growing trend. Many sanctuaries can’t keep up with the increasing demand to place animals.

“Rob gets hundreds of e-mails,” Glas says. “Other sanctuaries are reaching their limits too.”

To accommodate the growing number of animals, changes are underway.

The 200-year old historical barn at Chenoa Manor has been
partially restored, but 
needs more donations to house more
animals and to be expanded into an arts center.
The sanctuary’s historic 200-year old barn has been partially renovated, but will take about $150,000 more to complete. And the barn may also be a place for art and some occasional fine dining. Plans are for art programs to be set up in the barn. Art has been a part of the barn for what may be centuries. On the tour Glas pointed out a mural embedded in the barn wall. Some Lenape words were above what appear to be faces. It’s unknown how the mural got there or what it signifies. Even a representative from the Smithsonian couldn’t figure it out. Which may be just as well – there’s something alluring about the mystery of its origins.

The hope is that the barn will also sometime in the future be a site where the upscale vegan restaurant Vedge in Philadelphia can host a benefit meal.

Another part of the renovations for the sanctuary is to have a paid assistant for Teti to help him.

To make all of this happen, Teti welcomes the direct donations that are made to the sanctuary. And he’s appreciative of the innovative ways people can help out.

“People can get really creative,” he says.

Tours at Chenoa Manor are
available by appointment.
One of those creative people is Andrew McQuiston of Philadelphia. He compiled a cassette called “Dialogues” of punk bands to benefit the sanctuary on his label Hydrogen Man Records. He knew many of the bands who were willing to take part in the project including Band of Mercy, Black Kites and Troubled Sheep. There are a growing number of punk bands – perhaps inspired by big names bands like Earth Crisis and Rise Against – that are sympathetic to animal rights, he says.

“I think it’s because of the underground radical politics that most of the bands have that makes them think about it,” he says.

Help for the sanctuary seems to come from many sources. The housing development adjacent to the sanctuary has someone who appears to be a supporter. “Sometimes they throw vegetables over the fence to the animals,” Glas says. “We get help from all kinds of places.”

To make a donation, send a check to Chenoa Manor, 733 Glen Willow Road, Avondale, PA 19311 or make an online donation at chenoamanor.orgTo buy a copy of the punk music compilation that supports Chenoa Manor visit

John A. Zukowski worked for more than a decade as a feature writer reporting about pop culture, music and religion for daily newspapers. He's now a freelance writer who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with his wife Kim.