Lisa Kario saw an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream when she moved to Newton County from Connecticut two decades ago, so she purchased a farm and began populating it with rescued animals. She now invites others to come experience life inside a unique sanctuary.
Once upon a time, a mother cow in North Carolina was abandoned, along with seven horses. Their owner simply moved away without telling a soul. The animals managed to survive a while thanks to a mild and rainy winter. However, sparse grass and leaves were not enough to fill their stomachs, and as the winter deepened, they slowly grew emaciated. One day, the cow broke free from her enclosure and walked until she found some people. She led them back to the abandoned farm. It had been at least three months since the owners took flight, and the horses were near death. No one is sure where the horses ended up, but the rescuers helped the cow move to a beautiful free-range sanctuary in Oxford. A nice lady with curly red hair named her Amari, which means “peace,” and to this day, she continues to live out her happily ever after.
Amari is just one of hundreds of animals and birds that have made their way to Freedom Acres Rescue and into the care of its sole manager: Lisa Kario. Her life has been dedicated to helping animals in need. Even as a child, she dreamed of someday owning a sanctuary where animals could roam free instead of being stuck inside cages. Kario moved to Georgia from Connecticut in 2001. At the time, she worked in the insurance industry and handled major malpractice claims. She wanted to get involved with animal care somehow, so she volunteered at a horse sanctuary. Being with the horses verified that her instincts were correct: This was a life she wanted to pursue full-time.
“I just never liked the idea of animals being in pens or cages. I want them to be free.”Lisa Kario
Although she was several years away from retirement, she started looking for small farms, just to see what was available. The first time she saw the seven acres she now calls home, she had a good feeling about the property. “I looked at a few more places,” she said, “but I knew this was the one I wanted.” The move represented a restart of sorts for Kario, although she was still four years away from retiring. She began to take in rescued animals immediately while continuing her insurance career. “Fortunately,” she said, “I worked at home by that point.” The number of animals at Freedom Acres varies throughout the year. Kario currently has around 90 animals under her care, including seven dogs and three cats. The rest are farm animals, including pigs, cows, horses, goats, chickens and ducks. Nearly all of the animals roam free on the property, going wherever they wish, whenever they desire.
“I just never liked the idea of animals being in pens or cages. I want them to be free. By adding them one by one, they don’t fight or anything like some people assume,” Kario said, explaining the sense of peace that floods the sanctuary. “If one animal is bothering another one, it knows it can just get up and move.”
There are several barns on the property for when the larger animals need shelter. There are also areas where Kario safely houses her chickens, rabbits and ducks overnight. Although predators can be a problem on farms with small creatures, the presence of the bigger animals at Freedom Acres seems to help keep them at bay. People constantly ask Kario to take in new animals, often via the Freedom Acres Farm Sanctuary Facebook page. Although she can rarely accept new rescues, she does what she can to connect them to other resources. There are continual requests to accept roosters, male ducks and pigs—three animals for which homes are difficult to find.
“Roosters will fight, and male ducks will, too. You need to have three females to one male, and a bachelor flock won’t work for ducks,” Kario said. “Pigs are just an incredible problem because people buy them as pets and then 90% of them end up in sanctuaries.”
None of the animals at Freedom Acres end up on local dinner tables. In fact, many were intended for the slaughterhouse but had a fortunate detour to the sanctuary instead. Kario believes animals are friends, not food, companions, not pets. She encourages people to live a vegan lifestyle to help save a variety of animals around the world. In retrospect, Kario wonders if she should have gotten a larger farm that would have allowed her to rescue more animals.
“Since I didn’t really know what I was doing, maybe I should’ve gotten a bigger place? I don’t know,” she said. “Since it’s just me running the farm, maybe I kind of saved me from myself.”
City- and suburb-dwellers interested in getting a taste of farm life are invited to visit Freedom Acres. Kario has two listings on Airbnb. One is for people to schedule 90-minute visits to interact with and learn about the animals, and the other is to stay overnight at the sanctuary’s loft apartment. The fully furnished and climate-controlled apartment is located above one of the barns and a great way to enjoy a quiet retreat. Volunteers are always welcome, as Kario does nearly all of the work by herself.
“People think we get government funding. We get nothing at all. In Georgia there aren’t any funds for sanctuaries. It’s very hard,” she said. “We need volunteers and donations—always.”
For information on Freedom Acres Rescue, located at 5531 Hillview Drive in Oxford, visit www.freedomacresrescue.com.