Rescued animals find Joy in Northeast Ohio
by Jeff Hirst, guest writer
Whatever path you follow, push on till tomorrow
Love all, serve all and create no sorrow
Written by Matthew Miller and Trevor Hall
Joy Karuna and her husband, Tom, live on a no-frills budget. They reside in a two-bedroom, one-bath home; eat inexpensive, home-cooked meals; and buy clothing at thrift stores.
Theirs is not an easy, silver-platter life. But Joy’s demeanor mirrors the geniality and optimism of her first name. Recently, in a Facebook post expressing unease about the state of the world, Tom reached out for people’s thoughts on potential pathways to social justice and lasting peace. Joy posted a response consisting of five words of reassurance:
“Cows. Cows are the solution.”
Joy, 40, has dedicated her life to helping create a better world for cattle and other animals and forging greater connectedness between all beings. She's the founder of Lasa Sanctuary, a haven for animals rescued from circumstances of cruelty, neglect, exploitation or abandonment. Joy and Tom, who is 37, own, operate and live at the sanctuary, located in rural Jefferson, Ashtabula County, Ohio. They share the property with more than 130 nonhuman animals encompassing 17 species, including cattle, chickens, ducks, goats, pigs, sheep, turkeys, deer, cats and dogs.
Neither Joy nor Tom takes a salary from Lasa. It’s an all-volunteer, nonprofit, 501c3 organization funded almost entirely through donations from people living in Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S. and the world. In addition to overseeing Lasa operations with Tom (who serves as the animals’ primary caretaker, the organization's volunteer coordinator and a member of the board), Joy holds down a full-time job as a mental health counselor.
Many people would collapse under the weight of such a demanding set of daily responsibilities. But in conversation with me over lunch at Tommy’s in Cleveland Heights, Joy was buoyant and animated. For her, Lasa is more a source of placidity than a producer of anxiety.
“I worry constantly," she said. "But day to day, I just channel it into cherishing the animals. I just breathe and love the hell out of them.”
Lasa’s roots go back to 2007, when Joy, who was single at the time, started a cat and dog rescue organization out of her home near Wooster, Ohio. Around the same time, she became an avid supporter of Mercy for Animals (MFA), an international, nonprofit organization that advocates for the prevention of cruelty to farmed animals and compassionate food choices and policies. MFA helped open her eyes to the sad realities of the animal agriculture industry in her native Wayne County and beyond.
She soon envisioned expanding her philanthropic efforts to a wider variety of animals. In late 2010, while immersed in training at a vegan conference in Cincinnati, she resolved to establish a sanctuary primarily for rescued farm animals. She also came up with a name for the place.
“Trevor Hall had a song called “Unity,” Joy explained. “I was at this conference and had seen Trevor perform there. I was walking around by myself, kind of socially awkward, listening to this song on my iPod. And there’s this one phrase that goes, ‘love all, serve all and create no sorrow.’ I just loved it. It was a simple, beautiful concept.”
“Love all, serve all” became the basis of the name “Lasa,” but Joy also points out that Lhasa, pronounced the same way as the sanctuary’s name, is a city in Tibet. Lhasa used to be the center of Tibetan Buddhism.
Nine months after the conference, Joy scraped together enough funds to purchase a former chicken farm in Jefferson with a modest residence, three neglected barns and 10.6 acres of land. It was a big move, taking her 100 miles away from family and friends. But the place seemed nearly ideal for her purposes and the price was right. She moved into the house with 12 rescued pets—six dogs and six cats—and got to work turning the farm into a sanctuary.
“I wish I could tell you I had a big, strategic plan,” Joy said, “but I didn’t. It was all very intuitive. You worry about budgets, you worry about proper permits and all the logistical stuff, but at the end of the day, when my intuition tells me to do something, you’re not going to stop me. I’m also a person who refuses to have regrets. So even if it had all failed, I would’ve been proud that I tried it.”
The hard work of transforming the dilapidated property took nearly a year, with much of the labor performed by Joy and a small circle of people she refers to as “cheerleaders.” It was a costly project, with $20,000 spent on fencing alone. An old cow barn that had been turned into a wood shop needed extensive modifications and repairs to make it habitable for animals again. Bees living in hives inside that barn were not amused by the clamorous work going on around them, and they made their presence known to the humans who were disrupting their peace.
It was during this time that Joy met Tom. They were introduced by common friends, and Tom offered to help with the sanctuary project. The couple married in 2012.
That same year, Lasa welcomed its first farm animal, Sullivan, a Khaki Campbell duck. He still lives and thrives there.
Most of Lasa’s animals came from other sanctuaries and rescue groups. As a rule, the organization does not carry out its own rescues, although Lasa people found a few of its animals wandering the streets. Several animals were brought there after law enforcement authorities seized them from cruelty situations. Many came to Lasa in dire need of medical attention. Lasa does not offer its animals for adoption; they are lifelong residents of the sanctuary.
In addition to serving as a sanctuary, Lasa promotes and educates about veganism. Joy and Tom are ethical vegans, meaning they consume no animal products and oppose all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty toward, animals.
Attracting funding is a formidable and unending challenge at Lasa. Most donations come in the form of sponsorships, ranging from $10 a month for a chicken, duck, turkey, cat, dog or other small animal to $100 a month for the “human herd,” Lasa’s term for its cadre of volunteers.
“We actually have a sponsor in Tokyo,” Joy said.
Fundraiser events are another source of cash, and the sanctuary is always looking for additional people who are willing to donate labor.
“We’re pretty maxed out at this point,” Joy said, referring to the number of animals Lasa can afford to feed and shelter. Turning away new residents is an ongoing necessity. “I get at least two requests a week, and a lot of times a request is for multiple animals. Last week, we were asked if we could take in 20 geese. No, we couldn’t. That’s the hardest thing about running a sanctuary. It’s not cleaning up after the animals, or stressing out over funding, or being unable to sleep at night because someone is sick. It’s saying ‘no’—that’s the hardest thing. It’s heartbreaking.”
Now that Lasa’s population is at capacity, Joy is focused on raising funds to cover the cost of repairs to the sanctuary’s structures, including a new roof for one of the barns, and finding ways to operate more efficiently. At some future point, Joy would like to purchase more land so that additional animals can be added to the Lasa tribe.
To Joy, Lasa is more than an organization. “Lasa is my daughter,” she said. “Every decision I make, I take her into account.”
Visit Lasa Sanctuary on the web: lasasanctuary.org.
Jeff Hirst is a freelance writer based in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. His 38 years of writing experience span across marketing, public relations, employee communication and other areas of corporate communication. He has also written extensively about personal finance. When not creating at his computer keyboard, Jeff enjoys hiking, exploring ecology and taking in concerts, opera, ballet and classic films. He and his partner, Todd, are both ethical vegans. You can find Jeff on the web at www.jeffhirstwriter.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.