Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary continually inspires and drives founder Zoe Rosenberg as she strives to achieve her goal of protecting and liberating animals. Through resistance and vocalization, Rosenberg creates an impact in the San Luis Obispo community and beyond.
Rosenberg is a 15-year-old high school student at Olive Grove Charter School, balancing her schoolwork with the duties of a sanctuary operator and an animal rights activist in San Luis Obispo.
Rosenberg was raised in a vegetarian household, with numerous pets, which inspired her compassion and respect for animals. When Rosenberg was about 10 years old, she became the owner of six baby chicks and quickly fell in love with them.
“They were no different than the dogs and the guinea pigs I’d grown up my entire life with, and I realized that the rest of the world doesn’t see them that way,” Rosenberg said. “Over 2,000 chickens die every single second worldwide and no one is talking about it.”
At the age of 11, Rosenberg transitioned to a vegan lifestyle. However, she realized she was not completely satisfied and wanted to expand her efforts. Rosenberg found her answer in Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary —previously Happy Hen Chicken Rescue— which she created in 2014.
Initially, the sanctuary was intended as a refuge for chickens only, but over time, four pigs, four ducks, two cows, two geese, one goat, one sheep and one turkey joined the family. A total of 150 animals now live in the sanctuary, intermingling with one another as well as the Rosenbergs’ dogs and cats. Most of the animals were rescued from the food industry or other environments Rosenberg deemed abusive. Rosenberg helped save the lives of more than 600 animals since the start of her mission.
“She really is doing activism here. On a regular basis, she’s getting a message out. That wasn’t happening before she came on the scene,” San Luis Obispo animal rights activist Peggy Koteen said.
Rosenberg’s mother, Sherstin Rosenberg, is a veterinary physician and volunteers full-time at the sanctuary.
“This is really a dream come true for me to take in all of these animals that we have rescued from the food industry and to give them a permanent place to live and be able to share their stories with the world,” Sherstin said. “To be able to share this with [Zoe] is just amazing. It’s magical, really.”
Every morning, Zoe and Sherstin let the animals out of their barns and coops to roam around the property. When the animals are out, the two clean their living spaces. Sherstin tends to the sick or disabled chickens in the “ICU” as well as the arthritic pigs, giving all of the animals their necessary medications. At 4 p.m., the animals are put back in their proper areas for shelter and rest.
Zoe attends protests and rescues every few months, with the intent of supporting “safe, happy and free” lives for all animals. She is currently working towards regulating humane labels on products in San Luis Obispo to ensure their accuracy. Zoe voices her beliefs by speaking publicly including talks at the Animal Rights Conference in Washington D.C. in 2017 and the Arizona Vegetarian Food Festival in 2018. Zoe’s “best speaking achievement this far” was at TEDxSanLuisObispo 2017, at which she described her arrest at Dodger Stadium as a result of protesting the sale of hot dogs.
Zoe organizes San Luis Obispo’s Direct Action Everywhere chapter, part of a worldwide animal rights network. She plans monthly protests against the exploitation of animals and educates the public on related matters. Most recently, Zoe organized the largest animal rights march in San Luis Obispo history, which followed VegFest, where she ran a booth.
“I think it’s really special that Zoe is making activism her number one priority, especially in a college town,” Cal Poly theatre sophomore and VegFest attendee Alex Holmes said. “While there are healthy and informed citizens in this city, there are also students who know little to no information about animals and the way they are treated by corporations. It is really influential that Zoe is able to spread the truth as a peaceful activist.”
Zoe’s beliefs are often challenged at protests or on social media by those who hold opposing views.
“We, as animal rights, activists just have to remember to always take the moral high-ground and always be love-based in our activism and not respond with hate, instead accepting that we’re all in different places and eventually, hopefully, we’ll all come to the same conclusion and realize that all animals deserve compassion,” Zoe said.
While Zoe is unsure how much more the sanctuary can expand in terms of land, she hopes to continue to spread the animals’ stories. She would like to eventually have an urban sanctuary located in Berkeley, California. Both Zoe and Sherstin hope to inspire more people to get involved in the animal rights movement, staying true to their motto: “sanctuaries, not slaughterhouses.”
Volunteers are welcome to visit the Happy Hen Animal Rescue on most days at 9 a.m., as long as the day is cleared with Sherstin or Zoe in advance. More information can be found at chickenrescue.org.