Each year, Pet Rock Fest organizers reach out to the public to request nominations for people (or animals) who have shown exemplary actions on behalf of our beloved animals. We look for heroes who work tirelessly to protect the welfare of animals or someone who has performed an act of pure kindness to save or protect an animal.
Heroes come in all forms, and this year, Pet Rock Fest honors two humans who have shown amazing work and are worthy of our applause and attention.
Let’s meet this year’s heroes:
“Cathy has always been the most compassionate person I’ve ever known toward all living creatures,” Fitzgerald’s sister Lynn Reed explains. “She has rescued, more times than I can count, birds with broken wings, or orphaned bunnies, and even bugs. She looks at all life in the same way; they deserve to live as much as humans. She’s made numerous trips to Tufts Wildlife Clinic with those broken-winged or fracture-limbed who she feels were put in her path for saving.”
Fitzgerald, who is also a retired professional photographer from Shrewsbury, is a household name to Pet Rock Fest, too. She’s supported the nonprofit and cause for many years, particularly with her many cat photo contest entries (her beloved cat Oscar Jarrard grabbed the trophy several times).
Fitzgerald also parlays her commitment to animals into action by volunteering for Missing Dogs Massachusetts, an amazing nonprofit dedicated to searching and finding missing pets throughout the state, and has helped track and find lost pups in Worcester and Shrewsbury.
“She recently led a family to find their beloved lost pooch, Daisy, in the Burncoat area of Worcester,” says Reed. “The family she recently helped entailed keeping in contact with the family (usually a few times a day), giving them advice, hanging fliers, and physically searching for the pups.”
Putting her pro photography skills to use for animal welfare, Fitzgerald also volunteers for the Brown Dog Coalition, capturing these orphaned dogs’ “best side” to help get them into forever homes. She also visits the dogs who are waiting for homes at the shelter and donates food and other goods regularly to the Worcester Animal Rescue League.
Fitzgerald has had many rescued cats in the past and currently shares her pad with a rescue mixed-breed dog named Bo.
“She is a true voice for the voiceless,” adds Reed. “She rescues the mistreated, saves the injured, and loves the abandoned with all her heart. And she does so quietly, without the need for accolades or awards or recognition, but I think she deserves those.”
JOHN AND KATHY HALAMKA, UNITY FARM
It was once said by the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Living a true compassion towards all creatures we share this planet with is a trait most have forgotten and some may never truly understand.
As Unity Farm’s Board President and Executive Director, John and Kathy Halamka exemplify this very compassion toward all of those who share this world with them. Whether a volunteer, staff, or an animal in need of a brighter future, all who have the honor of knowing these two gracious people are infectiously taken away by their kindness. John and Kathy make an exceptional effort to provide safe and loving lifelong homes for farm animals while offering unique educational programs to promote kindness and connection within their community.
Established in December 2016, Unity Farm Sanctuary became a haven for animal rescues that includes goats, alpacas, sheep, cows, ponies, horses, pigs, and feathered friends of numerous varieties. Hand in hand with the dedication of their affectionate volunteers and staff, they seek positive change for animals and people alike. This is achieved with their incredible efforts to network among other national animal sanctuaries seeking permanent homes, provide educational programs to teach compassionate care for all ages, and work toward a positive future without the impact of animal-based industries.
“Although their rescuing efforts started years before,” says Jennifer D’Angelo, humane education director for Unity Farm, “in 2016 John and Kathy established Unity
Farm Sanctuary; which is currently home to more than 300 formerly-farmed animals, with many
others who have called Unity their home since that time, whether it be for goats, sheep, llamas,
alpacas, horses, ponies, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, turkeys and an
occasional guinea pig or parakeet (in addition to the dogs, cats, and birds who grace their home).”
Tyler Wehr, Unity Farm board member and volunteer, adds: “Kathy and John have influenced my life in a way I never thought was possible. Since starting to volunteer in 2018, they both have encouraged me to believe that it is achievable to change our course in this world. Volunteering and becoming a board member at Unity Farm Sanctuary is leading me further away from my animal agricultural past and pointing me closer to inspiring many others about my very own journey of compassion on all levels. The connection to each animal under their care, opens an endless discussion about how we all have an obligation to create a better home for all living beings.”
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Unity Farm Sanctuary has become an escape for visitors within the New England community and beyond by continuing to expand programs with the goal of making a meaningful difference in the lives of animals and people in the world around us. Tours, classroom visits, pen pal programs and featured “Learn with Us” topics are just a few of the diverse educational opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can be involved in. Unity Farm Sanctuary prides itself on providing countless resources to live more sustainably, transition to a plant-based lifestyle or become involved in changemaker initiatives such as LEAP (Leaders for Ethics, Animals and the Planet).
“John and Kathy dedicate their lives to creating a safe haven for every individual,” says D’Angelo, “where suffering and loneliness are alleviated, medical care and enrichment are provided and a deep focus is placed on sharing the stories of these amazing non-human ambassadors to generate understanding and compassion for farmed animals and help build a kinder planet. John and Kathy are a beacon of light for their community and have created an inclusive space where team members, volunteers and visitors from all walks of life can come together to care for non-human animals, learn about sustainability, how to pursue a life free of exploitation and cruelty and make a positive impact with each and every connection they make.”