Two-year-old Blake Burkley broke down laughing when it came time to feed the cows.

Perched on her mother’s hip, the girl laughed as cows named Mary and Jesus searched with their tongues for a delicious treat. For Alexa Burkley of Irwin, a tour of Animal friendly sanctuary in Unity was a perfect way to introduce 11-month-old Blake and Briggs to creatures they don’t normally see.

“We are really trying to teach compassion with animals,” she said.

Also, it was a good opportunity to support Animal Friends of Westmoreland, a Youngwood-based nonprofit that operates a shelter and adoption center for dogs, cats and rabbits, in addition to the Farmland Sanctuary. said Father Brad Burkley.

Saturday’s visits were the first event on the sanctuary property since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Executive Director Kelli Brisbane said. The organization acquired the land in 2017 to provide a home for abused and neglected farm animals such as sheep, goats and pigs. It was important to start introducing the animals to people other than those who regularly care for them, she said.

About fifty people have registered for the visits. Liam Saltarelli, 6, from Greensburg, had a blast feeding sheep and trying to give treats to a trio of goats and a mini mule. He was a little more reluctant to feed the cows.

“I’m so excited we can come here,” Jeannette’s grandmother Jodi Morley said. “He loves animals. “

Brisbane said the organization plans to expand the sanctuary across the property’s 62 acres, allowing each species its own space and more freedom to come and go. Farm animals will spend their entire lives at the sanctuary.

The pandemic has been difficult for many shelters as initial restrictions halted in-person fundraising events. Brisbane said vets are also in high demand, sometimes making it difficult to move adoptable pets into new homes and open up space for others. Additionally, it appears that the number of people calling to hand over animals or report neglect has increased, she said.

A second series of visits to the sanctuary is scheduled for December 15 from 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. Reservations are required in advance. A ticket is a $ 10 donation.

Renatta Signorini is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .