Helena Lundblad is the founder and president of Magical Creatures of Hamakua, a sanctuary for farmed animals on the Big Island of Hawaii. The volunteer-run sanctuary is a registered nonprofit organization and has since the opening in 2018 grown to today house 62 animals, all of which were rescued from abuse, neglect or endangering situations. Besides caring for rescued animals, the sanctuary offers tours to the public and is also working on an outreach program to bring to school classes around the island. The goal is to inspire change in the way society views and treats animals by sharing stories and inviting people to meet the animals.
Website: Magical Creatures of Hamakua
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Hey, Helena, Thanks for coming on today. Hi, Chris. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to have you and for you to tell us your story and your journey. And how does somebody from Sweden end up in Hawaii, in American animal sanctuaries? Maybe you can start us off and just give us that story on how you fell into all of this. Of course. Yes, I did grow up in Sweden. I grew up in the countryside in Sweden and I always had animals around me, but I never really knew any other than farm-type animals, until I ended up in Hawaii a few years ago. But growing up, I always had cats and dogs, and I was all into horses. I basically lived in horse stables growing up, so that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I actually went to an agriculture high school with the goal of eventually working with horses, in some way. Animals were always a huge part of my life, but I never ever had a sanctuary in mind, growing up. I wasn’t even vegetarian back then. It’s how I found my way to Hawaii.
It was multiple steps coming to Hawaii, and I met my husband in 2008 and he lived in San Diego at the time when I met him and I ended up moving to San Diego 2012 and where we rented a little house in San Diego, we were not allowed to have any animals. This is when I kind of realized what huge impact animals in my life had and how miserable I was when I didn’t have any type of animal in my life. I was trying to steal the neighbor’s cat, tried to have them come move into our house, even though we weren’t allowed to have them. And I was actually not doing too well when I couldn’t have an animal at all. So when we eventually moved out to Hawaii, due to my husband’s work, in 2016, we found this beautiful 13-acre property on the Hamakua Coast, the Big Island. And we had these pastures with a few cows in them and we knew that we, I knew that I wanted to have animals around me, but I didn’t know in which shape or form. Sure.
I went to the shelter, actually, the week after we moved here, we went and adopted two cats and a dog because we wanted that and a few months later, someone contacted me about an orphan goat. And that’s how this life started. I guess you could say. This little orphan baby was about 3lbs when I picked her up. A couple of days old and we named her Janice, and I didn’t know at the time when I picked her up, but she was severely injured. Turned out that she had jumped through a camping fire. The people who found her were camping and didn’t put the fire all the way out at night and sometime during the night, she must have jumped through the fire and burned her hooves.
So the day after I got her, she started limping really badly. I did tons of research. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her hooves until I found this article about sheep being trapped in a bushfire. And I saw the pictures of his sheep, and I kinda started looking more closely and started seeing other signs of her legs being burnt. But little Janice had this dense black fur, so you couldn’t really see her skin. You couldn’t see that she was burned, but she damaged all of her hooves and was nothing a veterinarian could do about it. He just warned me that she would lose at least two hooves, they actually fell off altogether, her little hooves. So Janice ended up living inside the house with us for six months, actually, she lived in the house. And this is when I started to see farm animals or other animals than the normal companion animals, as the same. It was no difference between Janice, in my mind now, and BeBe the dog or Joey the cat. She was just another little personality living with us. Oh, of course. Yeah. And we got to know Janice very closely. Janice was basically on my arm for three months, when she started to learn to walk again and I made prosthetic legs for her. And I had to tend to those legs every morning and every night. And we just had this amazing bond growing between us. I still see Janice as my greatest inspiration and my best friend. I told everybody my best friend is a goat. Janice is three years old now, and she has tons of personality. Eventually, she did move out of the house and into the yellow barn here and she has a companion, Tom. But she’s still my very good friend. And she’s the one who made me realize that there’s absolutely no difference at all between these animals, that people normally consume and eat, and animals that we choose to have as our pets and companions in the house.
What a great story. Now, does she still have prosthetic legs? Or how does that work now? Yes, she does. So the first set of prosthetic legs I made myself, I didn’t know they’re actually companies that make prosthetic legs, professionally, for animals. When she was about a year, year and 1/2 maybe, she got her first set of professionally made prosthetic legs. And now she just received her second set because she’s growing. So you make a little mold of their leg and their stump and send them to this company, and they send you back prosthetic legs. So she’s doing really great with her new legs. She can get out and around the sanctuary just like anybody else? Yeah, pretty much. She still sleeps inside. I have to take her in the house. She has a little barn. She has you wrapped around her little finger. She’s like, All right, guys, I’m gonna go sleep in the house now. See you later. Well, I would. If it wasn’t for my husband, she would still be living. It’s like goats, they don’t make great house companions, actually. You can’t house train a goat, and it’s not fair to keep them in diapers, forever. So she does very well in her little barn at night. I need to take her legs off every night when she comes inside to let them air out and to prevent rubbing and stuff like that. So that’s why she sleeps inside, but she’s outside all day with her friend Tom.
So starting with Janice, she was kind of like one of the first residents. And then how big have you guys grown? So we have 62 animals in total. But that’s including the three cats and the dog and a few of them are fosters. But most of them are permanent residents. So, yeah, we have a big crew here. We have 21 goats. 16 pigs. Wild sheep. I was going to say you’ve got quite the variety. Now, has that just kind of grown over the years as different animals needed help? Or as people came to you. I first started a sanctuary two years ago now, actually almost to the day, two years ago. And it was because our property has turned into a sanctuary without me even planning for it. So I had Janice and I eventually adopted two hunting orphans, goats whose mothers had been trapped and killed, as companions for Janice now I had three goats and someone needed two piglets to be fostered. And I think those people, also saying two senior horses needed somewhere to go. And I took those in and all of a sudden I kind of had a sanctuary already.
So I decided to incorporate a nonprofit organization two years ago. But that year, the same year as I incorporated, we had a volcano eruption on the big island. I’m sure you heard about that. And all of a sudden there were all these animals being displaced from the evacuation area, humans were evacuating, and many of them did not bring their farmed animals with them. They brought their pets with them, but farmed animals were left behind. So we started organizing evacuations of farmed animals and pets, also. We would just get a group of people organizing volunteers to go in and help with any kind of animals that need transportation and temporary fosters and homes. And all of a sudden my sanctuary grew with seven more goats and four sheep and some cows and 8 pigs. So now we were a large sanctuary, not so much of micro sanctuary anymore.
Did you know how to care for all of these animals? I know you said you had some background in horses and obviously started to learn goats. But now you get sheep and pigs and cows. I mean, how did you go about learning all of this? Learning by doing basically. No. I reached out to people that knew more than me off course, and I was always very interested in learning more about these animals. But as I mentioned before, I went to this agriculture high school for horses back in the days, and they did make us take all the farmed animal classes too. So I had a little bit of experience from cows and pigs before, but not really hands-on and it had been years. It’s nothing like in a textbook, right? No, exactly. But I’ve always had this connection with animals. It doesn’t really matter which species, I can kind of figure them out. So I was never uncomfortable around them, and that’s a good first step. And then I reached out to people who could teach me more about them and how to care for them and the best way. Also started to look into other Farm Sanctuary’s and see if they could share some knowledge and information about these species. So it definitely has been a very rapid learning curve, steep learning curve, getting to know all these animals, and learning as much as I could about them. Nothing makes me happier. It’s something that just perfectly fitted my lifestyle and my personality, to care for all of these animals.
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Now you’re, like you said, roughly two years in, and now you’re an official sanctuary with 62 residents, which has got to be, I can only imagine with the feeding schedule looks like, in the morning. Oh, yeah. So we start at 7 a.m. every morning. We have a two-hour feeding shift in the morning. Luckily, I have volunteers staying with me now that has been a huge release having volunteers coming to stay with us here. So they’re helping me with the feeding and the everyday care of the animals. So we start every morning at seven. I start with special needs animals. We have quite a few with special needs right now. Besides Janice and her prosthetic legs, I have Vincent, another handicap goat, who lives actually in the house. He’s a house goat right now. He’s paralyzed in his back legs, he’s in a wheelchair. So I put him in his wheelchair. Bring him outside. We have a blind goat, and we have a visually impaired goat and all of them is my start of the day, every day to take care of their special needs. And my volunteers help me with the feeding. And it takes roughly two hours every morning to get everyone fed and clean the shelters and do health checks, the waters, and things like that. And then we do it all over again in the evening. Same routine and also have lunch. So we spend about five hours every day between two or three people at the time. Taking care of the everyday needs of the animals.
Now you guys are a true sanctuary, right? These animals will live with you until their natural life ends? Yes, absolutely. We do not adopt out any of the animals. We’re also not an open-intake shelter. We can’t accept old animals that people are trying to give us. We’re running out of space and it wouldn’t be fair to our residents if we took on more than we could handle, of course, we do have a few like I said, we do not adopt out. But sometimes we do a week of foster, for a short time. If someone needs, for example, humane society out here, they can’t house farmed animals for fostering. The two horses that we’ve had have been fosters for the Humane Society, also two pigs, that we are fostering and this little orphan goat, that we received a few days ago. She, I wasn’t supposed to foster her, actually had a home lined up for her already. When someone contacted me about this orphan goat, I had somewhere she could go. But it turned out that she was prematurely born. She was a little bit early, and she was not 100% ready to be in a new home yet. So I decided to keep her until she’s stable and she’s eating well and she’s gaining weight and then she would go to her permanent home. But I’m at capacity for goats. I can’t take in permanent residents, but I can definitely help her for the first couple of weeks, maybe to make sure she has a good life ahead of her.
Yeah, no, that’s really cool that you’re able to flex your capacity just a little bit, as you said for temporary because you know what you’re capable of. And certainly, you don’t want to become overwhelmed because that defeats the purpose of what your mission is. Yeah, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and it is so, so hard to say no. That’s definitely I guess all sanctuary owners can agree that the hardest part about running a sanctuary is to turn people away, turn animals away. It’s definitely putting a lot of stress on you. And this is where sanctuary owners feel Compassion Fatigue, because you feel like you can always do more. You should always do more and stretch yourself a little bit more, but at the end of the day, you only have that many hours, and you take on too much, you’re gonna end up not being able to properly care for the ones you already have. So it’s definitely something I struggle with, and I know other sanctuary owners also struggle with all the time. It kind of comes with the concept. Being in this field means this constant living with a sense of urgency. I mean, when people contact me and say I have these eight goats on this property, they’re neglected and need to go. They’re turning the water off next week. They need to go now, and I can’t take them. It’s impossible to put more animals on my little tiny piece of land, but definitely wears you out, to constantly out to make these decisions and turn people away.
You’re exactly right. I mean, a Compassion Fatigue is something that we have to continually be aware of. And as you pointed out, you have to learn to say no because you can end up in a situation where all of your animals will need help. I think that’s smart, that you recognize that, and it is a constant struggle, right, because we do want to do more and we do see animals in these situations. We want to help, but at same time we have to be careful and to not fall too far down that hole. Well, the problem with this is that even though I recognize this and I don’t know this, logically my brain knows it. My heart feels different. It’s the constant torn of if I don’t do anything, no one will do something. So it’s gonna be a problem for this individual animal. I know it’s true, and I know that’s what I have to do. But it’s definitely, really, really hard on me. Yeah, I totally can understand. You become emotionally attached. And one of the people that has mentioned me over the years constantly reminds me. Remember, you didn’t put them in that situation. And while your heart wants to help, you have to also be cognizant of what you’re able to take on otherwise, then you are contributing to the situation. It’s a good way to look at it. Especially when they send you emails, pictures, please help with this piglet. You just have to turn off the images in your email, right? Exactly.
So, I was gonna ask you, now you guys are open to the general public, so your goal is to try and help educate the public on the plate and what they can do to help. Yes, so we do tours. We offer tours for the public. Being a sanctuary, though this is not a petting zoo or somewhere where people necessarily get to interact with animals. We always make sure that the people who come here know early on in the tour that we have this many animals, that they may not see all of them because all animals don’t want to be around people. Most of them do, though. It’s my favorite thing to do. Take people around here and introduce them to all of the animals. And who wants to come up to me? I will share their story and tell people where they came from. And it’s always so fun to see people connect with them and learn more about them. Just last week I had this young girl on a tour, and she was so fascinated with the stories, so she kept pointing at them. Like, what about that one? What was her story and she remembered all the names afterwards. She said can you tell the story about LLama Momma and LLama Baby again? And I tell this story all over again and she was so fascinated and that’s just amazing. I do love that. That’s one of my favorite things to do is to have people bond and connect with animals that they normally eat, and I’m pretty sure that I managed to sneak little seeds of compassion in people’s pockets, when they leave and they’re not even considering having a lifestyle. They can still kind of stop thinking and start having that seed growing somewhere. And hopefully it will sprout one day.
Well, it’s like you pointed out, it’s like we all have a journey and you didn’t start out vegan vegetarian. And now you’ve evolved on your journey and you’re seeding them, as you point out, with just that thought, right? Maybe that thought turns into something and it will lead them down the path. Absolutely. My vegan journey was I think it took me 12 years or something from first starting to, for health reasons, cut out rib meat or most of the meat. Actually, I was working on my degree in public health science, when I started to realize how bad meat was for our health and I had already issues with buying meat because I wanted to know where it came from, and I wanted to make sure it was “happy” meat. You can see the quotes, but I wanted to make sure it was from animals that were raised properly, so I was already struggling. I still wonder what would have happened if I was approached earlier with a different option. We’re so stuck in our habits and it’s so hard to change. And it’s so comfortable to stay where we used to be, instead of deviating outside, especially when you have family and friends that are not ready to move over towards veganism.
It took me a long time before I made it all the way over to veganism. That was about, probably about the time when we moved here, probably around about the time Janice was in the house, and I already cut out dairy and all meat. I still ate some eggs and fish and eventually was just ridiculous to hang on to something just because. And as soon as I took that last step, it was such a relief to just, I didn’t have to carry around that burden anymore of trying to figure out the way of consuming animal products that was in line with my moral beliefs. That business is really wearing on people, and that’s what I’m kind of hoping to do with the sanctuary, to give people an opportunity to connect with animals they normally consume and start seeing them in a different way. They have a name and they have a story. This little girl will remember that bacon is actually really Billy the pig, that was found on the highway, and it’s blind in one eye, you know. I love storytelling. I think that’s my way of contributing to animal welfare, to animal rights, Christians and the work that everybody’s doing now.
I know one of the things you guys are starting to do is you’re starting to make an outreach program for schools. Tell me a little bit about that. So that’s a goal for this year, actually. We are going to reach out to schools around the island and see if we can do a presentation in classes and then have the kids come out here, to meet the animals, afterwards and in a gentle way, introduce them to a different lifestyle. To get them to notice different animals, to see the similarities between the farmed animals and companion animals, and to teach them about, for example, how intelligent pigs are. And if we can show them how faithful and smart they are, they can also see that pigs in animal agriculture are miserable. If they’re so smart and they’re stuck in this little concrete pen with no mental stimulation, then we don’t even have to say that. We only have to show them how pigs prefer to live and how they have their family bonds and how they play and root and how the mud bathe. And then all of a sudden, you will see that this other life, that most pigs have, is probably not too good for them. So we’re working hard on this program. We hope we can be ready to bring that out to the public. Maybe May or June, and then hopefully we can get that started. That’s something I really look forward to.
So I’m curious. Is this where you thought you’d end up when you start looking back on this? I mean, it sounds like quite a journey. No, no, absolutely not. I didn’t even know animal sanctuaries existed. We don’t have them, really in Sweden, everything is so different and sweet, and it’s so small scale. So you don’t really realize how bad it is until you see how bad it can be. And now, looking back, I realize it’s not good in Sweden either. It’s small, but it’s so horrible, but you can’t really see it. I never knew that there were sanctuaries for burned animals until I moved to the US, until I actually moved here. So no, it was not at all in my future plans when I left Sweden those years ago. But now I don’t really understand why it wasn’t like that, but this makes a little sense. I was always the most happy around animals and doing something for others, and in this case, the animals mostly, but also for people. I think animals is a way of dealing with mental health issues. If you’re struggling with something, sitting with animals is definitely helping. It helps me, and it helps a lot of my peers. They mention that they often see the sanctuary as a way to reconnect and just kind of find the inner peace, just sitting with animals without asking the animals for anything. You just kind of threw in their presence and they will interact if they want to. And if you have a bond with them, this on mutual ground, the interaction with animals it’s really helpful. It definitely helps me when I feel overwhelmed, when I’m taking on a little bit too much. Or if I have to turn someone away or we’re going through something sad at the sanctuary, then definitely sitting with them. It’s what keeps me going and what gives me energy. Yeah, it helps to remind you why you do what you do. Absolutely. Yeah.
This has been really great, Helena to speak with you today and learn more about what you’re doing. Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up? I think that was everything. Certainly we’ll make sure to link to magicalcreaturesofhamakua.org. So that’s your website. And I know you said, you’re pretty active on Instagram and I know you got a Facebook page and all that, and it’s been really great to talk to you and to learn your story about what you’re doing. So thanks for coming on. Thank you so much for having me.
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