Like many first-time pet owners, Carly Keserich was fascinated by the idea of having a new animal to love and care for. When she and a former roommate adopted a Juliana pig, marketed to none-the-wiser masses as the “teacup pig,” tiny enough to be toted around town in a handbag, Keserich was all in and ready to give the teeny piglet a home in their Tremont apartment.
But when reality set in, as it eventually always does for new pet parents, Keserich quickly learned there is no such thing as a “mini pig” that can happily spend its days in an urban apartment, let alone be carried around in a purse. Juliana pigs can grow to be upwards of 90 pounds, which “Poppy,” now 9 years old, currently is.
Instead of washing her hands of the animal and dropping it at a shelter (or dumping it, as so many ignorant new pet owners cruelly do), Keserich set out to give Poppy a better life by moving to a house in Ohio City and constructing proper outdoor housing for the growing pig. Poppy soon became an Instagram sensation with 4,900 followers as “Pig in the City,” but the mature, kind-hearted decision also turned out to be a stepping-stone to a much larger mission and story.
Fashioning a safe space
Nearly a decade later, Poppy is living her best life at the Homestead Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization founded by Keserich and dedicated to rescuing farm animals who are either unwanted or have been abused and neglected.
Poppy isn’t alone. More than 30 animals call the Brecksville location home, from lambs to turkeys to guinea fowl to ducks and a goat with special needs. Keserich’s experience with Poppy was the seed that sprouted her idea for a nonprofit location that provides veterinarian care, enrichment and shelter for animals of all kinds.
“People just assumed I wanted their farm animals,” Keserich said of her time in Ohio City with Poppy. “People would literally be dumping chickens in our yard. Ohio City has a big chicken population, and unfortunately cock fighting too, and I partnered with City Dogs Cleveland – Cleveland Animal Care and Control – and they would call me to see if I could take more and more animals in. At one point, my husband and I had our pig, our dog, and 25 chickens on a .1-acre lot.
“While it wasn’t overcrowded, we needed more space,” she added. “We looked on the east side, but then we found a Snow House on Snowville Road in Brecksville. We went to an open house and immediately fell in love with the property, which was built in 1862 by Alex Snow, had the original barn, and sits on 40 wooded acres.”
Carly, and her husband, Andrew, purchased the Snowville Road residence and went to work creating the one-year-old Homestead Animal Sanctuary. She and her team have helped all sorts of creatures by either giving them a safe space to live out their days or working to adopt them out through a rigorous adoption program.
Keserich’s reputation continues to grow, along with the amount of calls she receives about neglected, abused and/or unwanted farm animals. Most discover her via a Google search, social media or word-of-mouth. Keserich has found a niche in Brecksville, with other similar agencies in Medina (Whispering Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary) and Ravenna (Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary).
“We’ve helped three cows, we did a 60-chicken rescue where the chickens were near death, we took a call about two lemurs left in an attic, and we recently seized 13 pigs from Poppy’s breeder, among others,” Keserich said.
The Homestead Animal Sanctuary provides educational courses on farm animal care and frequently welcomes volunteers, private tours and school groups for a nominal fee. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, every dollar raised goes towards feeding, veterinarian care and shelter maintenance of resident animals. Donations are always accepted, and any amount is appreciated.
The Homestead Animal Sanctuary is also planning a vegan farm-to-table fundraising event with Spice Catering.
“I love the education factor of when I’m able to have school kids here or volunteers and allow people to simply be here with the animals,” Keserich said. “I’m giving the animals a safe space that’s simply theirs and has the right care. It’s very cool to involve kids and to see that ‘lightbulb moment’ for people connecting with our animals.”
A graduate of Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School and one of four kids, Keserich didn’t immediately set out to do animal rescue work. Her roots lie in fashion, having attended fashion design school upon graduating from high school and working as a stylist for professional athletes. But the glitz-and-glam lifestyle proved to be personally unrewarding, and Keserich opted to leverage her love of animals instead.
“I was that girl in college who was always finding stray dogs or cats left in boxes,” she said. “I guess I’ve always been sort of doing this work, just without the nonprofit title.”
After her initial encounter with Poppy and realizing she knew very little about truly raising a farm animal, Keserich made it her mission to educate herself and others, work with local partners and mentor with an animal behaviorist. Through the years, she continues to hone her skills, share her knowledge with others and credits nearby Maple Crest Farm for assisting her. Opening the Homestead Animal Sanctuary, found at thehomesteadohio.org, rounds out Keserich’s journey from L.A. fashionista to amateur pet-pig owner to founder of a successful farm animal rescue sanctuary.
“In one year, we’ve doubled in size,” Keserich said. “Where I see us going in the future is simply continuing to grow and saving more animals. I’m not setting out to take down an entire industry, but I do hope to continue to offer a safe space that has the right set up for them.” ∞