Just beyond their green pasture, something special has the attention of horses Vogue, Pagan and Brisk and their pony buddy Lotto. Workmen are putting the finishing touches on an array of solar panels, so that on this steamy summer day, Burleigh Manor Animal Sanctuary and Eco-Retreat goes off the grid.
The electric meter has indeed stopped spinning, but that is likely the only thing that has ceased activity there since summer 2012, when the 10.5-acre Ellicott City property cemented its status as a nonprofit with a mission of providing care, a safe haven and a home for unwanted, neglected and abused livestock.
Lisa Davis, her husband, Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, and her dad, Ed Davis, rule the roost, aided by a staff of volunteers and a summer intern, providing for the care and feeding of 19 animals and seven fowl.
But that’s just one piece of the operation at Burleigh Manor. Davis and crew also host meetings and events at the property (drapery around the pool house bore witness to a recent wedding) and tours of the farm and property, an 1802 manor built by Col. Rezin Hammond on 11,000 acres -- all done in the spirit of environmental responsibility.
While permitting no activity that will disturb the animals, the family’s concern extends to the world around them as well as the creatures that dwell upon it, and using solar energy is only one way the concern is manifest in the Eco-Retreat. Herbivore denizens themselves provide vegetation management with the help of a little rock salt instead of agricultural chemicals. Recycling, rain catchment, composting, use of non-disposables and Larry Cheskin’s Tesla electric car represent just the first year’s efforts.
It’s a second career for Lisa Davis, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience and nutrition and is still transitioning out of her position as vice president of science and clinical affairs for Medifast. She now handles coordination and communication (i.e., animal needs, marketing, volunteers, events, budgeting -- “every day is different”). Her dad, who thought he had retired from a career in construction, is in charge of operations. Cheskin, while still heading Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, is treasurer, backup for Ed and researcher of the property’s history.
“I kind of missed my calling,” says Lisa, 42, expected by friends to be a veterinarian after being raised by animal-loving parents and growing up with horses. In fact, the sanctuary was established in honor of her mother, Peg Davis, who died in February 2012.
Now critters like pigs Mabel Ann and Hamlet stroll the neighborhood (although Mabel Ann, rescued as a runt from a stockyard-bound litter and raised from an 8-pound piglet to her current 400 pounds, and Hamlet, tipping the scale at more than 500 pounds, are in need of new XXL harnesses).
There’s Jenny the donkey, waking Ed Davis at 6:30 every morning with a bray “far louder than a rooster,” who came from an owner no longer able to afford her care.
Brisk, a standardbred racer condemned to the life of a draft horse, can open his own stall door, doing the same for his mates, but once free never goes anywhere.
And Alpie, largest of a trio of goats and -- wouldn’t you know -- the one who aspires to lap-pet status, had been part of a group that visited schools but was no longer wanted.
Many of the animals at Burleigh Manor were saved from slaughter, some after lives of neglect or exploitation. Most are seniors who have at last found their forever home, although a few younger animals, perhaps Lotto the pony or the eponymous Li’l Cow, could possibly be adopted under specific circumstances.
Black-and-white checkered guinea fowl arrived from a neighbor for a different reason: an 11-year-old’s school project. They also represent an early 19th-century breed of the sort Davis hopes to add to the mix.
Virginia Tech sophomore dairy science major Briana Hanlon, a 19-year-old from Ellicott City who was Burleigh’s summer intern, handled everyone and everything from basic barn duties to unexpected problems, like the time thoroughbred Doogie ambled up with a gashed forehead and gave her a look as if to say, “Why are you getting all worked up? It’s just a scratch.”
“The three goats love to test my patience,” she says. “I have to squeeze into the feed room so as not to let them pile in and plow through both the goat and chicken feed.” Goats, Hanlon jokes, can be pigs!
Smita Menon met Lisa Davis when the two volunteered at a school function. Long a financial supporter of animal welfare causes, the Woodstock resident was impressed with Davis’ accomplishments at Burleigh Manor and “wanted to help her in any way I could to maximize the potential I see in Burleigh Manor.”
Since coming aboard last spring to help with communications and other back-end management duties, Menon has seen that “she faces every day with the same beautiful smile and the same love and compassion toward the animals.”