Animal Farm

Farm supervisor Jeanne Selander helps Dr. Doug Mader collect blood from Albert the tortoise for his annual exam.

Dear Dr. Doug,

With this COVID stuff I was wondering what is happening at the Animal Farm on Stock Island? Is it still open? Are the animals still there? My kids and I love that place!

Thank you, Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Thank you for the note and your concern for the Animal Farm. I agree. It is a real gem for all of us here in the Keys. Please don’t worry, all is good on Stock Island. I shared your email with Monroe County Sheriff’s Animal Farm Supervisor Jeanne Selander. Here is her response:

“For those of you who have been asking when the farm will reopen, we currently do not have a projected date. We have inmates working on the farm, so it is very important for us not to introduce COVID into our jail.

During the shutdown, we have been hard at work making improvements (adding shade sails), building and renovating habitats (lemurs, violet turaco and Cuban/Nile crocodile) and painting fences. New additions include royal palm turkeys, Sebastopol geese and Indian fantail pigeons. We hope to be able to welcome visitors back sometime next year.”

For anyone not familiar with the Sheriff’s Animal Farm, here is a little history of this amazing little place.

Nestled under a Spartan concrete building at the end of Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream” you’ll find a most unusual collection of critters within the confines of the county’s foremost correctional facility, the Monroe County Detention Center. Most people living in the Keys don’t even know this Eden exists.

Surrounded by 20-foot-tall fences adorned with coiled razor wire are horses, pigs, sheep, goats, many species of birds, various small mammals, an emu named Kramer, a llama named Buckey, and dozens of cold-blooded critters, including crocodilians, frogs, toads, turtles, tortoises, lizards and snakes.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Animal Farm, the only one of its kind in North America, is wholly confined within the grounds of the jail and, with the exception of the farm supervisor, is staffed by inmates wearing bright orange jumpsuits.

Started in 1994, this licensed USDA zoo was initially a refuge for wayward ducks that had been plaguing a nearby golf course and getting hit by cars on the road. Shortly afterwards, the SPCA from Miami called and asked if the facility would be willing to take in a blind horse it had found abandoned. Using inmate labor, a stall and pen were built, and the first mammal was able to call the jail “home.”

Over the years the reputation of the little animal sanctuary at the end of the road grew, not for being a tourist attraction like the San Diego Zoo or Disney, but for its willingness to take in and care for any wayward critter. All the animals currently residing on the farm were abandoned, abused or confiscated. The farm is funded entirely by donations.

The Animal Farm hosts more than 250 animals at any time. I make monthly veterinary health rounds to the facility and discuss the biology, husbandry and veterinary care of the animal inhabitants with the inmates. This opportunity also teaches the inmates new skills and helps guide them in directions that may just one day help keep them from coming back.

You can follow the activities on the farm’s Facebook page: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm.

Dr. Doug Mader is an ABVP board-certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to dmaderdvm@gmail.com.

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