In the spring of 2021, an organization named The Little Farm Rescue & Sanctuary left a small farm in Ojai, California, and made the trek east to a new location in Machipongo. Katie Cook had started The Little Farm Rescue & Sanctuary, a charity surviving on donations and volunteers six years earlier. Before they left California, the Virginia Pilot already ran a story about the 5-day journey to the Eastern Shore.
The new sanctuary was an immediate étoile du jour for local animal rights advocates.
Katie and her husband, Lester Cook bought a 115-acre farm parcel on the bayside as the sanctuary’s new home, naming it The Little Farm in Machipongo. The couple was quick to leverage social media and online fundraising to get the operation off the ground. By last summer 2022, the Little Farm appeared to be an unqualified success.
Until this fall, when, without warning, the Cooks pulled up stakes and moved to Tennessee. The Little Farm appears to have been converted to an upscale horse farm, with a new barn and fences and has been put up for sale for $1,250,000.00.
Sources tell the Mirror that Cooks plan to continue rescue work in Tennessee, but at a much smaller scale.
The Mirror became aware of the sanctuary last spring when one of the Shore’s top animal advocates told us about it, and asked if we would be willing to visit and write a piece about all the ‘good work’ going on there. We were excited and reached out to the Cooks to try and set up a time and place for us to visit. We eventually came up with a tentative time to meet, but a few days before we were asked to reschedule. We tried several more times, but something always seemed to come up (sick animals, barn work, fundraising work, etc.).
Since an in-person meeting seemed problematic, we did send a query that we were going to use for primer:
No worries, I understand! What I have found to work in the past for those of us with hectic schedules is to just send over the questions via email, and you answer them when you have time. The main goal is to raise awareness of your wonderful work, and hopefully drive more volunteers and especially donations. Here is what I was probably going to ask:
1. What is the main mission of The Little Farm?
2. Was there one thing that led you to begin this journey?
3. Where do you find your rescue animals?
4. You do so much to care for these animals, can you tell us about the Vet and animal hospitals that help?
5. Where are you located and how big is the farm?
6. How can people help?
7. A little off-topic, but do you know Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns? Her rescue is based in Machipongo also.
8. Please add anything else you would want folks to know about you!
Also, I would like to list links to all the places people can donate. I will include links to your web page and Facebook page, and if you could send over all the photos of the farm that you would like included, that would be great. I would love some pictures of you and your family also.
Thanks so much for all that you are doing!
Here is the response from Mrs. Cook:
Ive been working on your
questions..please let me know if this is ok or if you need anything else..Youre
welcome to come over and walk the sanctuary as well so you can see all the work
we’ve done and new projects we need to complete.
We have a really really big fundraiser
were launching this week for our last horse barn and fenced area for the new
horses we recently took in. Its a pretty scary undertaking but crucial for them
all to be safe and happy and ready for the winter. I’d love to share the link
to that once its live, before the article goes public..hoping it will help us
direct any traffic towards them.
1. Our primary mission is to rescue
and provide lifelong sanctuary to abused, neglected, and unwanted horses and
2. Ive been involved in rescue for the
majority of my adult life, (a little over 20 years), starting with dogs and
cats. But a chance meeting with a mini horse and then a piglet changed our
trajectory. Both needed immediate care and protection but there were pretty
llimited options and resources for them to live long happy lives. And so it
began..we became the rescue and sanctuary they needed.
3. We attend auctions, work closely
with animal control for cruelty investigations, and get weekly request from private
owners or concerned citizen asking for help.
4. We work around the clock to make
sure that everyone has all they need to have a beautiful pain free life. But we
are often working against years of neglect. Having a reliable veterinary team
has been crucial! Depending on the resident, we work with Coastal Equine,
Woodside Equine Clinic, New Bolton /UPenn Hospital, and locally we work with
Pet Care Veterinary Hospital and Eastern Shore Animal Hospital.
5. Were in Machipongo and our property
is 115 acres, though only about 40 acres is currently fenced and being used for
6. The best way to help is to join us
on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/m/thelittlefarm)
where they can sign up for a monthly sponsorship which helps us to cover all
recurring monthly expenses for the animals. We also have volunteer needs, local
handy-man needs for plumbing, bush hogging, etc. and a big fundraiser were
launching this week for the new horses.
7. We havent met Karen
I’ll work on photos ASAP and a list of the links for you. Thank you!!! I think our biggest need right now is help to spread the word on our fundraiser for the new barn and pasture space to move all the new horses over. Ill get that info to you ASAP!!! Please let me know if you’d like to come by and see what eve accomplished this first year here and our goals for the future!
The Mirror was excited to move forward with the story, but the conversation abruptly ended there. We were still thrilled to see something like the Little Farm take root on the Shore–the news that they had moved on hit us, and several others in the animal rights community pretty hard.
The Mirror has reached out to the Little Farm in Tennessee but has not received a response.
It appears the rescue’s Facebook page has been taken down, however, the Instagram page is still active.
One thing that we found odd was that there was no contact between the Little Farm and Karen Davis at United Poultry Concerns. Karen has been running the UPC rescue in Machipongo for close to 20 years, and is an international figure in animal rights, rescue, and sanctuary work–and she’s practically right across the street.
With the Little Farm gone, many supporters, especially those that donated money are wondering just what happened. One local supporter put it this way, “The Little Farm’s taking the money and running are bearing fruit. I don’t intend to let this go; I’ve seen too many scam-type operations and those regarding the negligent handling of money by people occupying a position of trust on the lower Shore were called to account. It just occurred to me that if the Cooks have prominent relatives in the County that these persons may have an interest in covering things up.”
By prominent relatives, the person means former Mayor Dora Sullivan. Sullivan is Katie Cook’s mother and was given as one of the reasons for moving the operation east.
Sullivan was not the only ‘influential person’ involved.
Ellen O’Brien, a former Town Council person and member of the Cape Charles Library Board was also tied to the endeavor. Gwen Coghill, the former Kiptopeke principal helped with renovations and penned a letter to the Eastern Shore Post praising the Little Farm.
Others involved reads like a who’s who list of the Eastern Shore. Not just politicians and business owners in Cape Charles, but Wellington Neck artists and writers, professional environmental conservators, and even the Mirror. Were we so excited about the wonderful work being done that we stopped paying attention? We really hope not, but we are left stunned, scratching our heads, trying to piece together just what happened.
While those that donated time and money have their concerns, others are trying to determine what happened to the animals. Some of the smaller ones such as kittens and bunnies were apparently ‘re-homed’ before the move, but there are still questions about some of the poultry and larger livestock. Advocates are worried about the fate of some of those animals.
The Mirror is still following this story and will provide updates as we have them.