FRANKLINTON — Dr. Shaun Accardo always considered himself an animal person. He had cats and dogs, even a ferret.
Then he met Allison Lee, and being an animal person took on a whole new meaning.
As a sarcoma specialist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and trauma surgeon at Baton Rouge hospitals, Accardo tries to keep people alive. A hospice nurse, Lee tries to comfort those near death.
When the couple goes home, though, they run a refuge for all manner of creatures on 28 acres of rural Washington Parish.
Barney’s Farm Sanctuary, named for a pet goat Lee once had, is home to dogs, cats, horses, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, donkeys, geese and sheep. The numbers — currently about 70 — have grown. All of the animals were rescued from abandonment or abuse.
“It’s hard to tell people no,” Lee said.
For Lee, 28, that’s been true for a while.
She was a veterinary technician for seven years, including while she was in nursing school. Lee began adopting animals in need and taking them to her home east of Tampa, Florida. One day, she encountered an emaciated former racehorse that had been rescued.
“It was a cruelty seizure,” Lee said. “There were other horses at that property that were dead in the barn aisle. She would have to walk over dead horses to get a drink from a muddy bucket. Horrific.”
Lee adopted the horse, named her Serenity, and this became the first of several she took in.
She met Accardo, 37, when the New Orleans native and LSU graduate was in a training fellowship for a year starting in August 2015 at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where she worked. When they bought the land and moved to Louisiana early last year, 38 animals came, too.
A semi rig brought six horses, a donkey and four goats. Her parents separately brought dogs and cats, and Lee and a friend drove five dogs and six cats in a Suburban.
“It was like pet Tetris trying to fit everybody and who goes where,” she said. “It was a big deal, the move.”
So was preparing the property.
Accardo and Lee fenced off a large area to separate the farm animals from the dogs. The dogs and cats have their own air-conditioned house — separate sections, of course — with the cats having access to an enclosed but open-air section. Most other animals spend nights in a barn.
“For the farm animals, our philosophy is probably different than some others,” Accardo said. “Our horses are not kept stalled. Our horses are not brushed and washed every day. Our horses are not shaved. We allow our horses to live in a pasture and be like horses.
“So, the maintenance, so to speak, for horses is not all that complicated. They have their own hay all day. They have grass they can eat everywhere, and we give them feed. That’s the extent of the work, and the care of their hooves. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not like keeping show horses.”
Accardo starts his daily commute to Baton Rouge at 4:30 a.m., so much of the work falls to Lee. Before starting her own job, she lets out animals and makes sure the dogs and cats have water. A farmhand comes at 10 a.m. Feeding is at night, which also is when Lee takes care of hoof problems and any wound care.
“I usually don’t stop until 9 or 10 at night,” she said.
It’s not cheap, either. Accardo estimates the feed costs about $3,000 per month, and there are veterinary expenses, especially for animals that arrive with medical problems.
A pig they adopted turned out to be pregnant and gave birth to 11 piglets. After Mardi Gras, they took in six horses that had been used in Mardi Gras parades and would have gone to auction, where their fates would have been uncertain. One had a severe hoof injury.
“No one in their right mind would have bought him at auction as a pet,” Lee said. “So, we really pulled him from going back to auction.”
“We doubled our horse herd overnight,” Accardo said.
They have 18 dogs, in part because Lee sees strays along the parish roads and takes some in. She keeps food in her car to feed those she can’t keep. And, after one of her hospice patients died, she adopted Tippy, a rat terrier mix that had nowhere else to go.
The couple has 10 acres they plan to eventually devote to the sanctuary, but there’s only so much they can do. They hope to recruit volunteers to help on weekends. Of course, they also encourage people to adopt their animals to make room for more to come.
“We’re close to that limit,” Lee said. “I don’t want to get too big too fast and try to do more than we’re capable of doing. As far as our dog room, as we call it, we’re about full. We need to move some before we take in more. … We definitely have to thin it out before I go stray dog hunting in Washington Parish again.”