Beautiful bovines! Magnificent moos! Chipper chickens! Purdy piggy! They all awaited me and more at the amazing Rowdy Girl Sanctuary in Angleton, Texas. The interesting thing about this particular sanctuary is that up until recently it was a cattle ranch, and had been for many years. But Renee Sonnen couldn’t bear to watch the calves torn from their mamas and loaded up into the red trailer to be taken off to the sale barn for slaughter. After stints of being vegetarian and even having a raw diet at one point, she made the connection between these sentient animals and the food she was eating and decided that she’d had enough. She went vegan and bought the remaining cattle from her husband Tommy, and the Sonnen Ranch became Rowdy Girl Sanctuary.
Renee and Tommy (and Jolene the dachshund) were kind enough to take me on a tour of the sanctuary and introduce me to these wonderful animals and their personal stories. Along with the cattle from their ranch, they have also begun rescuing other farm animals and hope to expand the sanctuary so they can accommodate even more cute critters 🐮🐔 🐷
The first farm critter I was introduced to was Cooper, a cute little baby turkey. He was rescued by a woman who saw him being mishandled at a feed store. He was being held upside down by his ankles and shown to a prospective buyer that was considering him for Thanksgiving. Luckily, this woman jumped in and bought Cooper and he was eventually rescued and transported to Rowdy Girl by his namesake, Michael Cooper.
Cooper was super sweet and inquisitive when I met him, and made the cutest little turkey noises. Turkeys are incredibly smart and full of personality and enjoy being around people. And it was really adorable how he had his foot in his food bowl while he ate! I’ve seen so many dogs and cats that do the same thing.
Then it was time to meet Herman, the 11 year old pig. He came to Rowdy Girl after his owner died and he was taken to a high kill shelter, and family members never came to pick him up. Renee needed financial help in order to bring Herman to the sanctuary and people were more than willing – they raised $3500 in just a few days!
When I visited, Herman didn’t seem thrilled by visitors (I don’t blame him, he’s been through a lot), but he did let me feed him a few pieces of banana. From the looks of Rowdy Girl’s website, Herman has 2 new piggy playmates named Roux and Ivy. Yay!
Next to the living quarters of Cooper and Herman are where the rescued cattle reside (not the herd that Renee bought from her husband). I just love cows. Maybe it’s because most people don’t give them a second glance, or because they’re merely thought of as hamburgers and steaks, or maybe it’s because they are so cute and gentle – but I love them and until my visit to the sanctuary, I’d never been able to get up close and personal with one.
I couldn’t wait to meet the cows, and they seemed pretty curious about me as well. Before meeting the chattier cattle, I met Frosty, a sweet boy that had recently come to Rowdy Girl. Frosty is a purebred Longhorn who came from a small breeder in Texas. Usually a bull calf like Frosty is sold or given to kids that raise and show them in county fairs, but ultimately, they usually ended up slaughtered.
Poor little Frosty was only 6 months old when he came to Renee and Tommy. He was rightfully anxious and scared; he missed his mama and had been nursing up until that point. I didn’t get up close to Frosty because I didn’t want to scare him, so I just admired his sweet nature and beautiful white coat from a distance. With time, I know he will settle in and become friends with the other critters.
As soon as I left Frosty’s pen, I was greeted by Fireball, a handsome young steer that was definitely not shy! A woman in Brazoria, Texas contacted Renee because her son, who had raised Fireball since he was a baby and loved him, didn’t want him to end up getting slaughtered. Fireball went to a family member’s pasture, but when that person’s health began declining, they could no longer care for the steer. Bringing him to Rowdy Girl was the perfect solution!
Next, I met my bovine kindred spirit, the regal Cinnamon. She’s the beautiful lady that I’m brushing in the featured image at the beginning of this post. Cinnamon is a full blood Brahman show cow and she’s got the papers to prove it! She came from a ranch that bred these beauties specifically to show, and if they weren’t in tip top condition, they were sent to the sale barn for eventual slaughter. And poor Cinnamon had a cyst on her ovary which meant she was deemed unworthy and useless for breeding show cows.
According to Renee, Cinnamon was set to be slaughtered the very weekend they rescued her. After a news station in Houston did a story on Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, the ex-wife and daughter of the man who owned Cinnamon called Renee and begged for help.
On Rowdy Girl’s website, Cinnamon is described as an “old soul,” which is really a perfect description. She loves attention from people and for someone who has never been close to a cow before, she is a big lady! I felt like I was standing next to a creature from Star Wars with her long neck, big ears, and broad body. Or a camel! 🐫 She’s very calm and there’s something quite grounding about her presence. She’s lovely.
I could have spent all day hanging out with Cinnamon, but there were more furry friends to meet. Renee showed me into a small pen in the barn and when I realized what I was looking at, I halted. Before my eyes was a 3 month old calf named Stormy. I had heard mention of this sweet girl on Rowdy Girl’s Facebook page, and it was one of the many reasons I desperately wanted to visit the sanctuary.
You see, Stormy is blind. She got an infection as an itty bitty baby that went undetected for too long, and it made it’s way to her eyes and blinded her. Renee told me the story of how the wife of a cattle rancher contacted her, worried about the fate of Stormy. She didn’t have the resources to accommodate this handicapped baby and didn’t want her to live in a cooped up pen either, and definitely didn’t want her to end up being put down or slaughtered.
Stormy was still being bottle fed by Renee when I visited. How cute is that?! I kneeled down so I was at Stormy’s level and I petted her nonstop, which she seemed to enjoy. She was soft and fuzzy and smelled like a puppy and she was so adorable and endearing I could barely handle it. Until I heard Stormy’s story, I had never really thought much about the plight of being a cattle rancher’s wife. I just kind of assumed they lacked compassion and didn’t view cattle as anything but property. But most of these women feel completely conflicted because they love their husbands and want to support them, but they also hate witnessing the awful fate of these animals that they care for. Renee knows exactly how they feel because she was in their place just a couple of years ago. I can’t even imagine how miserable it must be to feel so conflicted (especially with something as precious as Stormy standing before you. Look at those eyelashes!)
Okay, so you saw elegant Cinnamon in the top photo in this story. The other girl fighting for my attention with the shiny black coat is Houdini. Her mother is Rowdy Girl. It’s only fitting that Rowdy Girl Sanctuary is named after a cow, right? Renee bought Rowdy Girl as a calf from her husband so she could have the freedom to raise her and love her without fear of her being put on the red trailer and sold for meat. Rowdy Girl later gave birth to a girl named Houdini, because she was an escape artist and had a knack for constantly escaping the property much to the chagrin of not only her husband, but the neighbors and local police. Tommy wanted to get rid of Houdini because she was being such a little troublemaker, but of course Renee would not stand for that.
They comprised by creating a separate fenced in area for Houdini that she couldn’t escape from, and it was also a major turning point in the creation of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. Renee was already vegan at this point and had dreams of creating her own sanctuary where her cattle would be safe and she could rescue other animals in need. Rowdy Girl and Houdini are both very important girls. Without them, I think Renee would still have opened a sanctuary at some point, but not as soon as she did, which means not as many animals would be safe and sound thanks to her.
After meeting all the rescued animals, Renee and Tommy loaded me up in the truck and we went across the property to the infamous red trailer. No longer does it carry away innocent cattle to be sold off for slaughter. That was always the worst part for Renee, watching that trailer drive away with such precious cargo and knowing the fate that awaited. She doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. Instead, she has visitors to the sanctuary sign the red trailer.
Just down a ways from the trailer was a herd of cattle, from the original herd that Renee bought from Tommy when she started Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. They weren’t as interested in people as Cinnamon and Houdini, but they let us come and hang out near them. We spotted a cute little calf with them, so I got to see not one but two babies!
Tommy got out several bales of hay and immediately the herd made it’s way over and started snacking. It was nice to see these docile creatures feeling so safe and peaceful. Included in the bunch is 8 year old Panda 🐼 She was born on the property and Renee thought she was a boy at first because she has horns. Apparently, the girls can have horns too!
I didn’t get to meet the horses during my visit, but I saw them in the distance and hopefully I’ll get to know them next time I visit. I did, however, get to meet three chickens: Lovely, Bodovely, and Dixie Chick. Lovely and Bodovely are sisters that Renee raised from chicks, and all three girls love hanging out with the family. Here’s Renee holding Dixie Chick. The other two girls are pure white.
There’s also a whole gaggle of doggies, including a rescued mama dog and her puppies. And Renee and Tommy are in the works to transform part of the sanctuary into a commercial organic vegetable garden called the Rowdy Girl Veganic Farm. No more selling calves, just plants 🍅 🍆
They’ve also launched their Adopt An Animal Program, where people can sponsor a specific rescue animal at the sanctuary. Keeping an animal sanctuary up and running is difficult work as well as costly, so Renee and Tommy rely heavily on the generous support of fellow animal lovers. Check the Rowdy Girl website for upcoming fundraisers, ways to volunteer, to sign up for their newsletter, donate, or learn how to schedule a visit.
I can’t wait to go back and see all my friends at the sanctuary and all the new arrivals since my last visit! Renee and Tommy are doing a wonderful job not only for the animals, but for the ranchers and good samaritans that would otherwise have no one to turn to. Texas is the largest producer of beef in the United States, so to have farm sanctuaries like Rowdy Girl popping up in the Lonestar State means that change is coming – good change.
THANK YOU RENEE AND TOMMY!