In the ’60s and ’70s, Jamuna Llewellyn grew up near the Sinkyone Wilderness area along the southern tip of Mendocino County’s Lost Coast, with a family of “back-to-the-land Bohemians.”
“Everybody else lived miles away, so I was connected to animals and nature,” she said. “There were wild horses, and they were my friends. . . . I had a squirrel monkey, two goats and a dog.”
In her 20s and 30s, Llewellyn lived in Canyon, a tiny, eco-conscious community in the hills between Oakland’s Montclair district and Moraga. There, while working in high-end restaurants like LoCoco’s in Berkeley, she started trying to help other people, then went back to her first love, the animals.
“I used to rescue a lot of people in the Bay Area,” she said. “But they don’t always want to be rescued. Animals are immediately grateful, so it’s a win-win. . . . I started out trying to save the dolphins in the cove in (Taiji) Japan. Then I started rescuing horses, mules and donkeys.”
When she and her husband, professional musician Steve Parker, moved to a rural hilltop above Forestville 10 years ago, Llewellyn founded her own animal sanctuary and named it Sinkyone, after the wilderness area where she first learned to love nature.
From her hilltop perch, Llewellyn and the Sinkyone Animal Sanctuary have been reaching out to animals in distress since 2007, providing food and shelter for hundreds whose lives were deemed to be in danger. She finds out about them through a loose network of friends and colleagues as well as postings on Craigslist.
“Everybody here is a rescue,” she said while giving a tour of the small but tidy sanctuary nestled amid thickets of manzanita and madrone, toyon and oak. “I’m not out looking, but I’ll sometimes see a baby pig on Craigslist. It went to a beautiful sanctuary in the Sierra foothills. . . . We’ve relocated many dogs, an alpaca, a cow and three kittens.”
At the moment, Llewellyn has custody of 60-some animals, plus three horses and a pony that she keeps off Guerneville Road, where there is plenty of pasture to roam. The animals currently living at Sinkyone Animal Sanctuary range from doves, ducks and chickens to goats, chickens and sheep, plus two, frisky miniature donkeys and two terrified cats whose owner recently died.
Each animal has a name, a safe place to call home and a story to tell. Because Llewellyn is a Buddhist, many of the animals also have Buddhist names.
Alina, the first sheep of five to find a home at the sanctuary, has become like a pet to Llewellyn.
“She’s really dear,” she said. “She will come and put her head in my lap.”
Anaya, a miniature donkey, was rescued from a slaughter truck in Washington State with her two daughters, Lila and Leyla.
Lila died of cancer at UC Davis, but Leyla still frolics with her mom, kicking up her heels as she runs from the chicken house to the grassy “knoll” where she sleeps in a simple shelter made from hog panel, tarps and T-posts.
Then there is a cute, little black dwarf goat, Mira, who was born bow-legged and not suitable to be bred.
She is joined by four Nubian goats, all rescued from a breeder.
“We have four boys,” she said. “I thought I would rescue one, and I ended up with all four.”
Yeshe is a bummer lamb, whose mom rejected her and was left to die.
“Some friends grabbed her, and I got her,” she said.
A horse named Gabriel had whip marks all over his head and body when he arrived, Llewellyn said, and would flinch when you approached.
Now, with the help of a horse trainer, he comes right up to you.
Erica the cow needed a place to pasture, so Llewellyn found a home for her in the hills of Nicasio, where well-known vegan chef Miyoko Schinner runs a small animal sanctuary.
“When Erica first came here, she mooed all night long,” Llewellyn recalled.
“Five cows from the neighboring property broke in to make sure she was OK.”
Along with Erica the cow came five roosters and seven hens, including Marrakesh, a rooster who had been rescued from the violent sport of cock fighting.
Along with her three dogs, Lewellyn also keeps a pot-bellied pig named Tony Ganesh, who gives kisses and agreeably grants access to his soft underbelly by gently lifting his legs for a scratch.
Although the property includes a total of 20 acres, most of the land is located along steep, wooded hillsides — Llewellyn calls it “the land of fallen trees” — leaving only 2 to 4 acres for both the humans and the animals to live.
Still, the mild climate on the rustic hilltop provides an ideal habitat, with lush lilacs and wisteria blooming along the woody edges and fruit trees thriving in the sunny clearings.
It’s a tiny slice of paradise, sitting above the fog line and overlooking the thickly forested ridgeline of Occidental.
“It’s a banana belt,” Llewellyn said. “We have the earliest springs, and the longest summers.”
On an unusually warm day in early spring, one of Llewellyn’s friends, Frank Dryden, is busy building an aviary for the doves living on the property.
Dryden, who grew up one hilltop away in Forestville, recently moved to the property with his three children.
“Frank knows how to do everything,” Llewellyn said. ‘And the kids help take care of the animals.”
After the aviary is complete, Dryden will start working on a protected chicken yard that predators can’t leap into, then create permanent pens for the sheep and goats.
All of that takes money, and the sanctuary currently relies on a small core of supporters for donations along with fundraisers such as the Humane Minds benefit held earlier this month at Sally Tomatoes in Rohnert Park.
“Jamuna works hard every day feeding and tending to all of her charges,” said Cindy Jenkins of Santa Rosa, who helps with fundraising for the sanctuary.
“It is all she does.”
Although she doesn’t have time to write a book, Llewellyn said if she did, she would call it “Mucking by Moonlight.”
“Luckily, I’m capable and resourceful, after growing up in the country ... we homesteaded and built houses from scratch,” she said.
“This is all labor. I carry a lot of hay and water.”
The costs of running the sanctuary include hay (about $1,000 a month), feed, veterinary care, hoof care and hair trims.
To help cover her costs, Llewellyn has worked at a local cafe and sold high-ticket items on Craigslist. Sometimes, benefactors come through just when she needs it most.
“There is divinity in caring for others,” she said. “Just in the nick of time, I can often re-home an animal. . . . I got $5,000 last year from a person who gave us some chickens.“
Working closely with the animals — especially those which have been abused or neglected — has taught her many lessons over the years.
“Holly, our 18-year-old dog was rescued when she was 10,” she said.
“I’ve learned more from her than anyone else. Animal behavior is different but the needs are the same as ours ... to be loved and to be safe and have their babies be safe.”
In the future, the dream is to bring inner city kids to the sanctuary so that they can interact with the animals, learn to care for them and respect their lives.
“I think a drop in the ocean helps create the ocean,” she said.
“Even if I can give that, it will translate into a ripple effect.”
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dianepete56.