Bethesda Magazine | September-October 2017

These Animals Will Melt Your Heart

Meet the pigs, goats and other residents of the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville

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Terry Cummings and Dave Hoerauf, once high school sweethearts in Hyattsville, rented a Colonial-era farmhouse in Poolesville in 1987, expecting to leave in a year. She was working as a veterinary technician at the National Zoo; he had a job in printing. The couple knew a farmer was renting the land around their house, and before long they had fallen in love with his Angus cows and steers. They watched their babies grow and delighted in waking up to “moos.” 

Cummings was folding laundry in the house one day when she heard the cows and steers crying and people yelling. From her bedroom window she saw men beating the bovines with baseball bats, forcing them into a truck, babies abandoned. 

Mikey the steer

Cummings says it never occurred to her that the animals they’d named and fed apples were being raised for slaughter. In that moment, everything changed. She and Hoerauf learned that farm animals are exempt from animal cruelty laws, and over the next several years the couple became vegans and decided—after a lot of discussions—to start an animal sanctuary on the property. They had the blessing of the landowner, who had evicted the cattle farmer. 

“We didn’t just jump in feet first,” Hoerauf says to a visitor one day this spring, walking through the goat barn. Once you start a forever home like this, he says, you can’t stop. “It’s a lifetime commitment. But we don’t ever feel like we made a mistake. Right, Zachary?” he says, petting a white goat. 

Dave Hoerauf and Terry Cummings, owners of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Losing their lease was among the couple’s early worries. But the landowner donated the entire property of 430 acres to Cummings and Hoerauf a decade ago. Today, the couple—both 57, married 32 years and without children—can keep their promise to the 300 animals that they will always have a home there. 

“I have the best job in the world,” Cummings says. “It’s exhausting, time-consuming, and we haven’t had a weekend off in 20 years. But I can’t think of anything I’d like more than seeing these animals alive and having a great life because of what we’re doing.”

Dar Veverka and Malita Kim-Schultz with Missy, an elderly, arthritic pig