Napa’s Bleating Hearts Farm and Sanctuary rushes to build new animal enclosures after code enforcement complaint | Local News

Kristen and Justin Starkey, founders of Bleating Hearts ranch and farm, worked hard through December to remove and rebuild the enclosures that serve the rescue farm’s approximately 135 animals.

The Napa-based nonprofit, which began in 2018, is a rescue for goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and the occasional pig. Kristen Starkey said she accommodates retired animals from just about anywhere in California and specializes in caring for disabled or special-needs chickens and goats.

“We actually have goats with wheelchairs; we have some who are born with underdeveloped brains,” Starkey said. “We have completely blind goats, partially blind goats, arthritis goats—you name it, we have goats.”

But a recent law enforcement complaint — which forced the Starkeys’ rush to build new structures — could have ended the organization altogether, according to Starkey. She said they were only able to rebuild thanks to financial support from the Napa community.

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Many aspects of the nonprofit’s farm were reported to Napa County law enforcement a few months ago. Although much of what was reported was in accordance with the code, some of the animal enclosures not allowed on the farm—chicken coops, duck coops, goats coops, and disabled animals coops—were larger than 120 square feet and therefore required permits, according to Law Compliance Supervisor Akinia Robinson Web.

Starkey said the nonprofit was given a January 1, 2022 deadline to either obtain permits for the structures or modify them to comply with Napa County ordinance — which, in many cases, means demolishing buildings.

“I am horrified that we tried to check everything before we switched to a rescue,” Starkey said. “We checked the zoning, we checked the legalities about how many animals we could have, what kind of animals, so everything on that side is A-OK; we totally missed the permit part of the buildings.”

However, solutions for law enforcement mode cost money the Starkeys didn’t have. Starkey said they chose to repair the structures at an estimated cost of $8,000 because it would be cheaper and less complicated than obtaining permits. To help fund the exorbitant cost of construction — along with the costs of animal feed and medicine — Starkey created a GoFundMe page in late November.

Starkey said she was totally stunned by the response from the Napa community. Funds donated by community members began flowing to the GoFundMe page by mid-December, spurred by a NextDoor post detailing the nonprofit’s plight. The fundraiser has now raised about $1,000 more than its initial goal of $10,000.

Starkey said she and Justin were out buying cat food when the sudden surge in donations began in mid-December — and they funded the entire goal in about three days.

“We were actually trying not to cry in public,” Starkey said. “It was great to know that so many in our community loved what we do as much as I do.”

Starkey said local businesses were also helping, including several vineyards, Atlas Beck Construction, and Allen’s Hulling.

Building the new structures in the middle of a rainy December required nearly continuous work from the Starkeys. And that’s in addition to the care the animals already require, along with the need for special casings, eye drops, wheelchairs for goats, tube feedings for some chickens, bumblefoot treatments, and more.

“Without building, we really go until one or two in the morning,” Starkey said. “One of us runs the night shift and one of us runs the day shift, because there are not enough hours in one clear day.”

Construction work so far has included the demolition of the main barn, the construction of four animal coops, the dismantling of the chicken coop and duck coop, and the construction of a new duck coop, Starkey said. She added that they prioritized getting the animals out of the rain as quickly as possible. The paint and window shades for awnings will be rolled out next year.

But with the support of the community, the farm is on track to be all right on January 1, Starkey said.

“We consider it a legitimate Christmas miracle,” Starkey said. “If it wasn’t for the community, we might be gone. There is no way we could bring in that much money.”

Listen to the sounds of Christmas, Brassists perform “Adeste Fideles” at the South Napa Market.

Howard Yun, video recording

You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.


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