After one whole post I’m taking a break from food photography to put something up that’s slightly different, but but still on brand.

This past weekend I celebrated my 44th birthday. And yesterday,as part of an amazing upstate New York weekend filled with hiking and a ton of vegan food (mostly at one of my new favorite restaurants, Garden Café at Woodstock), my wife and I visited the Catskill Farm Sanctuary. It was of the best days I’ve ever had, and that’s not hyperbole.

Catskill Animal SanctuaryIf you’re not familiar, CAS and similar places around the world rescue animals from awful conditions like those in factory farming, hoarding situations and probably anything other terrible thing you can think of. They provide medical care for these creatures and then give them everything they need to live out long, happy lives. Sadly, only a small fraction of factory farm animals get to experience this while the rest will never know what love or compassion are, but certainly a few are better than none.

Obviously, I took a lot of photos. There’s no way I’d be around animals without a camera. This is because, above all else, the driving force behind my plant-based photography is helping. And my visit to CAS has inspired me to actively shoot more animals, too, instead of just animal-free food dishes. That’s one more way I can use my camera to make a difference. It was incredible to turn my lens toward these beautiful lives who obviously loved it (see the photos below). It’s something I’m definitely going to continue doing through further sanctuary visits and hopefully turn into a project somehow—whatever I can do to help. It seems like I might have a way to use my food photography to do that, too.

I spoke to the sanctuary’s on-site chef yesterday, who told me about a cookbook project CAS is working on. And while I missed the boat on that one, it did give me the idea to reach out to other sanctuaries in case they have food-related projects. My recent experience with publications, especially VegNews, has given me the confidence I need to start pitching myself for work that I feel I can do a great job at. I can’t wait to get started!

Here are a few of the photos you’ll definitely enjoy, because they’re super cute. And if you’re near a sanctuary you should certainly consider visiting (and donating). Each one is inspiring in its own way, but they’re certainly all doing really incredible work for the animals.