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The Health Science Podcast | Episode 086. | June 27, 2024
086: Turning the Tables on Compassion at Sunset Farms Sanctuary with Helen Demes
086: Turning the Tables on Compassion at Sunset Farms Sanctuary with Helen Demes

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Since 1972, Helen Demes has been on an unwavering quest fueled by compassion. It all started at the age of nine when a black-and-white commercial aired by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), depicting the harrowing clubbing of harp seals. This profound moment ignited a lifelong dedication to animal welfare, shaping her path from a young age. 

Hailing from Cocoa Beach, Florida, Helen’s fervor for animals blossomed as she spent her weekends volunteering at a sanctuary in Melbourne until she completed high school.

From Military Service to Animal Advocacy

After high school, Helen joined the military but remained committed to supporting animal welfare organizations financially. Eventually, she earned a degree in aerospace engineering and trained as a veterinary technician to prepare for her dream of running an animal rescue.

Establishing Sunset Farm Sanctuary

In 2016, Helen left her corporate job in Washington, D.C., and started Sunset Farm Sanctuary in Oregon with the support of her partner, Brian. Due to a number of factors, Helen and Brian relocated 141 animals, including disabled ones, to a new location in Arkansas, a logistical challenge that Helen navigated with determination.

The Sanctuary’s most recent rescue was of 150 cats that came out of a hoarder situation.

The Daily Operations and Challenges

Running a sanctuary is not without its challenges. Helen currently manages the care of 138 animals on a 45-acre farm mostly by herself. Her background as a veterinary technician allows her to provide essential care, though she collaborates with Louisiana State University for specialized treatments.

Stories of Resilience and Hope

Helen’s dedication to her animals is evident in the individual care and attention she provides. Each animal has a unique story, from Tofu, a thousand-pound pig born without ears, to animals rescued from severe abuse cases.

Sunset Farm Sanctuary not only provides a safe haven for rescued animals but also offers educational opportunities for visitors. One recent story highlights the transformative power of these interactions during a hip camp event coinciding with a solar eclipse.

Overcoming Obstacles and Looking Forward

Despite the physical and emotional toll, Helen’s commitment to animal welfare remains strong. She continues to advocate for animals, emphasizing their individuality and right to a life free from abuse.

Changing Perspectives, One Interaction at a Time

Helen believes in the profound impact these encounters can have on individuals. By inviting non-vegans to interact with the animals, she hopes to challenge preconceived notions and foster empathy towards all living beings.

Fostering Change through Engagement and Education

Sunset Farm Sanctuary goes beyond providing a refuge for animals; it serves as a platform for advocacy and education. By sharing stories of the animals, and what it takes for them to not only survive, but thrive at the sanctuary, Helen hopes to inspire meaningful change and cultivate a more compassionate world. 

To learn more about Sunset Farm Sanctuary and find out how to make a contribution, go to:  

Episode Highlights

[00:00] Introduction

[01:30] Helen’s switch to veganism started at the age of nine. 

[03:30] From the military, to aerospace engineer to animal rescue.

[07:00] Aligning personal values with professional endeavors

[10:30] How Sunset Farms Sanctuary came to be.

[14:30] Many of the animals are disabled and most are surrenders.

[18:00] The incredible story of the “overweight” hawk. 

[20:00] Nigel, the ten year old turkey, is the catalyst for change.

[26:15] Meeting people where they are at to influence change.

[34:00] Most recent rescue was 150 cats from a hoarding situation.

About Helen Demes

Helen Demes is the visionary founder behind Sunset Farms Sanctuary, a haven established in 2017 to rescue and rehabilitate farm animals in need. Helen’s passion for animal welfare has been a driving force in her life since 1972 when she began rescuing animals and volunteering at shelters. After decades of balancing her corporate career with her devotion to animal rescue, Helen decided to make a bold leap, leaving the corporate world behind to pursue her dream of saving animals full-time.

The journey of Sunset Farms Sanctuary began in Oregon, where Helen initially started her mission. However, faced with the recurring threat of wildfires and the logistical challenges of evacuating a large number of animals, Helen made the courageous decision to seek a safer environment for her charges. In September 2021, she and her husband Brian embarked on a journey to Arkansas, purchasing a property in Cove, Arkansas, sight unseen, and initiating the sanctuary’s relocation.

Today, Sunset Farms Sanctuary stands as a testament to Helen’s unwavering commitment to animal welfare. The sanctuary provides a permanent home for 137 animals, including goats, cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, and more. These animals come from various backgrounds, including surrenders, veterinarian referrals, and rescue operations from situations of abuse, neglect, and hoarding.

Guided by a profound mission statement and core values, Helen invites others to join her in embracing a vegan lifestyle and promoting a world where all beings, human and animal alike, are treated with love and compassion. Through her sanctuary, Helen Demes is not only providing refuge for animals in need but also inspiring positive change and fostering a brighter, more ethical tomorrow for all.

About Dr. Frank Sabatino

As a recognized authority on the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, Dr. Frank Sabatino has cared for and inspired thousands of people for over 40 years. Dr. Sabatino has a PhD in cell biology and neuroendocrinology and has done extensive landmark research on calorie restriction, stress, and aging. He currently is on staff at the TrueNorth Health Foundation in Santa Rosa, CA, and serves as the Director of Health Education at the NHA.

Dr. Sabatino’s passion and life’s work include raising awareness about the benefits of whole-food, plant-exclusive nutrition (without added salt, oil, or sugar), health rejuvenation and stress management.

About NHA

The National Health Association (NHA), founded in 1948, is a nonprofit organization that promotes the benefits of a plant-based diet. The Association provides educational materials, educational events, and services to thousands of people around the world.

The mission of the National Health Association is to educate and empower individuals to understand that health results from healthful living. The NHA recognizes the integration of all aspects of health: personal, environmental, and social.

The NHA also provides travel experiences around the globe through the NHA Plant-Based Travel and cruise division.

More information: 


A unique benefit of the NHA Conference is the selection of two medical students who receive a full scholarship to the conference.

Contact Wanda Huberman for more information on how to apply for the scholarship.  [email protected]

NHA membership

For a very nominal investment, you can enjoy incredible benefits of the NHA membership.

Members of the NHA enjoy a subscription to the award-winning quarterly health journal, Health Science, access to the “Members Only” section of the NHA Website (which contains all 43 years of back issues of the magazine),  the ability to download for free many classic out of print eBooks on the history of the Natural Hygiene Movement, including Fasting Can Save Your Life and The Greatest Health Discovery, discounts on books, and early notice of the NHA events.

Only $35 a year for basic membership within the United States.

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