One Gotha family has adopted and rehomed about 70 animals since they opened their home to farm animals in need.
Erika Jimenez’s penchant for rescuing animals began in Texas when, as a young girl, she caught sight of a kitten next to a trashcan with ants crawling around its eyelids.
Only 9 years old at the time, Jimenez instantly jumped into action when she saw the kitten was still breathing.
“I got close to it and freaked out when I saw its stomach was still moving, which meant it was still breathing yet it already had ants,” Jimenez said. “I remember crying so much.”
Desperate to help, Jimenez grabbed the kitten and made her way to a pool, using the water to wipe away the ants. She later retrieved a shoebox, warmed up some milk and fed the kitten using a cotton ball.
The kitten finally opened her eyes after two weeks of gentle care and attention. She had one blue eye and one green eye and was named Snowball.
THE FARM NEXT DOOR
Snowball the kitten became her first rescue, and Jimenez developed the habit of rescuing strays, bringing them into her family’s Texas home and adopting them. But it wasn’t long until circumstances forced her to stop.
“At one point my dad said, ‘OK Erika, this is getting out of hand — we can’t have that many animals,’” she said. “But I was like, ‘They don’t have a home,’ and I remember crying, but he said, ‘Well, you know what, when you’re old enough and you have your own house, you can have all the animals you want.”
Decades later, Jimenez now lives on three acres of land in a large two-story home in Gotha with, yes, all the animals she wants.
Jimenez and her family own and operate The Farm Next Door, an animal-rescue farm that, by her estimate, currently serves as home for about 62 animals, including cats, dogs, goats, ducks, chickens, tortoises, a horse, a bearded dragon and a hedgehog, with an alpaca potentially coming in a few weeks.
Seeing how she took his words to heart, her father never fails to laugh when he comes over for a visit. However, life on a farm has become the norm for Jimenez, her husband, David, and her two daughters, Krystal and Victoria.
The family has resided in West Orange for 12 years and opened their doors to animals in need four years ago.
The family’s farm adopts animals that have been living in poor conditions or whose owners can no longer care for them. After rehabilitating the animals, the family cares for them until they can rehome them in a more suitable environment.
Most of the animals, Jimenez said, come to them via word of mouth or social media. Biscuit, the family’s miniature horse, was adopted three years ago from an older couple that had purchased him for the couple’s granddaughter. Once the granddaughter grew up, she no longer paid as much attention to Biscuit.
Unfortunately, the owner then developed pancreatic cancer and no longer had the time or energy to properly care for Biscuit. When Jimenez picked up Biscuit, he was depressed and skinny and needed eye surgery. They fixed him up and built him a stable under their rear porch.
Another rescue is Elsa, a pygmy goat currently under their care. Elsa’s former owner had four young boys who, not knowing any better, would grab Elsa’s horns and try to ride her like a horse. And so, Jimenez offered to pay the owner to adopt Elsa, as they have for several other animals they found living in less-than-ideal conditions.
“Sometimes, people don’t really give them away out of their own free will,” Jimenez said. “Sometimes, we just offer money for them.”
Although the family keeps some of the animals they adopt, they try to rehome most of them. Jimenez estimates her family has rehomed about 70 animals since opening the farm.
For the older animals, Jimenez charges a rehoming fee, but she sells any offspring — she reasons people have a tendency to value animals for which they pay. All the proceeds go toward the costs of caring for the animals, but the farm is primarily supported by her husband’s law firm, she said.
Jimenez understands rehoming animals comes with a risk and takes certain precautions when meeting people interested in adopting one of her rescues, particularly as some try to buy them for consumption.
“You just read them according to how they treat the animal,” she said. “People that come by, I question them and ask them to take a photo of their land to see how much room they have and where the animals will go. ... You can tell who is an animal lover. I’ve had people come and just look at them, point and then ask, ‘OK, how much for that one? And how much for that one?’ They’re not even connecting with the animal or trying to pet them.”
She also offered an example of a time when a man interested in buying one of her goats used the Spanish term “Cabritos” to refer to her goats, which translate to goat meat. Deducing his intentions, she refused to sell it to him.
CREATING A LEGACY
Although keeping up with the farm can be a lot of work, the family’s shared love for animals keeps the smiles on their faces as they tend to the laborious tasks of running a farm.
Jimenez said she actually hopes to expand in the future and buy more land, while her husband, David, hopes the farm is just the start of a family legacy that can be passed on to their grandchildren and future generations.
But for the present, the family relies on the occasional help they receive from high-school volunteers on the weekends. The biggest challenges, they said, are waking up early every morning for feeding time at 8:30 and trying to find someone to care for their animals when they go on long vacations.
“That’s what’s been the hardest,” Jimenez said. “I don’t really know when was the last time we slept in. (The animals) wake up so early, and they’ll yell at you and all you hear is, ‘Baaa!’ And then if I don’t listen to the goats, the pigs start oinking, and then if I don’t listen to the pigs, the horse starts neighing. Oh, and the rooster, he starts even earlier than everybody else. So it’s a lot of work, and a lot of money, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”