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Seventy animals and a passion to help, this is Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary

Jonathan Roberts • Jun 30, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Nineteen cows, 11 chickens, eight sheep and goats, six pigs, five ducks, two horses, a swan and more cats than you can count. That’s how many animals live at Tilted Tavern, a farm animal sanctuary in Jonesborough.

But for Robert Jones, it’s more than just a rescue.

Jones and his wife founded the nonprofit last year after operating the 50-acre farm for more than a decade, and have dedicated themselves to helping all the animals they can, even though funding isn’t easy to come by.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding work; you see what you do every day,” Jones said. “It’s beneficial for the area, it gives an outlet for the Humane Society, it gives an outlet for animal control — for the most part, it’s really positive.”

Tilted Tavern wasn’t meant to become what it is today. Or as big.

It kind of got its start by accident, when Jones’ wife, Brooke, a veterinarian, got a call about a chicken that was being abused, which they happily took in. With that though, they realized how much of a need there is in the area, and have kept it going — and growing — ever since.

“We’ve always had a love for animals, and so, one thing led to another,” Jones said.

He’s been involved with animals for a long time, though. He started his animal caring career working with wildlife — something he also does with his other nonprofit, the Wildlife Resources and Education Network, which helps transport injured wildlife around the region, and hosts free educational events around the South — at the Southeastern Raptor Center.

As Jones says though, there’s “more of a need” for farm animal sanctuaries in the area, and all of the 70 animals they currently have on the farm are permanent residents, though they do foster animals occasionally.

Mostly, however, they provide a caring and safe home for animals that have been abused, neglected, injured and for almost every other reason one could think of. They can’t, unfortunately, take them all in.

Currently, they’re not able to take on any more pigs or equines, but do have limited space for a few more goats, sheep, chickens, ducks or another swan.

The sanctuary is also therapeutic for Jones, who spent a lot of time with the animals during his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which he beat.

“I had a hard time recovering, as you might expect, and I had to have something to get me through, and animals help,” Jones said. “It’s therapeutic, and they’re a big part of that — it gives me something to look forward to interacting with.”

It’s also something that the Joneses hope to use to help educate people, and maybe push them toward being a little more caring for all animals, not just the ones that are traditionally thought of as pets.

“We’re all living here, we all have feelings and we all have personalities,” Jones said. “Every single one of these animals, I have to work with their personality — and they’re all different, it’s not like they’re all robots.”

Of course, working with an animals’ personality isn’t the only difficult part of operating Tilted Tavern.

Being a nonprofit has its own challenges, chief among them fundraising. And with everything that still needs to be done to open the sanctuary and historic DeVault Tavern to visitors, the price tag isn’t cheap. 

“If we could get somewhere between $600,000 and $1 million to actually fund everything it would free up the entire place, open it to the public, have a visitors center and teach more, that’s really the goal to get to the next level,” Jones said. “As far as a short-term goal, you’re probably looking at around $50,000 or so, that’d be a good first step.”

Donations can be made online at www.tiltedtavernanimals.org. For those who want to help in a more hands-on way, Tilted Tavern is always looking for volunteers. And whether that’s just cutting grass or feeding animals, Jones says it all helps. 

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