MARYSVILLE — When Virginia Teitt and her husband, Jim, moved their family to central Ohio from their Maryland farm in the late 90s, they brought with them a few animals as part of the relocation. Along with their seven kids, six of which went on to graduate from Buckeye Valley High School, and the animals, the Teitts settled in on 43 acres in Union County, near Ostrander.
It wouldn’t take long for their farm to become a sanctuary of sorts for all types of animals, starting with a baby calf that was abandoned at birth. The Teitts agreed to take in the cow, bottle feed it, and nurse it back to health. Later, they accepted a horse from its previous owner who could no longer care for the animal after undergoing back surgery.
Teitt, who serves as the pastor of Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware County, said having a horse in the pasture again was nice, but unbeknownst to her, the Bellepoint Rescue Farm had begun in earnest. As word began to spread, the farm took in another horse from owners who were relocating to the East Coast. And on it went.
“Nobody wants to sell these old animals because they love them and they don’t know what their future would be,” Teitt said.
Following a large sheriff seizure of approximately 60 animals in Morrow County in 2016, Teitt, while unsure what she might receive, agreed to foster some of the neglected animals. As a result, five Jacob sheep and a Welsh pony became the newest additions to the farm, temporarily at first, and then permanently after the adoption papers were signed.
Unaware of what exactly she had in the Jacob sheep, Teitt began calling around to see if there was a market for the sheep to be sold for 4-H projects or to be shown at fairs. In doing so, Teitt found that because the Jacob sheep are a heritage breed, they are protected and not allowed to be sold at fairs. The Jacob sheep were there to stay, and they soon would be accompanied by another uncommon breed.
Last year, a neighbor of the Teitts whose husband had passed away asked if the Teitts would take their Icelandic sheep, which she could no longer care for.
“You can guess that Icelandic sheep, coming from Iceland, are not the typical-looking sheep,” Teitt said. “They’re just really unique looking.”
Among the Icelandic sheep they took in was a ram, which opened up a market Teitt previously never knew existed.
“Now we have Icelandic and Jacob crossbreeds,” Teitt said. “I had this woman contact me and asked if I would be on her podcast because she’s a wool artisan. We’re not talking about people that just make wool things. They consider themselves true artists, and they think Jacob and Icelandic sheep are some of the best breeds and a crossbreed of the two would be brilliant.”
After finding out the value of the wool, Teitt said they are reaching out for help in knowing what to do with it once the sheep are sheared.
“We don’t know what we have (with the wool), but if someone considers it something of artistic value, just tell me how to give it to you,” Teitt said. “We’ll put it in bags, label it, and they can have it. We don’t know how to market it, we don’t know how to prepare it for a market, so we’re in over our heads in that sense.”
The Jacob and Icelandic sheep of Bellepoint are scheduled to be sheared soon, Teitt said, and they’re still seeking guidance for what to do with the wool. Teitt said she is open to selling the wool as a way to recuperate some of the money that goes into the farm but, again, she has no idea how to go about doing so.
In total, Bellepoint Rescue Farm is now home to 20 sheep, two goats, a donkey, and a horse, as well as chickens. Teitt said they applied for farm status through Union County but were told they would need to show a profit for three consecutive years, a stipulation she called “a joke” in her case because their efforts result only in a loss of money. Instead, Teitt has begun looking into the process of making Bellepoint a nonprofit operation.
In the meantime, she is careful not to advertise the farm as able to take in any and all animals that may be in need of new homes. Teitt said that perhaps if they are able to get nonprofit status or to receive donations, they could expand their capabilities.
When speaking with Teitt about the farm, her joy is apparent as she discusses the animals that have been welcomed into Bellepoint. The addition of animals is a natural transition for her and her husband, two kind-hearted spirits who have been doing the same with people well before Bellepoint Rescue Farm.
“We’ve opened our house and our life to children that needed a place to stay. We’ve had international people, exchange students, people in need because they’ve fallen on hard times,” Teitt said. “We’ve opened our lives, our hearts, and our home to people, and to me, animals are an allegory of sorts for all life having value and being deserving of dignity … These characters become a symbol of that value and dignity.”
She added, “Animals dying in a field is not OK, and people feeling like they have no hope or no place to go is not OK.”
The joy the animals bring to those who interact with them has not been limited to central Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine has a way of dampening spirits as people are confined to their homes and left searching for entertainment and, as a result, Teitt and her animals were called upon to brighten the days of a new audience all the way in New York City.
Teitt’s sister, Julia Reidhead, is the president of W.W. Norton and Company, a publishing company established in 1923 and headquartered in New York City. Looking for a way to boost morale among her employees as they were relegated to working from home, Reidhead started weekly interactive activities for employees to enjoy along with their families.
Wanting to have some sort of connection to the company itself, Reidhead reached out to her sister about sharing the farm with her employees. Happy to oblige, the Teitts started a lamb cam and held an interactive Q&A with Norton employees, sharing the animals’ stories as well as photos and videos of lambs in diapers and being bottle-fed.
Teitt said there were 70 Norton employees and their families who took part in the Q&A session, and there was even a “name the lamb contest” in which Norton employees were able to select the names for twin Icelandic lambs.
“I’ve learned that baby animals make everyone smile,” Teitt said of the experience. “Baby animals that run around and do funny things make you laugh and spread joy.”
Asked what she has enjoyed the most about the farm, Teitt said, “I’ve always loved animals. I grew up part of my life on a farm, and my husband is so kind and loving towards animals, too.” Seeing how different animals with different stories can come together to befriend each other and create their own community has also been enjoyable, she said.
As for how someone might be able to help Bellepoint in their operation, Teitt said she has received checks in the mail to assist with things such as veterinarian bills, which she said is highly appreciated. However, Teitt said she would also simply like someone to help them understand “how to best do this” in regard to caring for the animals. The farm happened unintentionally, after all, and the Teitts have simply been piecing it together as they go.
“Something I long for is some guidance and some help with best care practices,” Teitt said. “Not only what do you do with this wool but what do we do with these lambs now … because we can’t have 30 lambs again next year. We can’t keep doing that, and we have to figure out where to send them.”
Teitt said she has reached out to The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine about possibly using some of the animals as part of their courses. Another option they have considered is making profiles for each animal and allowing people that otherwise couldn’t own farm animals to adopt and visit them, contributing to their care along the way.
Whatever the options may be, Teitt is open to them. More than anything, she said she and her husband are “blessed to be a blessing” to others and want their efforts to be a blessing to as many people as possible.