And the winner of PETA’s 7th Annual Greg Award is ….

Today, to mark Greg’s birthday, New Jersey Cow Sanctuary founder Helga Tacreiter has been named the recipient of PETA’s 2022 7th annual Gregory J. Reiter Animal Rescue Award.

Helga has dedicated more than 30 years of her life to rescuing dozens of cows and other farmed animals — while inspiring people to value those animals’ lives as they value the lives of their dog and cat companions.

Born in Poland, Helga came to the US with her family as a child, via England and Canada. After college, she took a summer job at a dairy farm. “At that time I thought cows just made milk,” she said. “I thought I’d put my hair in pigtails and carry a bucket. I didn’t have a clue.”

Helga soon learned that male calves end up as veal — and that female cows, when milk production drops, are also sent to slaughter. She thought at first that she would just do her best to make the cows’ lives as decent as possible while they were together on the farm.

But then in 1988, lightning struck. One morning after a storm hit the farm where Helga worked, she found a group of mother cows dead under a fallen tree, with their six orphaned calves gathered around. Helga vowed to save those calves — which she did by forgoing six months’ wages in exchange for their lives.

For several years, Helga moved those six growing cows from place to place, feeding them with proceeds from making and selling “cowches” — life-sized pillow likenesses of her real cows. Finally in 1993, she was able to buy a 77-acre farm in Shiloh, New Jersey — and the Cow Sanctuary came to be.

In the decades since, Helga’s sanctuary has provided lifetime care for more cow herds, and for dozens more animals including pigs, goats, chickens, geese, and other species. Some were rescued through PETA cruelty investigations, some when family farms closed after an owner became ill or died, some when students in 4-H programs or university agriculture classes decided to save an individual or even a herd from slaughter.

“I’ve been really lucky,” Helga likes to say. “I get to do something that makes me want to spring out of bed in the morning and gives meaning to my life.”

Since 2016, the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund has partnered with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to present the Gregory J. Reiter Animal Rescue Award. Every year on Greg’s birthday, an exceptional individual or organization receives a cash prize of $1,000, in recognition of their sustained commitment to helping animals in need.

Previous recipients have been The Fuzzy Pet Foundation founder and CEO Sheila Choi (2021), Julia Novak (2020), Danville Area Humane Society executive director Paulette Dean (2019), Houses of Wood & Straw founder Stacey Norris (2018), the Virginia Beach SPCA (2017), and Katie McCotter (2016).

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