Just across the Minnesota border in New Richmond, Wis., a 300-pound pig trailed behind me like a puppy. I stopped for a moment as a sheep came my way, insistent on a head rub. As I massaged its ears, I felt something pulling at my shoulder. I looked down and found a sneaky, wet snout inside my purse, hastily chowing down on some cherry tomatoes that had fallen out of my lunch bag.

That snout belongs to Wally the Pig, who lives at SoulSpace Farm Sanctuary. One year ago, Wally jumped off a slaughter truck going 70 miles per hour. He was just 3 miles away from a meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. A witness reported that Wally nudged persistently at a latch on the back of the semi before finally getting it loose and jumping onto Interstate 90.

Suffering only minor injuries, Wally was soon picked up by the Humane Society and later adopted by Kara Breci, the founder of SoulSpace Farm Sanctuary.

Wally is one of thousands of animals rescued by farm sanctuaries. These organizations protect and rehabilitate animals that have suffered abuse or neglect on conventional farms. Sanctuaries provide an environment where rescued farm animals can live peacefully for the rest of their lives. Unlike animals at petting zoos, farm sanctuary residents are never viewed as commodities and usually have the option to avoid human visitors.

Sanctuaries also serve as a platform for farm animal advocacy and education in the greater community. Urban residents can have the rare experience of getting to know a farm animal.

As a volunteer at SoulSpace, I have had the opportunity to learn about the unique personalities of each animal resident. I know how George the Sheep will do just about anything for some watermelon and how Amos the Donkey lives for a good butt rub. I have seen how Rory the Chicken will guard and save food for his more timid female friends. I have even put a chicken in diapers, useful for those times when your feathered friend insists on staying inside on the sofa cuddled up with you. Most important, I have seen the incredible bonds that can be formed across species.

The first of these special places, appropriately named Farm Sanctuary, was founded in upstate New York in 1986. As interest in animal advocacy has increased over recent decades, so too have farm sanctuaries across the country. The greater Twin Cities area is no exception. SoulSpace opened in 2016, followed by Spring Farm Sanctuary in Long Lake in 2017.

Meanwhile, northeast Minneapolis' Herbivorous Butcher, the nation's first vegan butcher shop, announced plans to establish its own sanctuary. Several smaller, local rescue operations contribute to animal protection as well, including Chicken Run Rescue and Rooster Redemption.

Local animal advocacy organizations, such as the Animal Rights Coalition and Compassionate Action for Animals, have supported the rise of farm sanctuaries and occasionally coordinate sanctuary visits open to the public.

Ashley Riddle, program director for the Animal Rights Coalition, sees sanctuaries as an asset to our community. "It gives people a chance to see that animals who are raised for food really aren't all that different from the animals we choose to share our homes with, and they're really not all that different from us," Riddle said.

Unny Nambudiripad, the former executive director of Compassionate Action for Animals, agrees. "Most people I have spoken to have direct experiences with companion animals such as cats and dogs, but little direct experience with individual farm animals. Sanctuaries can play a big role in transforming our society's treatment of animals," Nambudiripad said.

Now the third large-scale farm sanctuary near the Twin Cities area is opening its gates. On Saturday, Farmaste Animal Sanctuary in Lindstrom, Minn., will hold its grand opening from 1- 5 p.m. There will be a food truck, music, kids' activities and more. The event is free and all are welcome. Donations are encouraged. (For more information, visitfarmaste.org.)

Most local sanctuaries offer tours, volunteer activities and public events. To get involved or donate, go online and visit local sanctuary websites. If you've never heard a chicken purr or given a pig a belly rub, it might be time to visit a farm sanctuary.

Julie Knopp lives in Minneapolis.