Meet the Founder

About Jo Bighouse

Jo’s deep connection with animals and nature was present from an early age: one of her first friendships was with a praying mantis who sat on her lap and proved a receptive audience to the thoughts and feelings she shared. This early instance of welcome support between a child seeking it and the response of the natural world would prophesy a lifelong theme in Jo’s coming decades.

After years of asking, Jo’s parents agreed she could have a dog if she improved her grades. Determined to finally have the dog she dreamed about, Jo made the honor roll for the first time and the family then made a trip to the local animal shelter. Jo instantly fell in love with a big fluffy sheepdog with sad eyes.  He seemed to be asking her to please take him out of the cage.  Her parents did not share her love for such a large hairy dog, so she chose a bouncy puppy with the loudest bark.  She walked out of the shelter happily snuggling the puppy she named Princess but thinking about the big shaggy dog left behind.

One of her favorite memories is her father taking Jo and her sisters to the Oxen Hill Petting Farm for Sunday visits.  This was her first experience with farm animals, and she felt an instant bond with the horses.  Their beautiful brown eyes seemed to look into her soul and their scent gave her a feeling of contentment. It was during these visits that she first began to dream about having a farm filled with animal friends.

As she reached young adulthood, Jo suppressed her passion for the natural world in favor of marriage and a practical career. Several years later, as a single mother with a job that didn’t offer paid leave, Jo faced a dilemma when her preschool aged son was ill and required her to stay home for a week to take care of him.

A call to her son’s preschool to discuss a potential tuition reduction yielded an unexpected opening when she was offered a job as the preschool’s Office Manager, which included on-campus housing and free tuition.  For the next 23-years, Jo ascended from Office Manager to Business Manager to Executive Director of the preschool-discovering in the process how this surprise opportunity provided a beautiful foundation for the convergence of two passions: the love of young children and the love of animals. 

During her time at the preschool she started a petting farm with rescued animals.  When a call was received that an animal needed a new home, arrangements would be made, and the new arrival would be welcomed.  Sometimes transportation was needed for the larger animals, so the seats were removed from the school van.  That van transported a donkey, sheep, goats, and a pig over the years.  Barney the donkey walked right in and didn’t seem to mind that his ears touched the roof. 

Jo often visited the classrooms with her Golden Retrievers and the dogs she fostered for a local rescue. Children who themselves were in foster care were especially touched by the foster dogs’ visits. She would take individual children who were experiencing difficulties on private walks with her therapy dog Murphy.  The children would talk to Murphy in a soft voice, knowing she would keep their secrets. One of the most touching moments was with a child who was completely shut down after a traumatic family experience.  During their third visit, as Jo was preparing to leave, she heard him quietly say, “Miss Jo, on your next visit can I bring Murphy a bone?” Jo told him he absolutely could and left quickly before he saw the tears in her eyes. Murphy was a constant presence in Jo’s office and knew exactly what to do when children felt sad or angry.  It was not unusual to see a child laying on the office floor with their head on Murphy.

When the preschool closed in 2004, Jo purchased a small residential farm, where she and most of the animals from the petting farm moved into their new home.  It is there she realized her dream could become a reality—a place where animals in need are rescued and live lives filled with love; where nature is respected, nurtured and appreciated; and where children can come and learn about both, surrounded by beings who love and accept them unconditionally.

In 2020 Serenity Farm Virginia was born. “A Sanctuary Where People Heal Animals and Animals Heal People,” the sanctuary heralds a safe, nurturing environment for animals, humans, and nature, created and facilitated by Jo Bighouse and a lifelong love of the natural world.

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