By Alannah Castro
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
Brittany Stephens of Norman, Oklahoma, has always been the consummate animal lover. But two years ago she was able to take her passion and drive for rescuing animals and channel it into Infinity Farms Animal Sanctuary & Rescue. To those who knew Brittany, this was no surprise. Growing up riding with esteemed trainer Louise Serio, Brittany always had a soft spot for animals in need.
“I would say that Louise’s mom, Mary Warner Brown, was definitely a factor for beginning my love for all animals. At her super-fun pony camps, there would be barn cats that I would sneak into my house and hide from my dad. My dad supported the horse lifestyle but wasn’t the biggest indoor animal fan, so he would get angry but ultimately the cat would stay,” Brittany said, laughing at the memory. “The first rescue I ever did on my own was at a horse show with Louise in Ohio. There was a lady that would rescue foals. I had a summer job and I spent the money I had made that summer to adopt one of her horses. I brought him home, and today he’s a lesson horse in Pennsylvania.”
Realizing a Dream
After graduating from Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, Brittany pursued a career in marketing, which would take her to major metropolitan cities such as Manhattan, New York City and Miami — great places for a corporate career, but not conducive to establishing a rescue organization.
“My long-term goal was always to have an animal rescue, but I thought that would be when I was 65 and had worked for a long time in the corporate world,” Brittany said.
That all changed when Brittany was introduced to her now-husband Brandon Stephens. After a long-distance romance, she moved to Oklahoma where her dreams of an animal rescue seemed much more attainable. Brittany and Brandon moved to their current location in Norman, a 210-acre sanctuary that welcomed its first residents two years ago.
“Dawn Casey, a friend of mine who also rides hunters, was talking about this feedlot that’s the last stop before horses go to slaughter in Mexico,” Brittany said. “She told me about these two gorgeous, senior, extremely abused and very sad bonded pair of draft mares at the feedlot. They needed a lot of vet care.”
After a two-hour drive, Brittany loaded the lovely old girls up and headed back to quarantine. She didn’t even tell Brandon.
“I showed their pictures to him when I got home,” Brittany said. “He just smiled and laughed.”
The Golden Girls, Sophie and Dorothy, are permanent fixtures at the rescue now, and they were soon joined by a locally-bred filly who had a rough start in life.
“I got wind there was a one-month-old Thoroughbred filly at a local farm that couldn’t walk due to crooked legs. The caretakers at the farm had put PVC pipe on her legs to help her walk so she wouldn’t be euthanized. We brought her back to our farm and everyone was like, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to have to euthanize this poor foal,’” Brittany said. “I said to Brandon, who named the filly Truffles, ‘We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,’ and he said, ‘Whatever it takes.’ We took her to the best local specialist and now she’s a year old and her legs are completely straight.”
Expanding Their Reach
As the sanctuary grew under the sole support of the Stephenses, Brittany made the decision to go public as a 501(c)(3) to involve others in her rescue efforts by saving a higher rate of animals regardless of breed, being able to pull high-risk animals from kill shelters and taking in more medical emergencies.
“We take the animals that are high-cost medical cases and animals that are going to be euthanized. These are the animals that everyone has passed up,” Brittany said. “Having Brandon’s support is amazing because I know that we can say we’ll take care of it and worry about that later. It’s all about the animal.”
One such case is Petunia, a pit bull who, without the dedication of Brittany, Brandon and everyone involved with Infinity Farms, might not have made it.
“Our foster coordinator found Petunia collapsed on the side of the road after she had been running in the fields for a few days. She thought Petunia had either porcupine quills or tick bites all over her face and something going on with her eye,” Brittany said. “She took her home and revived her that night. She told me we should bring Petunia into our program, but I had no idea how bad she was. We got her into the vet and she went straight into emergency surgery on her eye. We realized after x-rays she has more than 80 pellets in her face from being shot with a shotgun.”
Petunia was undaunted, completely blind, and in typical pit bull fashion, has made herself at home at Brittany and Brandon’s house. Her case has caught the attention of many media outlets, and she’s a shining example of the difference Infinity Farms hopes to make in the future.
“Brandon hasn’t been around very many pit bulls, and every day he learns something new about them. He’s like, ‘Did you know that they love to cuddle?’ I always tell him that they’re nanny dogs,” Brittany said. “Petunia has this sweet pittie face, and I really want her to teach people that pit bulls are really great dogs and that blind dogs can lead happy lives.”
Brittany plans on eventually getting back into the horse show world with a mount whose lineage is very special to her.
“When I was showing with Louise, I had a junior hunter named Tuxedo Park, or Santana in the barn, who became my amateur hunter. She was fabulous. We ended up selling her when I graduated from college and she eventually ended up with Catherine Marcks, whom I refer to as my Santana sister now,” Brittany said. “She had a filly four years ago and Catherine reached out to me more than a year ago and asked if I would be interested in breeding her filly to have Santana’s grandbaby. We ended up breeding her, and now we have a grandson from the late Santana who’ll be coming to the farm when he’s a little older.”
At the end of the day, it’s the reward of caring for and rescuing unwanted animals that keeps Brittany pushing through.
“It’s a constant uphill battle, but then when we have breakthroughs, it’s the most incredible, gratifying thing that you can experience. It’s addicting, and you just want to have that experience for another animal that’s been through hell and back,” Brittany said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to give that animal its first freedom ride and tell them that everything’s going to be okay. I know that good is going to prevail and we’re going to make a difference.”
For more information, visit www.infinityfarmsok.org.
Photos by Shawna Simmons, www.sasequinephotography.com, unless noted otherwise