4 December 2014'Farm Sanctuary', Interviews, News

“People” — Longtime vegan Emily Deschanel had a “life-changing” experience when she visited a Farm Sanctuary animal shelter for the first time.

“I had already known that farm animals have feelings and intellect, but then to really see them up close and spend time with these animals was pretty incredible,” the actress, 38, tells PEOPLE. “I didn’t realize how individual chickens could be, and the people who work there know each sheep by name from far away. They’re individual creatures who have their own little souls and personalities and quirks.”

Deschanel has been involved with the organization – which operates three shelters in addition to working to pass legislation for the humane treatment of farm animals – for the past eight years.

“Ten billion animals a year are killed for food in the United States alone,” she notes. “It’s insane. I’ve done different things for different animals, from primates to dogs and cats, but I really like to focus on [farm animals] because the numbers are so high and people aren’t as aware.”

It’s a passion she hopes to pass along to her 3-year-old son Henry, whom she has brought to visit Farm Sanctuary’s rescue shelters.

“I want him to be comfortable with these animals and aware of them and why we choose not to eat them,” says the Bones star. “To have compassion for these animals is a great place to start, and that’s what I love for my son to gain from spending time with these animals.”

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