On The Importance of Sanctuaries

On The Importance of Sanctuaries

By Gwen and Peter Jakubisin


Three potbellied pigs stand in the corner of a 10-by-20-foot pen lined with pea gravel (no shelter), near a dirty, plastic swimming pool, old bits of dog kibble scattered on the ground.  The smallest of the three is covered in a fine layer of dust. Her ribs are showing, and she’s as bald as a newborn. The man who put the ad on Craigslist explains to us nonchalantly how lucrative breeding potbellied pigs can be. He feeds them scraps from a fast food restaurant down the street to keep his costs low. His three-year-old daughter is walking around the enclosure, aggressively waving a large tree branch as the terrified family of pigs struggles to find a way out of her path.

We’ve come prepared with peanut butter and jelly tortilla roll-ups, and the sight of snacks inspires the smallest pig to brave towards us, stretching from her back legs and preparing to run in case our offer is a trap.  The man calls her “Frankenstein” because he thinks she looks odd for a pig. Her “odd” appearance turns out to be her saving grace. The man can’t find anyone to buy her as a pet, and we’ve talked him into letting us give her a good home instead of selling her body to be turned into “meat.” We resolve to call her Frankie— a much more suitable name for a beautiful pig embarking on a new life. We reach out slowly to pet her and she nips at our hands, attempting to bite them, but hoping for more peanut butter-filled tortillas.

Frankie. We’re in love.

We bring her home with us that day, even though we don’t really have a plan. We’ve both collectively spent years volunteering at farm sanctuaries, but we don’t have a clue as to how we’re going to integrate Frankie into our current family of four dogs and two bunnies. All we know is that she needed out of her current situation. She needed to be rescued.

Frankie’s story is not uncommon. Every day there are animals in need of rescue— at auction houses, in the backyards of breeders, sometimes even in the homes of well-intentioned folks who don’t have the time, money or space to care for them.  We’ve seen the atrocious conditions of “humane” farms and slaughterhouses that supply Whole Foods. We’ve watched the rescue of Mei Hua and the countless others who have been given salvation by those of us willing and able to open our hearts and homes. For us, part of being an activist is adjusting our lives so that we have space and time to offer animals in need. Understandably, not every activist can provide these things, but almost all of us can support farm sanctuaries in one way or another.

Farm sanctuaries are such an incredibly important part of the animal rights movement. While we fight diligently for the right of every animal to be happy, safe and free, there are folks across the country and world making sure those who are rescued enjoy the very freedoms for which we fight. They provide an education to the public that protests and demonstrations can’t: an opportunity to bond and establish a real friendship with a nonhuman animal. Most people, when given the chance to experience the individual personality of an animal they traditionally see as “food,” have a really hard time justifying their continued participation in the exploitation of that animal. 

Sanctuaries offer a refuge to activists as well. Once we open ourselves up to the world’s many injustices against animals, we are inundated with them every day.  We become overwhelmed with Facebook posts, news articles and graphic videos. They are all essential to our activism because they help keep us motivated and aware, but they take a huge emotional (and sometimes physical) toll.  Volunteering at a farm sanctuary can balance out all of that pain and anxiety. Witnessing an animal’s freedom, connecting with them, taking part in their wellbeing and knowing that these few will forever be excluded from the torment that their brothers and sisters will endure can have powerful and positive influences on our activism.

This is why it is so necessary for activists to support farm sanctuaries. Owning and operating a farm sanctuary is incredibly hard work. Long days filled with endless tasks and the constant heartbreak of not being able to save everyone or losing the ones you have saved because their bodies were just too broken. It is also expensive work, requiring continuous funds for vet care, proper shelter and nutritious food.  Every form of support we can offer is immensely appreciated and needed, and there are many ways to get involved: 

  1. Volunteer. Find a sanctuary close to you and volunteer your time as much as possible. Be sure to get involved with your local chapter of Direct Action Everywhere for DxE Worldwide Sanctuary Day on April 11th-12th.
  2. Donate and encourage your family and friends to donate. Many sanctuaries have a Wish List on their website or in their newsletter, so those who can’t afford to donate money can donate towels, blankets, snacks and other items they already have at home.
  3. Organize fundraisers, like bake sales or movie screenings.
  4. Support sanctuaries on social media. Acknowledging the hard work these folks put in can go a long way.
  5. Share the stories of rescued animals like Mei Hua, Frankie and those you meet at sanctuaries. By passing along their histories, including their recovery, we help foster a culture in which their stories are of moral significance.

As for us, along with volunteering at our local farm sanctuary (Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary in Scio, Oregon), we are also working towards finding a home with additional land so we can offer a loving refuge to more animals that so desperately need it— just like Frankie.

Frankie is still unsure of humans, and we do our best to make her feel safe and happy.  Sometimes we talk about how Frankie may never be the kind of pig that wants a belly rub or a back scratch.  We occasionally forget her fear of suddenness and inadvertently reach to pet her head, only to be reminded by a quick, startling bark that she is still not okay with being touched.  We’ve learned to show our affection and love for one another in different ways. We can’t imagine our lives without her, and every day we get to spend with her makes the knowledge of people eating her kind so much less comprehensible. She isn’t here to entertain us or to make us laugh, and she most certainly isn’t here to be abused or eaten.  She’s here to live her life, and we’re here to make her life as amazing as we can while she is with us.

Frankie: our family.