The Microsanctuary: A Radical Concept
By Rachel Hipp
I grew up in the city in a middle-class, meat-eating family. We had one cat growing up, and my very limited exposure to animals consisted of family trips to the zoo, various class field trips to nature centers, and summer horseback riding camp. I had almost no exposure to “farm” animals. It wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I even made the connection between animals and the “food” I was eating. In fact, it was the same summer camp where I went to ride horses that influenced me to consider animals in my diet. My favorite camp counselor told my then-younger self about why she was vegetarian: animals are treated cruelly for our food, and she doesn’t want the animals to die or suffer for her meal. It made perfect sense to me! I went home and immediately gave up eating animals in my diet. My parents were less than thrilled at first, but eventually they accepted it.
At first I was active in online communities, but I went many years without knowing another vegetarian in real life or having any social support for my lifestyle. My views on animal rights faded into the distance, and I remained vegetarian mainly out of habit and convenience. A few years ago, I made the decision to go vegan and met my husband, Ryan Hipp, around the same time. His love of animals and desire to do anything to help them was contagious. He re-ignited my childhood passion for animal rights in the best way possible. I wanted to do something to help animals that was immediate and direct.
As a couple, we started rescuing farm animals in early 2014. Ryan had been rescuing animals for a few years, working with cat rescues and on his own. He had recent experience volunteering with a wildlife rehabber as well. I had pretty much zero experience with farm animals at the time but used online resources for support and began building my social network around chicken care.
It was around the same time that The Microsanctuary Movement was born. I was immediately drawn to this movement and the support it provided to regular people like us. According to the founder of the movement, Justin Van Kleeck, there is no hard and fast definition or set of guidelines for a microsanctuary. A microsanctuary starts from the premise that our space and our resources, no matter how limited, often are still sufficient for us to provide sanctuary to individual farmed animals in order to prevent them from ever again being used as commodities. A microsanctuary can be any space run by a vegan that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness. Someone with a rescued house-rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar nonprofit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals. By throwing out that ideal, individuals can begin to think honestly about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers. The concept validates the work that is already being done by many vegans around the world and creates a sense of urgency for all of us.
The Microsanctuary Movement is a radical concept that needs to be introduced to activist spaces. In most radical spaces, the labor-intensive jobs or historically-female roles, such as caretaking, often go unacknowledged in the movements as a whole. If we want to achieve total animal liberation, we must shift the paradigm in the Animal Rights movement. Rescue and sanctuary work are the backbone of our entire movement, because it is here that we begin to directly connect with individual animals and start to make liberation a reality. As activists “for the animals,” we have to start acknowledging it and participating in it. Sanctuaries are where the animals who are rescued from the system go for refuge and where we have the opportunity to meet and get to know them as the individuals that they are. Sanctuaries tell the stories of these survivors and provide the life-long care and medical attention that is so desperately needed to correct the wrongs that were done to them.
What makes The Microsanctuary Movement so radical? It is radical because the concept suggests that anyone can do this work, and we can do it now, with whatever resources we have at our disposal. Many vegans dream of “one day” opening a farm animal sanctuary; the Microsanctuary Movement suggests that “one day” is now, and it empowers us to do this work. If you didn’t grow up with dogs in your family but walked into your local shelter one day to adopt a dog, do you think they would turn you away? Absolutely not! They understand that adopting and caring for a dog is a learning curve, but with a commitment to learn, some basic supplies, and the willingness to do the work, anyone can be successful.
We set up imaginary barriers in our mind to adopting farm animals that we don’t apply to dogs and cats. This is an example of how deeply ingrained our speciesism really is, even among vegans. Adopting any animal is a learning curve, but we should not let fear prevent us from diving into the world of farm animal rescue and care. There will be challenges, but the challenges are not insurmountable. I urge you to consider expanding your activism to include rescue and sanctuary work in whatever capacity that may be. There are always more jobs to do and never enough hours in the day. How can you help?
- Volunteer at your local sanctuary
- Participate in open rescue with a trained team of activists
- Transport farm animals to sanctuaries or for medical treatment
- Adopt or foster farm animals in need
- Open your own microsanctuary
For support and assistance with farm animal care and/or your own microsanctuary, visit The Microsanctuary Movement website and join Facebook groups: Vegans with Chickens, Vegans with Goats and the Microsanctuary Movement.