Why Should I Support and Visit Animal Sanctuaries?

By Chris Weigl

A rescued pig at Little Orphan Hammies, miniature pig sanctuary, in Solvang, CA.

A rescued pig at Little Orphan Hammies, miniature pig sanctuary, in Solvang, CA.

A recurring thought enters my head. “If I won the lottery, I would open an animal sanctuary. I would buy hundreds of acres of land and take in all the farmed animals I could. It would be a dream come true.”

I’m sure I am not the only one with this dream. 

There are so many animals that need to be rescued. Factory farms are extremely cruel, filled to the brim with billions of animals bred into existence for the sole purpose of one day becoming someone’s meal.

People who have animal sanctuaries are directly challenging this violent system by creating a microcosm of the world they want to see. The work is hard, the days are long and the money is hard to come by. They need our help. They need our donations. They need our time.

The big disconnect

The first step to take in order for us to become the best possible animal advocates and activists is we need to see animals  as individuals and sentient beings with distinct personalities. Sanctuaries tell the story of the victim and all animals are given names. There is no better way to get up close and personal with animals than at a farm sanctuary.

Whether you are giving a pig a belly rub (they absolutely LOVE belly rubs!), stroking the soft fur of a sheep, or just discovering how wet a cow nose can be, these experiences will warm your heart. Today, when we can overwhelmed with just the sheer number of animal atrocities we read about or witness on a daily basis, it’s good for our souls and wellbeing to have these positive experiences with animals. Visits to farm sanctuaries can help activists recharge and reignite their decision to become more active on the animals’ behalf.

“It’s a place of healing. When activists learn the scale of the brutality it can be disheartening. Coming to the sanctuary is a way to nurture yourself and puts you back in touch with all of the beautiful reasons you are an activist in the first place. Being able to see animals that are happy and healthy is what your spirit needs,” said Laura Henderson, executive director of Pasado’s Safe Haven, Sultan, Washington.

According to the America Farm Bureau Federation, farm and ranch families comprise less than 2% of the U.S. population. We are so far removed from these animals. We need to spend time with them to get to know them so we can fight for them. Once we get to know more about how they live their lives we can gain an appreciation for them. This will translate into us becoming more passionate about saving the lives of others not so fortunate. It will be this passion for animals that fuels the fire within us and drives the animal rights movement forward.

The importance of education

One immensely important service these animal sanctuaries provide, besides caring for the animals, is educating people. People learn about how these poor creatures ended up at the sanctuary. They learn about the cruelties of the animal agriculture industry. But an even bigger lesson, or what some may call the big hairy audacious goal – is to educate people about animal rights and veganism. Encouraging people to see the potential for a better world, and to start working towards it. 

At Pasado’s Safe Haven, they go into schools and invite children to the sanctuary. “We have school groups out here which is super powerful for children which have never met a cow, pig or chicken. The kids get it. It validates their natural inclination that kids so often have,” said Henderson. She added, “We connect kids with their plates of animals in an age appropriate way. We are trying to teach empathy and compassion. We want to have them exercise those muscles. We are hoping to inspire change in the next generation.”

For the Animal’s Sanctuary in New Jersey participates in vegan outreach and teaches people about a plant-based and compassionate lifestyle.

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Woodstock, M.Y., takes some of the same ideologies as the famous Woodstock Music festival and promotes peace and justice in regards to animals. 

Another sanctuary offers vegan cooking lessons. What a brilliant idea. Discussing animal rights over a  vegan meal is an inviting way to help people understand the values that will move us toward animal liberation.

Caring for the sick

Something I never really thought about was how sick many of the animals who end up at sanctuaries are. In the documentary “So Cal 5,” by the Stolen Lives Project, about a calf rescue, only five out of the eight calves rescued survived. These poor babies had e. coli, parasites, pneumonia and salmonella. One of the calves was so sick he spent two months in ICU at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital. Thanks to Animal Place in Grass Valley, CA, these five calves are now thriving.

Because chickens are bred to grow so fast, many have dire consequences such as leg or wing injuries, and heart failure is common. Many birds have so many illnesses that they are contagious and un-adoptable.

As if caring for and feeding many animals were not enough, these sanctuaries which are safe havens for animal victims of factory farming, are burdened with huge medical expenses to get these animals well. This is why if you can, it’s always a good idea to donate to a sanctuary’s vet care fund. 

When asked about challenges sanctuaries face, Henderson said, “There are numerous challenges. One of the most heartbreaking things is that you know that the animals we are rescuing are the lucky few.  We know we can’t solve the problem. But this is what drives us. We have programs driving real social and system change that will impact animals not lucky enough to make it through our sanctuary gates. Those are the animals that haunt me.”

Another challenge is the huge responsibility sanctuaries have in just the day to day care that the animals require. Many animals can live up to 20 years and sanctuaries must be in it for the long haul. They need clean drinking water, feed, secure fencing, worming, fly prevention, hoof trims, tusk trims and emergency vet care. Farms require structure and property maintenance, manure clean up and management as well as maintenance and repair for farm equipment and vehicles. It’s never-ending and a labor of love for sure.

A herd of horses running at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, in Lompoc, CA.

A herd of horses running at Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, in Lompoc, CA.

So, what is the best thing you can do to help animal sanctuaries?

Become involved. Volunteers are always needed for many different tasks such as administrative work, helping out at events, caring for the animals and property maintenance. 

“There are so many ways to get involved. We need volunteers and we need people to be engaged with our advocacy efforts. We need people that are able to donate money because everything we do requires funding. We need people to help spread the word and we’d love to see people come out and visit us,” said Henderson.

At Pasado’s they have an advocacy center where people can participate in two minute actions to get involved with local, state and federal legislature. 

You could also donate supplies, towels, stall bedding, fresh produce and bagged feed. 

Many sanctuaries sell merchandise. Buying and wearing a t-shirt with the sanctuary’s logo is a great way to help them raise funds and spread the word at the same time. Some sell vegan food. 

You could sponsor an animal. Sanctuaries offer people a chance to help sponsor an animal for a minimal monthly donation. Or even better, you could adopt an animal.

A very clever and fantastic opportunity is a stay at their guest house. This is something on my bucket list. Several sanctuaries have places you can rent on the property. Enjoy a relaxing day at the sanctuary with a tour and spend time with the animals. You could make a vacation out of it and know your money is going to a good cause instead of just supporting a hotel chain.

Another way you could help out is by securing an internship. Sanctuaries such as Animal Place even offer scholarships. 

When deciding which animal sanctuary to visit, you could check with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Pasado’s is one of only eight U.S. sanctuaries that have been awarded this accreditation. This indicates that they have met the highest standards of animal care and enrichment. For more information, see here

A great way to become introduced to a sanctuary is to visit when they are having a fundraising event. If you can’t attend one of their events, most sanctuaries have limited visitation times, on specific days and times. Sometimes you may have to call ahead and make an appointment. I would not recommend going without calling first, unless you know for sure visitors are welcome at that time.

Visiting a sanctuary is a rewarding and fun experience. I always look forward to my time there. Besides spending time with the animals, another benefit is connecting and talking with other animal lovers! As animal advocates, we are outnumbered by those who accept the status quo. It’s a good feeling to be able to spend time with others with the same views.

If you love animals and want to step up your activism, be sure to visit a sanctuary, you will not regret it!

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Chris Weigl

The author is an animal lover and animal activist. She really digs animal rights conferences like the Animal Liberation Conference in Berkeley, vegans, veg fests, tie dye and Miyoko’s butter. She has two cats and a horse and lives in the boondocks in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, California, where she encounters turkeys, deer and sometimes a fox, bear, bobcat and even a mountain lion.