This article is property of Animals' Agenda Magazine and is being used with permission. Volume 17, No.1
How many people have ever visited a domestic animal sanctuary and thought, "I would love to work here"? Unfortunately, most people who visit animal sanctuaries do not realize that what they are seeing is the result of many hours, days, weeks, even years of hard work and sacrifice.
A sanctuary is a place of refuge to abandoned, abused, neglected, and unwanted animals, and usually provides lifetime care. This requires an unwavering commitment.
As visitors pass through PIGS, a sanctuary, they see happy and healthy animals, sturdy fences, clean barns, freshly cut grass, flowers blooming, spacious and clean living areas, plenty of fresh water and smiling people. Here, two full time workers and a small group of volunteers care for nearly 300 animals. The average day begins around 6 a.m. with the animals being fed and watered. On one day, a winter storm has brought three feet of snow, and walking paths and feeding areas must be cleared. Shoveling is back breaking work that takes most of the morning and throws the rest of the daily schedule off by several hours.
After feeding, the water tanks must be checked to make sure the de-icers are working. If the de-icers have failed during the night, ice must be broken and removed from the tanks. In many instances, water will have to be carried to the animals. Since it is cold, the animals are using their sleeping area as a bathroom. A new chore has just been added to the daily list since this area will have to be cleaned.
During last summer's heat and drought, there was the constant worry that the well would run dry and water would have to be trucked in. With heavy grazing and no rain, the grass quickly died and the entire sanctuary was as barren as a desert.
Although sanctuary tours are vital to educating people about animal abuse, and the sanctuary's role in alleviating some of that abuse, tours take up less than five percent of a worker's time. In the course of a tour, workers see things most people never notice: a loose board on a barn, a piece of fence pulling away from a post, an overturned water dish. Minor details to most people, but details that must be attended to in order to ensure a safe environment for the animals.
Today's schedule is modified to accommodate the unloading and stacking of 500 bales of hay. The truck arrives just as a worker is about to medicate the sick animals. Once again, the schedule is thrown off. The day has now gone from hectic to frantic with errands still to run, mail to answer, the house to clean, and laundry to wash. Work cannot be put off because it's too hot, too cold, or because someone is not feeling well. At a sanctuary, the animals must come first, always.
At 4 p.m., the eveing feeding begins. Before the end of the day, every animal is accounted for. The remainder of the evening is spent returning phone calls. Tomorrow it all begins again
Lorri Bauston, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, advises people interested in starting a sanctuary to "follow your heart and your back muscles" and to "take advantage of the opportunities available to volunteer at existing sanctuaries." There are, however many other issues to consider before starting a sanctuary: Motivation
What is your motivation for beginning a sanctuary? We have all heard the comment, "If I won the lottery I'd save all the animals." The reality is that not all the animals can be saved, even with a million dollars. Examining your motivations, your and your long-term plans can provide you with the insights you need before starting. Are your opening a sanctuary because you want physical contact with the animals? Because you like hard work? Because you love animals? Knowing why you are setting up a sanctuary is essential so that you do not become a "collection" of animals with no set goals, strategy, or guidelines defining why your sanctuary exists and its future goals in aiding animals.
Zoning laws should be checked to make sure that a sanctuary is permitted on the property. Some species are not allowed in certain areas. With certain exotic animals, special permits/licenses are required by the state and/or federal government. Local law may limit the number of animals on the property and may require a kennel license. Specific vaccinations may be needed for the animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has precise regulations for transporting livestock and other exotic animals, and proper paperwork is required.
Can you afford to care for the rescued animals for their lifetime? Working a full-time job to support a sanctuary and then working at the sanctuary itself totals two full time jobs. Do you have the stamina? Will the sanctuary require special equipment such as a large tractor, a specially designed house for sick animals, a barn with a cement floor? Will you be able to raise funds when special needs arise? Since animals require care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, are you prepared to give up your holidays and personal life in order to accommodate their needs? Recently we were contacted by a woman who needed help placing numerous pigs she had rescued because she felt trapped by the responsibility of their care.
What specific skills are necessary to take care of the rescued animals? Do you possess these skills or know where to find qualified help? Can you provide an environment where the animals' natural instincts and physical needs can be met? Providing for a subtropical animal's needs in Florida is entirely different from providing for the same animal in Minnesota. In dealing with pigs, our biggest challenge was finding a veterinarian who was willing to learn how to spay a pig. Also, the existing medications used for treating sick pigs are designed only to keep the animals alive long enough to get them to the slaughterhouse. Information available about housing pigs is all geared toward factory farming. We learned by watching the pigs, by being patient, and by setting up slowly.
Sanctuaries do not kill healthy animals in order to provide space for others. Euthanasia is, however necessary to alleviate the suffering of a sick animal. The question of when to do it is never an easy one to answer. It requires humility and character to make a life-and-death decision for an animal. With the high number of companion animals and the limited number of homes, it is sometimes necessary to suggest euthanasia to a person seeking your assistance. An overcrowded, overextended sanctuary does not provide a quality life for the animals. Saying no, especially when you know you are the only chance the animals has, is emotionally draining, but saying no is sometimes more humane than saying yes.
Do you have an attorney willing to work with you on legal matters? All sanctuaries should be incorporated as not-for-profit organizations, and an attorney can help prepare the paperwork for the Internal Revenue Service. If a foster program is in place, do you have any recourse if the foster person refuses to return the animal to you? Are animal adoption contracts signed by the adopter and adoptee? An attorney will be invaluable in resolving such issues.
Can the sanctuary and its neighbors co-exist peacefully? do you work with nearby property owners in order to ensure a tranquil life for all concerned? Being on good terms with your neighbors can alleviate additional emotional stress.
Sanctuaries should provide educational information, including written materials, public speakers, tours, and increasingly, computer sites. Without an educational program, is the sanctuary helping animals to the best of its ability? One way to help alleviate animal suffering is to use the animals in your care as ambassadors for other animals. For example, potbellied pigs are viewed as exotic, companion, and farm animals. Our educational programs provide people with information about the exotic animal market, companion animal abuse (especially over population), and the factory farming of commercial pigs.
What becomes of the animals and the sanctuary if something happens to the people running it? Has the organization been set up in such a way that the board of directors can take over the day-to-day activities? Will the state have to come in and dissolve the organization and euthanize the animals? Or have you trained someone to follow in your footsteps? A contingency plan is a must; a one day delay in making decisions can adversely affect the animals.
Body and Mind
Know your physical limitations. Carrying a sick, 150 pound pig across five acres is not easy. Neither is stacking 1,000 bales of hay in one day. When volunteers and interns are scarce, the work still has to be done. Emotionally, operating a sanctuary is like riding a roller coaster; today you rescue an abused animal and feel wonderful because you made a difference; tomorrow an animal in your care dies and you feel terrible because you couldn't prevent it. One day you meet someone who wants to support your work and you feel hopeful toward humankind; then you see an animal who was nearly beaten to death by an uncaring person and you feel there is no hope. A strong mind is as important as a strong body, and a sense of humor is a must. You will find yourself laughing and crying--sometimes at the same time.
For most sanctuaries, fundraising is the hardest part of the job. Are you providing sanctuary to a species most people can relate to, or are you rescuing animals with whom most people have had no experience? Species issues make a difference when fundraising. You must show donors that your programs are worth funding. An effective fundraising program is as important as clean pens, and is part of your daily chores.
Good Sanctuary or Bad?
As more sanctuaries are formed, potential supporters are asking, "Is it a good sanctuary or a bad sanctuary?" In the December 1996 edition of Exotic Market Review, the article "How to Choose an Exotic Cat" features a not-for-profit sanctuary for big cats. The people who run this "sanctuary" believe the last chance many of these large cats have for survival is to be domesticated and sold as private "pets". Is this a good sanctuary? Or what about the horse sanctuary that has an annual pig roast as a fundraiser? Or the dog and cat sanctuary that sells hamburgers and hot dogs to raise money? Are these good sanctuaries? They provide excellent care for the animals they have rescued; are they responsible for other animals also? What about the exotic animal sanctuary that breeds animals to prevent a species from becoming extinct. Is this a good sanctuary? For now, there is no formal association working to establish guidelines and criteria for domestic animal sanctuaries. But existing sanctuaries can help ensure the quality of future facilities by offering volunteer and intern opportunities to people interested in establishing new sites. Animal sanctuaries are essential to the animal rights movement's growth, because they not only hold the physical evidence of what happens to animals in this country, but when utilized correctly, they are the perfect education center.