Monday, August 2, 2010

The Work of Saints: Animal Sanctuaries

The proliferation of animal sanctuaries across North America is an encouraging sign, and one of the noblest examples of people helping animals that I can find. Many of these sanctuaries are specially geared toward farm animals who would otherwise be slaughtered by the factory farm system. For these beautiful creatures, animal sanctuaries are lifesavers protecting them against the machine of death. The sanctuaries can be compared to the so-called Slave Maroons of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hidden communities in the dense woods where runaway slaves created safe havens where they could live freely.

Animal sanctuaries have popped up across the United States and Canada, wherever there are good people fighting to make a difference in the lives of animals. Here is a description of New York's Woodstock Farm Sanctuary (from

The ducks and geese flapped their wings and stretched their necks skyward as though willing it to rain even harder during a recent visit to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Willow, N.Y. Away in the distance, the goats and sheep were not as appreciative and made a mad dash toward the open barn. And, completely oblivious to the storm, four large pigs lay fast asleep in a thick bed of straw. They didn’t even blink as chickens pecked at the bedding right beside their faces.

Surrounded by the Catskills Mountains, this farm provides refuge for cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep and goats that have been rescued from cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment. For the hundreds of families who pass through its gates every year, the sanctuary provides not only a relaxing and peaceful environment but an opportunity to learn about the harsh life for many animals in the factory farming industry.

Farm sanctuary guides tell visitors that childhood images of happy animals living on sunny, idyllic farms – like those at the sanctuary – couldn’t be further from reality. The truth is that "virtually all animals who are raised for food – or their products – live miserable lives in intensive confinement in dark, overcrowded facilities called factory farms. These operations emphasize high volume and profit with little regard for the environment or humane treatment of animals."

Bringing your family to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is a powerful step in a positive direction, says Farm Communications Director Rebecca Moore

"My generation did not get to have any interaction with the animals that were put on our plates," says Moore. "The few times I did (at a zoo or fair), what I could see with my own eyes did not mesh with what I was being told. The animals were in poor environments without much attention to their needs. Their depression or distress was palpable and I always left those places feeling troubled."

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is the wave of the future, says Moore. She sees a new generation of families passing through the gates, a generation who wants their children to be better informed than they were. Visitors are encouraged to enter the pastures and stalls and visit with the animals. The pigs enjoy belly rubs, the sheep look forward to head scratches and many of the chickens like to be hugged.

"In books and at school we teach our children to love animals as a way to teach them gentleness and kindness. However, what is most often being done to animals to get them onto our plates is the opposite of that lesson, and that makes no sense," says Moore.

Not all animal sanctuaries are created to save farm animals. Last month, I posted about St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, a noble enterprise that offers a home for stray cats and dogs. In Columbia, Missouri, you will find the D&D Animal Sanctuary, described in a Columbia Tribune article about a recent open house held at the place:

D-D Farm & Animal Sanctuary is a wildlife refuge licensed by the USDA and MO Dept. of Conservation. For over 18 years they have opened their hearts and home to animals of all shapes and sizes.

The sanctuary is not open to the public except during an Open House.

Come see the many endangered, exotic and native animals that call D-D home: lions, tigers, cougars, bobcats, lynx, coatimundi, wolves, fox, parrots, snakes, lizards, tortoise, horses, cats, dogs and more!

And then, of course, there's the Butternut Farm Wildcat Sanctuary in Johnstown, Ohio, which is home to countless cats of all shapes and sizes, including cougars, bobcats, lynxes and house cats. Butternut is also home to a wolf and assorted foxes. All of these animals live under the loving care of Johnstown residents Carol and Craig Bohning and a group of volunteers.

Canada also has its fair share of animal sanctuaries. Here in Ontario, there are safe havens for rabbits, pigs and even donkeys. All across the country you'll find farms dedicated to the happiness and well-being of a multitude of animals.

I often single out the saintly folks at Farm Sanctuary, who run huge farms in Watkins Glen, New York, and Orland, California. But - and I'm sure the Farm Sanctuary folks would agree with me 100 percent - it is important to also single out the many other countless unsung heroes and heroines of the animal sanctuary movement. These are wonderful people who love animals and provide plenty of TLC for creatures of all shapes and sizes.

Whenever I get feeling pessimistic about the treatment of animals in our day and age (and believe me, there is much to be pessimistic about), I like to take out a moment to remember the men and women (and, yes, even children) who have provided a safe haven for the animals. We will never know exactly how many animals have been saved by these sanctuaries, but we can safely say a lot.

And not just that. Untold thousands of visitors to these sanctuaries - from school children to the elderly - have seen that there is a different way for animals and humans to interact. Animals and humans can - and should - live in harmony together, different species enjoying life side by side, and not out of some sort of paternalistic impulse on the part of humans to "be kind to animals." We ought to live with animals in harmony because we have something to learn from them, and animals living happy lives can enhance our own fleeting moment on this earth and liberate us from the shackles of our age-old custom of devouring these extraordinary beings.

It's like I've said before: When we liberate animals, we liberate ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for mentioning our own Canadian Farm Animal Sanctuaries! Most of us are stuck in the grass root stage and struggling..