Animal Protection > AR Interviews

ODE TO AN ANIMAL SANCTUARY

Many people in the animal rights movement dream of living and working on an animal sanctuary, a place of refuge which provides a lifetime of care for abandoned, abused, neglected, and unwanted animals.

In reality to fulfill such a dream requires a lot of energy and devotion. Even animal liberationists just back from a rescue, can sometimes forget, that for the sanctuary worker their work is just beginning. As we all know each animal is a unique individual. Having rescued animals, one sees there are problems of establishing new pecking orders, there are squabbles that need sorting out, integrating new arrivals with other sanctuary residents and a whole array of unforeseen difficulties which require addressing – not least of all being funding.

We spoke about the experiences and challenges of animal sanctuaries with two animals activists from different sides of the globe.

Gene Baston, from Animal Sanctuary in America and Bede Carmody from the Atchin Tan Sanctuary in NSW. Here are the results.

Are animals at the sanctuary allowed to breed?

GENE: There is no breeding allowed at Farm Sanctuary. For the mammals, the males are neutered, and for the birds, we collect the eggs so they cannot incubate.

BEDE: Ditto – all the boys – rabbits, guinea pigs and horses are neutered. Eggs are collected daily from the poultry.

What do you do with male animals, which by nature fight each other. How do you deal with unwanted roosters and drakes, for example?

GENE: We keep the population of our males down to minimize fighting. So, unfortunately, we cannot provide sanctuary for all the males, or females for that matter, who need sanctuary.

BEDE: Yes there are always lots of animals needing homes, unfortunately males – roosters and drakes – don't do themselves any favours. We have pairs of drakes who live happily together but try to introduce them to others and the squabbling begins. With roosters we manage to integrate newcomers into the main rooster pack by slowly introducing them to the others through wire fences Π after a couple of weeks they manage to fit in without much commotion. However, unfortunately there are only so many you can take in.

Are you always being asked to take in male animals which are unwanted because of their sex? How do you cope with these problems?

GENE: We are asked to take in males and females but no sanctuary can take all the animals who need homes. So, we provide homes here for those we can, and we provide tools and advice for others who want to set up sanctuaries. Finally, we also put energy into 'going upstream' to stop the problem in the first place.

BEDE: Oh yeah. Someone calls asking if you can help with a chicken which needs a home and a lot of the time the chook is a rooster! We try to take them, or alternatively try to find someone else willing to. The problem is that people have obvious difficulties keeping roosters in built-up urban areas. It's not the bird's fault and so we do everything we possibly can. It's very hard to say no – at the moment we are building up a register of people willing to adopt animals in the hope we can have a ready list of homes for those animals we can't take.

Being so hands-on do you find it frustrating that some in the animal rights movement have little understanding of the needs of rescued farmed animals and the commitment they require after rescuing, after the headlines die down?

GENE: I am happy for the commitment and desire anyone may have to help prevent farmed animal suffering – whether it be hands-on or otherwise.

BEDE: I used to get frustrated about other's lack of knowledge about the time and care involved with sanctuary work then I realised I was exactly like that before I began working hands-on. It's like anything – you can read lots but putting the theory into practice takes it into another realm altogether.

At times working on a sanctuary is frustrating because sometimes you are dealing with terminal cases and regardless what you do and all the care and attention you give an animal it dies. But then there are all the good times and the special moments. How do you ensure security?

GENE: Lorri (Gene's wife) and I and other Farm Sanctuary people live on the farms and that provides a great deal of security.

BEDE: Ditto, there is always someone around. There's always lots of work which needs doing so we're usually outside somewhere.

What is your position on purchasing animals to live on your sanctuaries?

GENE: We are against purchasing animals from the livestock industry as doing so supports a cruel industry economically.

BEDE: The immediate answer is no way cause you are putting money into the hands of the exploiters but I honestly could not say if purchasing an animal was the only way to save its life I would not do it – I'm only human.

At a conference on farm sanctuaries in the US last year Karen Davis, a woman I admire who runs United Poultry Concerns asked whether animals who could not be rescued any other way should be abandoned because they are in an economic situation which defines them as property and merchandise. She said: "is this not a way of making these innocent victims pay the ultimate price because they happen to be defenselessly defined as objects for sale?" And what is your position on "stealing" animals which require help/rescuing?

GENE: We have taken animals out of bad situations – living animals off of dead piles or trash cans – and we have been willing to face 'theft' charges if needed in doing so.

BEDE: I have no problem acting to help animals which are being mistreated and abused.

Spending so much hands-on time with animals you have obviously learnt a lot about them. Do you have any tips for other hands-on workers?

GENE: We have set up a website which is intended to be a tool for people who want to do sanctuary work. It is http://www.farmanimalshelters.org/.

BEDE: I'm still very much on a learning curve – I work with guys who know a huge amount about the animals homed at the sanctuary from their years of experience.

How do the sanctuaries deal with problem animals such as rats and mice attracted by food, and predators?

GENE: We put the food away when the farmed animals are finished with it, rather than leaving it out. And this keeps the rat and mice population down. Regarding predators, lots of human activity near our animals helps, and our barns for small animals (eg. chickens) are predator proof so the birds are safe at night.

BEDE: Yes they are a problem despite food being put away at night, we catch them live and relocate them but this has not proven to be effective – any suggestions would be welcomed!

In relation to protection from predators all the animals, apart from horses/ponies/donkeys sleep in sheds and housing which we can secure against attackers in the evenings. Six foot fences surrounding many of the animal areas are also an additional deterrent.

With the number of animals you have to feed how do you afford it? Many commercially available animal foods have dead animal components, how do you guys deal with it?

GENE: Thankfully, we have people who donate to Farm Sanctuary to provide feed and other needs of the animals. We have done everything we can to stay away from feeding dead animal components to our animals, and have had our own vegan feed milled at a local feed mill.

BEDE: Yes it's a bit of a Catch-22 and unfortunately I don't have an answer – it all comes down to expense. You've got 200 mouths to feed and limited money to do so.

Farm Sanctuary has been instrumental in bringing to the public (and international arena) the issue, for example, of downed cows. Please tell readers more about this and other successes.

GENE: Central to Farm Sanctuary's campaign work are investigations and documentation of conditions endured by animals exploited by the meat, dairy, and egg industries. We have photographed appalling mistreatment of downed animals (who are neglected for days, and dragged to slaughter with chains) – http://www.nodowners.org/, and the cruelty to intensive confinement on factory farms – http://www.freefarmanimals.org/, http://www.factoryfarming.com/. We believe that most consumers are appalled when they learn of these conditions an agree that the cruelty should be stopped, and hopefully they will think critically about their eating habits. By caring for farmed animals as companions, Farm Sanctuary attempts to reshape the majority perception of farmed animals – from 'food' to 'friends'.

What do you think it's going to take for the Western world's rural community to get the message that what' s going on in factory farming these days is unacceptable? What message do you want to share with readers?

GENE: Some folks in rural communities are coming to see, first hand, the problems associated with factory farming. (Their primary concerns have been environmental pollution and negative economic impacts, but some are coming to question the inhumane treatment of farmed animals as well.)

BEDE: I think the reality is that those involved in factory farming are only going to respond to economic pressure because if they had any compassion at all they wouldn't be doing it in the first place. It would be interesting if these industries had to meet the true costs of their environmental impacts such as the associated land clearing, greenhouse emissions, not to mention the waste and energy use.

EDITOR'S NOTE: 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. It requires humility and charity to make life-and-death decisions for an animal.

Sanctuaries are hard work but they are an essential part to the animal rights movement growth, because they not only hold the physical evidence of what happens to animals around the world, but when utilised correctly, they are also a perfect educational tool we have to show the mainstream where they have gone wrong in their attitude,s especially the so-called Τfarm' animal.

Running a sanctuary doesn't come cheap. Donations are welcome and can be sent to either:

The Farm Sanctuary"
P.O. Box 1065
Orland, CA 95963
USA

or

Atchin Tan
c/o Bede Carmody
Locked Bag 18/202,
Newtown 2042
Australia