Most of the general population is familiar with petting zoos and pet shelters. However, relatively few people are aware of the existence of farmed animal sanctuaries, and many fewer the purpose of such sanctuaries. Farmed animal sanctuaries are home to rescued farmed animals, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and more. These animals have typically been saved from horrible conditions, especially factory farms and abusive individual owners. Farmed animal sanctuaries, though not as well-known to the public as some more abrasive animal rights nonprofit organizations, are an important tool for promoting compassion toward farmed animals.
Unfortunately, there is no national legal or regulatory definition for animal sanctuaries generally. This is even truer for farmed animal sanctuaries, as the Animal Welfare Act does not designate unique standards for these sanctuaries. As such, farmed animal sanctuaries fall under basic USDA agricultural guidelines. Multiple types of organizations use the term “animal sanctuary” as a description for their organization; this is possibly due to the lack of national guidelines. Because of this lack of regulation, it is important to examine whether any organization identifying as an animal sanctuary is actually a responsible and non-exploitative organization putting the needs of their animal residents first.
Although farm animal sanctuaries do not strictly advocate for farm animals in the same way as many animal-centric nonprofits do, reputable sanctuaries provide another, much needed, perspective on animals. Such an up-close and personal perspective is important for many meat-eating people to make the connection between their food and where it comes from. Meeting farmed animals in real life may help break down the cognitive dissonance many people have when it comes to the origins of meat. It is one thing to watch the infamously graphic slaughterhouse videos on the internet, but it is entirely another to meet animals in person who have been rescued from such a fate. Learning about individual animals’ stories can be a powerful motivator for compassion.
One well-known example of a legitimate farmed animal sanctuary is Farm Sanctuary. They have two locations, but their original, larger sanctuary is located in Watkins Glen, New York. For 35 years now, Farm Sanctuary has provided a safe and loving home for thousands of farm animals. They describe their animal residents as “ambassadors” who represent the many more animals who, tragically, cannot be rescued. Farm Sanctuary seems to explicitly regard their sanctuaries as a form of activism, stating, “While we can’t rescue all the animals in animal agriculture, we know that Sanctuary can heal the animals who have been rescued, and fundamentally impact—often with lasting change—the people who hear these messages of hope, healing, compassion, and love.”
Having been an activist for several years now, I have much personal experience at a farmed animal sanctuary. I first went vegan at fifteen years old, and, for my sixteenth birthday, I asked my parents to take me to a farmed animal sanctuary near us. It was an eye-opening experience. A couple of years later, I began volunteering at that same sanctuary as an animal care volunteer and have been volunteering at the sanctuary on and off since I was eighteen. Animal care volunteering at this sanctuary consists primarily of cleaning the animals’ living spaces and spending time with them. While forming bonds with farmed animals is certainly a wonderful thing, I learned much more about activism strategies as an intern at the sanctuary.
As an intern, I assisted with visitors’ touring logistics and attended outreach events to promote the sanctuary, as well as raise awareness about the reality of factory farming. I also reached out to plant-based and vegan-friendly food organizations asking for donations and whether they would like to appear at the sanctuary’s annual Halloween event. Finally, I updated the sanctuary’s animal residents’ information, as well as the pictures used for sanctuary tours; such pictures, while not overly graphic, illustrated the types of cruelty farmed animals often go through.
There are many layers to each and every social movement. Educational and social justice organizations are very important in the movement against factory farming, but so too is each and every individual animal who has a lasting impact on people, simply thanks to their impactful story. And, although it may often seem like individual people make very little difference in a social justice movement, each and every individual truly does count—be they human or nonhuman animal.
Shae Stokes is a college intern for FFAC, currently studying philosophy, sociology, and animals & society.