By Claudia Lifton and Meghan Jones
Sanctuaries make an immense difference for both animals and humans alike.
As someone who has spent the last decade advocating for farmed animals, I am all too aware of the suffering of the 10 billion land animals raised and killed for food every year in the United States. That number - 10 billion (57 billion including aquatic animals) - can feel so massively daunting that it’s easy to feel as though nothing we do in our advocacy will ever be enough. I have heard this sentiment echoed throughout the animal rights community, particularly when the topic of farmed animal sanctuaries comes up. The number of animals that sanctuaries are able to rescue, compared to the number of animals slaughtered every hour of everyday, is minuscule. I understand the concern that many advocates have with allocating so many of our limited resources towards rescuing a small handful of animals. However, I’d argue that sanctuaries make an immense difference for both animals and humans alike.
Every single animal is worthy of our time and resources. Each animal deserves love, autonomy, and the freedom to live free of suffering and exploitation. Saving one animal's life certainly does not change the whole world, but it changes the world of that animal. Not only does the rescue of each individual animal provide them with a path to healing, it can also heal the humans he or she comes in contact with. Most importantly, the rescue of a single animal has the potential to save many more by inspiring the humans whose lives they touch.
As animal advocates, we know that eating plant-based is the single most powerful thing we can do as individuals to positively impact animal welfare, the environment, and our health, but the task of persuading others to change can be challenging. In my experience, no amount of data, statistics, pleading, or shouting can compel others to change their diets as effectively as a single interaction with a rescued farmed animal.
Many of the people who visited Catskill Animal Sanctuary during my time working there had never met a pig, cow, turkey, or chicken before. I could see a shift in people’s hearts happening right before my eyes when they were able to see just how similar these animals are to the dogs and cats they share their homes with in their ability to feel love and fear, joy and despair, hopelessness and hopefulness.
Even though chickens and turkeys make up 91% of the animals slaughtered for food in the United States, they have the fewest legal protections and tend to garner the least empathy from the general public. Chickens and turkeys are some of the most abused animals on Earth and are deeply misunderstood and underestimated, even while they’re some of the most intelligent, sensitive, inquisitive, curious, social, gentle, affectionate, loving individuals I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. Every summer, Catskill Animal Sanctuary hosts Camp Kindness, a summer camp created to inspire and educate young people to become better animal advocates and stewards of the earth. Watching the kids fall in love with our rescued, feathered friends was the highlight of my experience at Camp Kindness.
At the end of their time at camp, the kids were able to choose who they’d like to spend their last day with, and they almost always chose the turkeys. The similarities in the sweetness, playfulness, gentleness, and intelligence of the children and the turkeys was undeniable and, I believe, the reason these kids always felt particularly drawn to them. They found great satisfaction and joy in learning the different personalities, favorite foods, and preferences of each individual turkey to help make the turkeys feel comfortable and safe. Turkeys' heads change color to reflect their emotions, similar to mood rings, and light blue indicates contentment. One of the children’s favorite activities was to “turn the turkeys blue.”
Sanctuaries like Catskill and Pigs Peace not only provide homes for nonhuman animals, but can in many cases be radical spaces that challenge public stereotypes of farmed animals.
Like Claudia, I’ve witnessed the power of sanctuaries in action. I was in college the first time I’d ever met a pig, aside from as an ingredient on a plate. After just one hour at the Pigs Peace Sanctuary I was enamored with how similar the pigs were, to not only the dogs I had grown up with, but also to my fellow humans. Between the complexity of their relationships and their fondness for belly rubs, it was clear upon meeting them that when you looked into their eyes, someone was looking back at you.
Pigs Peace Sanctuary sits upon 39 acres, and the pigs who call it home have access to all of that land. Founder Judy Woods intentionally offers the pigs as much freedom as possible. They can choose where to sleep (big slumber parties in the barn, or cozier spots sprinkled around the acreage), whom to sleep with (many pigs form lifelong friendships, which like ours, are complex), and when to eat (fresh grass and high quality hay is always available, and extra seasonal snacks like apples in the summer and pumpkins in the fall are special treats). One glance at Pigs Peace and you’ll notice that it appears unlike any farm you may have imagined.
Sanctuaries like Catskill and Pigs Peace not only provide homes for nonhuman animals, but can in many cases be radical spaces that challenge public stereotypes of farmed animals. This is exemplified by Catskill’s ability to demonstrate through connection with children how gentle, personable, and friendly turkeys can be, and by Pigs Peace Sanctuary’s challenge of the traditional “pig pen” as an appropriate home for a pig. By creating spaces that prioritize the nonhuman animals’ interests over concern for entertainment or monetary value to humans, sanctuaries reject the commodification of nonhuman animals. This ideology is ultimately what makes sanctuaries so unique, especially when compared to farms or zoos.
It’s important to mention that not all sanctuaries are created equal, and we recommend doing one’s research prior to donating to or visiting any sanctuary. Some sanctuaries begin with good intentions, but can quickly become unintentional hoarding situations, with founders not recognizing when the needs of the animals they rescue grow to exceed their ability to properly provide. Between feed, hoof and tusk trims, shearing costs, spays and neuters, vet care, transport, and water, the costs of running a sanctuary can climb quite high very quickly. In addition, some sanctuaries are run more similarly to zoos, if profits or entertainment value to visitors take precedence over the interests of the sanctuary’s nonhuman residents.
The power of sanctuaries is in their commitment to the nonhuman animals who call them home. To give them the freedom and care that they deserve, to model what a better future could look like, to create spaces that reject the commodification and exploitation of nonhuman animals for human pleasure, and to educate the public and allow connections not possible in other spaces.
What can you do?
Claudia Lifton is the Chicago Director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition.
Meghan Jones is the Seattle Director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition.
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