One of the most critical policies that separates an animal sanctuary from other organizations that are centered around animals comes down to a sanctuary’s commitment to non-exploitation. The most immediate indication of non-exploitative practices is straightforward: Does the organization harm any animals, either intentionally or unintentionally?
When one considers harm committed against animals, they may immediately think of practices that The Open Sanctuary Project refers to as “direct The infliction of mental, emotional, and/or physical pain, suffering, or loss. Harm can occur intentionally or unintentionally and directly or indirectly. Someone can intentionally cause direct harm (e.g., punitively cutting a sheep's skin while shearing them) or unintentionally cause direct harm (e.g., your hand slips while shearing a sheep, causing an accidental wound on their skin). Likewise, someone can intentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool and encouraging folks who purchase them to buy more products made from the wool of farmed sheep) or unintentionally cause indirect harm (e.g., selling socks made from a sanctuary resident's wool, which inadvertently perpetuates the idea that it is ok to commodify sheep for their wool).”. The other category of harm may be more complex to immediately bring to mind, but it is harm nonetheless; The Open Sanctuary Project refers to this category as “indirect harm”.
It is important for sanctuaries to be aware of both categories of harm to ensure that they do not promote or incidentally cause harm against residents or other members of their species.
Direct harm is committed against individual animals. This includes intentional actions such as abusing, injuring, or even killing animals, but also includes neglectful actions such as not providing safe food, water, or supplementation, not keeping animal habitats clean, allowing animals to become injured or ill from preventable diseases, or not providing residents with adequate space. Direct harm is typically easy to identify because the consequences can be seen firsthand in the individuals being harmed.
Indirect harm adversely affects members of a resident’s species beyond the boundaries of a sanctuary. It is typically caused by advocating for harmful practices, or promoting the use of animals or what comes from them. This often happens at well-meaning organizations in the form of suggesting that there are “humane” exceptions to exploitative practices, given the right circumstances or conditions. This could include actions or policies such as:
- Advocating for or suggesting that horse riding is necessary for horses
- Advocating for, selling, or giving away eggs from chickens if they’re granted specific living conditions
- Advocating for, selling, or giving away fiber from residents if they’re granted specific living conditions
- Advocating for, selling, or giving away milk from While "cows" can be defined to refer exclusively to female cattle, at The Open Sanctuary Project we refer to domesticated cattle of all ages and sexes as "cows." if they’re granted specific living conditions
The Problem With Promoting Indirectly Harmful Practices
While these practices may sometimes seem innocuous, or like a “lesser” form of exploitation, they carry significant cost to animals outside of the sanctuary. When a sanctuary promotes the use of animals or their products for human benefit, it perpetuates the belief that an animal’s value comes from what they can provide for humans.
Indirect harm can also perpetuate the belief that there is no cost to an animal or species being exploited as long as they are treated kindly, which ignores the inherent harm that human breeding has inflicted upon many species (like many breeds of chickens and sheep). While wool must be shorn regardless in many sheep breeds for their health and comfort, and “layer” chickens will typically lay eggs unless implanted, a sanctuary has the responsibility to not distribute what comes from animals to humans; doing so amplifies the message that there’s a reasonable justification for the health challenges that these animals must contend with for their whole lives.
We understand that it can be challenging to garner support for an animal sanctuary, and that some of these actions may seem like an innocuous enough tradeoff in order to increase a sanctuary’s appeal to some visitors, but to view a resident’s inherent value in transactional terms, even indirectly, a farmed animal sanctuary risks becoming a farm.
For alternative, harm-free ways to fundraise for your animal sanctuary, check out our resource here!