A member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff has given this resource a full review and provided updates where necessary, as of February 25, 2022.
If you are an animal advocate, or aspire to be one, when you think of the term “Animal Sanctuary”, many images or fond memories of past visits may come to mind. You might have a general conception of what a sanctuary does and does not advocate for, how they treat visitors, or the level of care provided for their residents. However, reality does not always align with our expectations!
As a term, “animal sanctuary” does not carry a strict legal or regulatory definition. This is especially true for Animal sanctuaries that primarily care for rescued animals that were farmed by humans.. The United States federal Animal Welfare Act doesn’t recognize or suggest unique “farm sanctuary” standards. Thus, farmed animal sanctuaries fall under basic USDA agricultural guidelines in the United States.
Perhaps due to this lack of formal and legal definition, there are a wide variety of organizations across the world that have chosen to use “Animal Sanctuary” as a description for their mission.
So when we at The Open Sanctuary Project talk about sanctuaries, how are we defining an animal sanctuary? And what kinds of organizational decisions may fall short of our criteria? Here are some guiding philosophies to think about:
Quantity of Residents and Species Does Not Define Sanctuary
Sanctuaries come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found in all kinds of places. While you might automatically think of rural spaces and wide open places when it comes to sanctuaries, you can find them in urban centers too! Similarly, when you think sanctuary, you might think: 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.", sheep, and horses, oh my! But in addition to this common model of sanctuary, a sanctuary can be focused on just a single species. You also might imagine a sanctuary to have a large number of residents. But a sanctuary can be as small as a single Someone who provides daily care, specifically for animal residents at an animal sanctuary, shelter, or rescue. and a single resident, such for example, in the case of an urban A microsanctuary is a small scale community of human and nonhuman (generally “unconventional or farmed”) animal companions, who live together in a chosen shared lifestyle and in commitment to ending the oppression of all beings. Microsanctuaries adhere to the notion that no nonhuman member of the community should “serve a purpose.” Microsanctuaries can exist in any context: rural, suburban, or urban. A microsanctuary can consist of as small a community as one animal and one human caregiver. For more information on microsanctuary please refer to the Microsanctuary Resource Center., where one person lives with a single resident, perhaps even in an apartment.
You might ask, if you can’t define a sanctuary around size, is there something different about what they do that defines them? The answer is…yes, and no. It’s about both what they say, and what they do! It’s about whether the organization in question maintains a culture, philosophy, strict policies around compassionate care, AND conducts their day to day actions in a manner to ensure their residents are not subjected to any kind of Exploitation is characterized by the abuse of a position of physical, psychological, emotional, social, or economic vulnerability to obtain agreement from someone (e.g., humans and nonhuman animals) or something (e.g, land and water) that is unable to reasonably refuse an offer or demand. It is also characterized by excessive self gain at the expense of something or someone else’s labor, well-being, and/or existence.. Which brings us to the next part of our discussion!
Animal Sanctuaries Should Be A Place Of Non-Exploitation
The most important thing an animal sanctuary needs is a culture, philosophy, and strict policies in place to ensure that their residents are not subjected to exploitation and day to day practices that reflect these positions. By “non-exploitation”, we mean that residents (or other non-resident members of their species), and anything that comes off of or out of them, are never used either to generate profit or to perpetuate a culture of animal exploitation or harm.
Some specific examples of this exploitation may include:
- Selling or giving away a bird’s eggs for human consumption
- Selling or donating the wool of residents bred for their fiber for human use
- Advocating for or allowing humans to ride residents
- Commodifying resident visits or photo opportunities
- And conflating The act of transferring guardianship of an animal to a person or organization, especially via legal contract. or adoption fees as “purchase” or “sales” fees.
For more information about how an animal sanctuary can avoid 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). to animals, check out our resource here.
Animal Sanctuaries Should Not Be Motivated By Profit
Animal sanctuaries, whether legally designated as nonprofits or not, should not be profit-driven enterprises. The primary purpose of a sanctuary should always be to provide sanctuary to animals in need. If a sanctuary does sell non-exploitative products or services, the profits should be used for the benefit of the animals and others like them rather than personal gain.
Animal Sanctuaries Should Put Their Residents’ Needs First
Residents at an animal sanctuary must be prioritized wherever possible and practicable. This philosophy should be one of the guiding principles of how a sanctuary develops, organizes, and operates. Some examples of prioritizing residents at sanctuaries include:
- Committing to lifelong care of each resident (including providing appropriate veterinary care) or crafting a responsible adoption program
- Providing them with homes that will maximize their health and comfort, protecting them from predators
- Ensuring that residents who share space are not bullied or injured
- Providing appropriate nutrition and enrichment for residents
- Not taking residents out of their home or away from their family for non-medical reasons
- Treating residents as individuals with their own personalities and needs
- Not taking in so many residents that it negatively impacts the care of existing residents
Residents Of Animal Sanctuaries Do Not Serve A Purpose
In a sanctuary, no resident is assigned a “purpose” of any kind and they are not required to serve any larger function. Instead, it is the sanctuary’s primary goal to serve a purpose: providing residents with the best compassionate care available.
Fundamentally, in both philosophy and in practice, in a sanctuary residents are considered to be unique and valuable individuals, whose The ability for individuals to have access to free movement, appropriate food, and the ability to reasonably avoid situations they wish to avoid. and comfort are prioritized first and foremost. A sanctuary space is a safe place for them to live out their lives with all of the compassionate care that is required – from vet care, to appropriate food and shelter, to enrichment – to allow them to thrive.
Animal Sanctuaries Should Take In Residents Responsibly
Sanctuaries should prioritize taking in animals who are in immediate need of a safe place to live out their lives, with a well-crafted internal rescue policy to help guide the decision-making process.
Sanctuaries Should Not Breed More Animals
There is an overwhelming need for sanctuary across the world. An animal sanctuary should not breed residents (either intentionally or “accidentally”), or hatch eggs (i.e. breed birds) on sanctuary grounds. Mammalian residents should be spayed (if appropriate and recommended by their veterinarian) or neutered shortly upon arrival to the sanctuary unless it is too risky to perform the procedure, and additional precautions must be implemented so that these unaltered residents do not have babies. The exception would be taking in residents who are already far along in a pregnancy.
For more information on this topic, check out our resource here.
Animal Sanctuaries Should Have Responsible Visitor Policies
Animal sanctuaries are by no means required to allow visitors on their premises, but should they choose to allow for tours or visits, they must be crafted with the residents’ best interests in mind. A sanctuary should be a resident’s home, where they feel safe, not a place where they’re exhibited to the public for entertainment. All residents should be allowed to ignore tours or visitors, should they choose to do so. They should not be coerced into interacting with visitors, as a sanctuary is not and should never be a petting zoo. Resident living spaces should be designed with the residents in mind, rather than a potential visitor’s enrichment (though there are certainly ways to give visitors a good experience while prioritizing residents!).
If providing tours, residents should always have their personal stories shared when appropriate, and be talked about as individuals rather than strictly as an anonymous collective. There should be an educational component to sanctuary tours, so that visitors have a clear idea of what has necessitated the creation of the sanctuary and how they can help be a part of the solution!
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