As Nature Intended: Helping sanctuaries give animals the lives they deserve

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Horses, sheep and pigs roaming through grassy pastures under a brilliant blue sky. Primates—from baboons to gibbons to macaques—swinging through their enclosures. A group of mice, happily huddled with others, taking a nap in fresh bedding with nothing expected from them except to just be mice.

Thanks to the hard work of those who run sanctuaries around the country, these are not merely dreams for animals who came from difficult pasts: they’re scenes from new lives rescued from neglect, abuse and disaster.

Through gifts to our Sanctuary Fund, NAVS and our supporters have been honored to play a role in the important work of sanctuaries, rescues and shelters around the country that are providing a safe haven to animals in need.

No matter their size, location or specialty, each of these places–and the dedicated people who run them—plays a unique role in the greater goal to create a more compassionate world.

As diverse as the animals they help

From coast to coast, from primates retired from research to turkeys who’ve escaped from the slaughterhouse, animal sanctuaries are providing homes and care for animals from all walks of life. 

“The animals we care for are unadoptable due to old age, chronic illness, or fearfulness of humans—often due to abuse or neglect,” says Beth Randall, founder of Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, of their residents. Many were once companion animals who were neglected or abused, and Critter Camp focuses on those who are small and unusual—filling a gap Beth noticed as she and her family first began the sanctuary. 

“There was nowhere for the old, sick, aggressive or fearful [small animals] to go, except to be killed,” recalls Beth. “So we decided as a family to create a non-profit rescue devoted to these specific kinds of animals.”  Throughout their history, Critter Camp has become the home to animals like Bravehog, a hedgehog who had been found discarded in a dumpster, as well as a group of mice who were lucky enough to be snuck out of the lab by the very worker who was supposed to euthanize them.

“Sacrifices are given joyfully.”

If you ask someone who works at a sanctuary what it’s like, it’s not uncommon to hear that it’s both the most difficult and most rewarding work you can do. 

“Rewarding? Like breathing, yes,” says Peggy Glover-Couey, Founder and Executive Director of Shepherd’s Green Sanctuary, home to hundreds of pigs on their 34 acres in Tennessee. “The work isn’t too hard, the costs aren’t too high, the weather is just the weather. The sacrifices are given joyfully. It is a service and an honor to be able [to help the animals], day after day, year after year.”

“They don’t have options. We are it,” she said.

Jenna Dickson of Hooved Animal Humane Society shares in the “joyful sacrifice” necessary in her work helping run HAHS’ facility that houses nearly a hundred hooved animals, including horses, goats, sheep and cows.

Image courtesy of Jungle Friends

“My husband had planned a very nice date night for us when one of our newest rescues had health complications and I spent the day at the vet,” Dickson shares. “Instead of a date night at a fancy restaurant, he joined me and our night was spent in a stall with a young horse who needed monitoring. The horse grew up beautifully, and it’s rewarding to see the horse running and remember that long night.”

A more compassionate world through education

Not only are sanctuaries taking on the already daunting task of caring for their residents, many have also chosen to further support their missions through educational programs and sanctuary visits.

“We were already teachers and realized that we could combine our educational expertise with the plight of farmed animals to awaken compassion in our society,” said Danielle Hanosh of Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary.  Though she and her husband have educational backgrounds, the animals themselves tend to be some of best teachers on their own.

Po, a pig rescued from a windowless barn filled with a foot of mud and manure, is one of Blackberry Creek’s best ambassadors. “He is sweet, kind, loveable and wise and has recovered miraculously,” says Hanosh. “He is the animal that people connect with the most frequently when they visit and he has touched many, many hearts, changing people’s view of pigs entirely.” 

Hanosh also recognizes the way animals retired from research can be ambassadors for others who have not yet been as lucky. “[Research animals] are often the least talked about when it comes to animal rights, and sanctuaries have a responsibility to help educate the public about them” she says.  “Having these animals in sanctuary care is ideal for helping people see them as sentient individuals and recognize when products [they buy] have a connection to the animal research industry.”

Out of the laboratories and into the sanctuaries!

The sanctuaries supported through the NAVS Sanctuary Fund help more than just animals retired from research. But as we come closer to achieving our mission to end the exploitation of animals used in science, the need for the space, care and expertise of sanctuaries of all kinds will grow exponentially.

Take, for instance, when the National Institutes of Health ended their funding of research using chimpanzees in 2015. While some of these chimpanzees began to make their move to sanctuaries like Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana (which serves as the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary), for most of the animals, the “retirement” process has been extremely slow.

A mixture of lack of space and resources left Chimp Haven without enough room to receive all the 301 available chimpanzees. Expansions slated for completion in 2021 will increase their capacity to 330. As of February 2018, however, only 78 chimpanzees have been successfully transferred, and for the many who are already classified as “geriatric,” the time is running out to experience life outside of a laboratory. 

The chimpanzees’ retirement is now facing an additional hurdle, as the possibility of having some chimpanzees “age in place” in the laboratories has once again been raised.

But with support for our Sanctuary Fund, NAVS will do more than “hope” that the promise made by NIH to retire all government-owned chimpanzees is not broken. NAVS is working with Chimp Haven to make retirement that supports them the way nature intended a reality for all these deserving animals as quickly as possible.  

NAVS Executive Director Emerita Peggy Cunniff notes that “NAVS’ efforts to advance innovative, humane alternatives and to advocate for greater protections for animals would be almost pointless without the professional care, suitable habitats and compassion provided to animals at sanctuaries as the cages are emptied. I am confident that countless more animals will need new homes and exceptional care as our efforts continue.” 

Some sanctuaries, like Jungle Friends in Gainesville, Florida, have already established programs to specifically support former research animals. Their Research Retirement Fund helps the hundreds of monkeys they’ve been asked to take in over the years from research laboratories, with more requests coming in all the time. The NAVS Sanctuary Fund is proud to have been helping Jungle Friends since 2002, with 199 ex-research monkeys and counting benefitting from our grants. 

“The research monkeys who come to us from invasive research and who are isolated for decades are the most traumatized,” says Kari Bagnall, Jungle Friends’ Founder and Executive Director. They may present a host of new challenges for sanctuaries, but these monkeys, like all animals retired from research, are just as deserving at a chance at a life where they get to be just animals—not test subjects.

The NAVS Sanctuary Fund is a lifeline to animals in need all across the country. Learn more about the Fund and find out how you can help change animals’ lives forever and for the better here.

This entry was posted in News and tagged Animal Action on April 16, 2018.