Places of Refuge for Non-performers in a Performance-based Culture
An Animal Rights Article from


Alison Banville on
July 2009


This image was on display at various places around Hillside Sanctuary which I visited last week..."Together for always... rescued friends... living peacefully at the sanctuary." It is their second site, a horse sanctuary that could no longer be run by its elderly owners, which was taken over, and rescued farm animals given homes there too.

It’s a fabulous place and organization. Hillside’s undercover work is second to none and their footage has been used on many TV programs over here exposing factory farming conditions. It is them I am working with on the Freedom Food campaign I was telling you about. I met lovely sheep and pigs there, chickens, rabbits, goats, horses, llama, geese, turkeys, donkeys. All saved from horrors and safe for the rest of their lives!

The Meaning of Sanctuary

Beth is the kind of animal that meets no current social criteria that would justify her continued existence. She has a scarred face from past serious eye problems which douses any romantic thoughts of a ‘beautiful equine’. She constantly requires special attention and a very understanding and patient farrier. Beth just doesn’t make the grade in any way that would make her ‘useable’ again. In her slow-gaited existence, she represents the epitome of the unuseable, unproductive and therefore disposable life form. But to those of us at Hillside, Beth is also the reason society needs places such as ours; places of refuge for non-performers in a performance-based culture.

Beth, and all of the others to whom we have given sanctuary from abuse, neglect and slaughter, are mere whispers in a world roaring with the importance of words such as performance, competence, viability and productivity. Beth represents the almost forgotten values of other words, such as kindness, compassion, inherent value and community. For if the word performance is needed greater than kindness, then there is no place in this world for Beth. And the hunger that many of us feel for a more compassionate world will go unfulfilled.

Beth takes up so little room, and yet because she can no longer ‘perform’ she would be denied even that space. And in society’s denial of space, a final ‘use’ found for her. She would be sent to the slaughterhouse to endure all its terrors, so that she can be food for the tables of Europe and profits for corporate giants. Beth and others like her are our only defence for the decision to provide sanctuary for all animals in need, instead of choosing only those that could be loaned to new families. The path to rehabilitate the ‘rideable’ and ‘useable’ horse, although somethimes well meaning, is too easily lost in the many justifications for performance-based value.

Sanctuary, on the other hand, is one of those words that picks at the collective conscience of society. It picks at it because Beth needs sanctuary, not from a great evil out ‘there’ somewhere, but because she needs it from us, the you and me that make up society. Because such value is put on performance, horses are in jeopardy from the moment they are born. But then that should not be any great surprise, for each of us learns from an early age that our value as individuals is directly linked to whether or not we can perform, produce or be competent at something.

This is why Beth becomes important. She is a gentle, but ‘imperfect’ being, vulnerable in her inability to perform anymore, and put before us to ponder her fate. The decisions we make about Beth, and thousands like her, become measures of who we really are as individuals and as a society. Our collective character is shaped, not by the decisons we make about the beautiful, powerul or competent, it is shaped by how we treat the weakest and neediest amongst us. So, when adults and children come to visit the animals, we speak to them about the importance of a world where there is room for ‘imperfection’. And as they watch Beth nap in the sun or amble around with her companions they are able to see the meaning of sanctuary, for it is painted in the bold colours of Beth’s living, breathing existence. And because there is a place of hope and healing for Beth, then maybe, just maybe, there is a place of hope and healing for the rest of us.

Alison Banville, Thomas Paine Corner's UK editor of total liberation, is a long-term campaigner on rights for human and nonhuman animals, the environment, and political issues. She is committed to showing how they are all interconnected. Alison is also a singer, lyricist, and teacher, and she has a keen interest in vegan health and fitness.

Return to Animal Rights Articles