The Role of Farmed Animal Sanctuaries in Promoting Animal Liberation
From All-Creatures.org Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Karen Davis, PhD, UPC United Poultry Concerns
March 2021

Why is public education as well as saving animals so important? We owe it to all the animals who did not get away to tell their stories.

Twenty-one years ago, in September of 2000, United Poultry Concerns held the first ever conference organized to define and discuss the place and practice of farmed animal sanctuaries in promoting Animal Liberation. What do they teach? How do they advance animal rights? Where does vegan advocacy fit in? Are they a good use of financial resources? Thinking of starting a sanctuary?

The questions we raised then are as timely as ever now. Although farmed animal sanctuaries, including microsanctuaries, have proliferated over the past two decades, some animal advocates still question their value, since no matter how many chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys and other animals are rescued, their numbers are infinitesimal compared with the billions of farmed animals who cannot be saved.

Our own sanctuary for chickens, with occasional turkeys, ducks, and peafowl over the years starting in the mid-1980s, confirms my belief that a good farmed animal sanctuary offers a unique opportunity not only to save a portion of otherwise doomed creatures, but to learn from them and educate the public on their behalf.

Direct experience conveyed through storytelling, photographs, video footage, and sanctuary visits provides an informed challenge to the misinformation about these animals spread by the animal farming industry intended to convince people that these animals have nothing in common with “wild” animals or “our pets,” and that farmed animals are merely “food” in the making.

Among the many important thoughts about a successful farmed animal sanctuary presented at our conference in 2000 are these:

VINE cofounder pattrice jones, who at the time was running the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary in Maryland, said, “I think giving sanctuary is an important form of direct action. It’s an action that actually does something about a problem. If there is no direct action of this kind, you get either demoralized doing animal advocacy work, or you become abstract—abstract as a defense against demoralization. Will our educational efforts make a difference? This is purely speculative, but saving that chicken is saving that chicken.”

Terry Cummings of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Maryland pointed out, “You never know what effect you may be having upon your visitors.” For example, a group of staff people from a local humane society who toured her sanctuary showed “no reaction.” Terry felt they were unmoved, but later she encountered one of them who told her that after their visit, “they all became vegetarians.”

Terry also said: “We should not just focus on factory farming, but on farming . Non-farming people are surprised to learn that most slaughtered animals are babies.” She asks visitors “to think about how much of their lives you’ve taken away if you’re not yet a vegetarian, even if the animals had a good life.” She said the hardest young people to reach are kids from traditional farming families. One child from 4-H marveled that the Poplar Spring chickens ran up to her, and that some liked to be held and petted. The child said the usual way of handling chickens where she comes from is to kick them out of the way. She seemed genuinely surprised that this could be why her chickens never ran up to her or wanted to be held and petted.

As for how a sanctuary is different from a farm, Terry gave this example: “Sanctuaries take farmed animals to the vet. Farmers normally don’t. Getting the veterinary profession to recognize an obligation to treat individual farmed animals medically and with respect is one of the changes farmed animal sanctuaries are creating.”

Lorri Bauston, codirector of Farm Sanctuary at the time, put the animal rescue and public education issues together this way. She asked, “Why is public education as well as saving animals so important? We owe it to all the animals who didn’t get away to tell their story.”

“I think giving sanctuary is an important form of direct action. It’s an action that actually does something about a problem. If there is no direct action of this kind, you get either demoralized doing animal advocacy work, or you become abstract—abstract as a defense against demoralization. Will our educational efforts make a difference? This is purely speculative, but saving that chicken is saving that chicken.” –pattrice jones

UPC’s Sanctuary in Machipongo, Virginia

Our sanctuary in rural Virginia is designed to provide a home for chickens who already exist, rather than adding to the population and thus diminishing our capacity to adopt more birds. For this reason we do not allow our hens to hatch their eggs in the spring and early summer as they would otherwise do, given their association with the roosters in our yard. That said, I must confess that on three separate occasions over the years, an “unexpected family” emerged from some sneaky hens and roosters. These surprises allowed me to observe firsthand the devoted care of a mother hen for her babies.

UPC sanctuary

Otherwise, all of our birds have been adopted from situations of abandonment or abuse, or else they were no longer wanted or able to be cared for by their previous owners. Our 12,000 square-foot sanctuary is a predator-proof yard that shades into tangled wooded areas filled with trees, bushes, vines, undergrowth and the soil chickens love to scratch in all year round. It also includes several smaller fenced enclosures with chicken-wire roofs, each with its own predator-proof house, for those chickens who – before we turned the entire sanctuary into a predator-proof outdoor aviary in 2014 – were inclined to fly over the fences and thus be vulnerable to the foxes, raccoons, hawks, owls, and possums inhabiting the woods and fields around us.

In the summer and early fall we invite people to visit our sanctuary by appointment for 2-hour morning visits. We do not accept impromptu visits, and we are not looking for volunteers at this time. We pay our local sanctuary assistants to ensure their commitment to our birds and because every employee who does good work receives an equivalent wage.

An animal sanctuary is a Labor of Love, but anyone thinking of starting a sanctuary needs to remember not only the LOVE part but also the LABOR and FINANCIAL parts. Rain, sleet, snow, or shine, the animals and their living areas have to be physically attended to each and every day. And a sanctuary cannot be maintained without money. As Jim Mason, author of An Unnatural Order, said at our conference:

“It isn’t enough to rescue animals and get a grant for doing just that. You need to have a program, not just a place filled with animals and one person doing all the work, or perhaps living in an insular, shaky paradise with rescued animals.”


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