What is a sanctuary?

Here at Peace Ridge we are often asked the question “What makes a sanctuary?” It’s a topic that we know a whole lot about, and we see the increasing need to define “sanctuary” to the public around us, particularly those animal folks who wish to best support animals. The following is an excerpt from a paper that Daniella Tessier, our founder, wrote in an attempt to address the growing need for public education around this issue:

“In Maine, as in many states, there are a growing number of ‘rescues’ and ‘sanctuaries’ popping up. All too often times we see that those individuals who say they offer sanctuary are actually hoarders or people who may have had good intentions, but do not have their systems in place to do the job that they say they do.

So what do you do BEFORE supporting a ‘sanctuary’? Schedule a visit. If you want to support a public non-profit, there should be little reason that you can’t visit. Yes, we sanctuary caretakers have our own schedules too – but if a non-profit is asking for your support, they should be happy to have you on their premises. If you do visit a ‘sanctuary’, don’t be afraid to ask critical questions. And if something sounds strange, it probably is. Lastly, don’t rely on mailings, websites, social media or any other venue for advertisement as your source of verification- unless you have been to the sanctuary, or know someone who has, you should be very careful where you lend your support.

When you arrive for your visit, look around with a discerning eye. Is the environment clean? At a sanctuary, the FIRST priority should always be cleanliness. If the facility- barns and pastures included, are not clean YOU ARE NOT VISITING A SANCTUARY! Anyone can feed and water animals. But cleanliness provides for a disease free, dignified living environment – and it is ESSENTIAL to the health and well-being of the animals. There is no excuse for animals to be walking in and eating out of their own excrement on any farm, most especially on a farm sanctuary. If that is the case, put your support elsewhere, and you may even want to call the authorities. I mention this last point in particular- because there are quite a few “sanctuaries” here in Maine and abroad where the conditions are shockingly filthy, and the care of the animals is extremely neglected, but they still manage to pull in public support.

Next, you may ask yourself – ‘do the animals have enough space and what they need to live naturally?’ If the sanctuary has large animals on site, you want to see pastures for the animals to graze. At a sanctuary, the natural predisposition of the animal should be of primary concern. If a cow or horse has no grazing opportunities, it is not living a natural, healthy life. Anyone can have an animal in their back yard, but if the animal cannot live according to its biological and psychological needs – you are NOT at a sanctuary.

As the director of a small farm animal sanctuary for over ten years, I’ve met people on both sides of this discussion. I have seen many people who are eager to support animal organizations get duped, while there are other legitimate animal organizations who need public support to continue doing their good work. All we suggest is – before you jump on the sanctuary bandwagon, find out first hand who you’re supporting!”

For more information on this topic, visit Farm Sanctuary’s website Establishing a Sanctuary.