P.E.A.C.E. Closing Statement On A Sanctuary In Alberta

P.E.A.C.E. is issuing a closing statement on our letter of concern regarding a farm animal sanctuary in Alberta.

Through public social media posts made by the sanctuary operator, direct communication with P.E.A.C.E., and concerns raised from the farm animal sanctuary, vegan, and animal rights activist communities, the concerns are:

  • regarding a sanctuary operator’s continual direct and public involvement with high-risk animal rights activism that can put the animals at their sanctuary and neighbouring sanctuaries at future risk, and that the sanctuary operator has publicly stated in the past already brought threats to themselves and the animals in their care.
  • regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of a young animal in their care.

P.E.A.C.E. initially worked directly with the sanctuary operators to try to resolve these concerns.  We also offered support and resources to ensure the safety of the animals. They stated that they do not intend to discontinue the activity that had been indicated previously as having triggered threats and serious safety concerns to themselves and the animals.  They withdrew and minimized their previously stated concerns and stated that they would instead be taking steps to defend against possible future threats rather than discontinuing the activity. They stated that they do not intend to clarify the circumstances surrounding the young animal’s death due to extenuating circumstances, although they have publicly posted about animals in their care from similar circumstances.  

After this initial communication there were multiple unanswered questions and messages.  With growing concern, P.E.A.C.E. determined that the individuals disagreed that the stated concerns were valid, and that they were not intending to address those concerns.  After much deliberation, and weighing the ramifications of making a public statement against the ongoing concerns for the safety and well-being of the animals, P.E.A.C.E. posted a general public statement of concern and sent a copy to the individuals, intentionally opting to not identify the sanctuary or include any names.

We recognize that this is an extremely painful and charged situation.  We only took the step to release a statement and give voice to those concerns because we ultimately considered the risks to the safety of the animals at the sanctuary and at other sanctuaries in the area to outweigh any other considerations.

After the statement was posted, the individuals reached back out to P.E.A.C.E.  We opted to remove the full public statement at that time. This was done as a measure of good faith, as we strongly preferred to resolve the concerns in private with the individuals, and we considered that leaving the full statement online would only serve to distract from working directly with them to resolve the concerns.  We responded within 24hrs to their email as well as sent a final follow up email, and as of the date of this post have not received any response to either.

P.E.A.C.E.’s position is the following (from the original statement):

  • A farm animal sanctuary’s primary guiding principle and mission is to provide a place of safety, refuge, and care for rescued farm animals.  Actions that threaten the safety and well-being of the animals at the sanctuary run counter to a sanctuary’s mission. P.E.A.C.E. takes no position on high risk animal rights activism such as trespass and non-anonymized release of footage of farm conditions in and of itself.  Individuals are free to make their own decisions as to what risks to their own persons they accept in their activism, up to and including facing harassment, intimidation, threats, fines, arrest, and imprisonment. However, a farm sanctuary operator’s decisions of risks and consequences affects not only themselves but also the animals in their care, in addition to the safety of the animals at neighbouring sanctuaries.  The animals at a farm sanctuary cannot voice their consent to accepting these risks.

    It is P.E.A.C.E.’s position that a sanctuary operator’s knowingly engaging in activity that brings risk to the animals in their care when it is unnecessary to the operation of the sanctuary shows disregard for the safety of the sanctuary residents, and that such activity should not be undertaken by a sanctuary operator.
  • A farm sanctuary operates with the trust and confidence of the community that it is a responsible caretaker for rescued animals.  Integrity and transparency are the bedrock of that trust. When animals do pass away, it is imperative that their death be handled transparently.  Right or wrong, any indications of trying to handle the passing of an animal quietly raises serious concerns about intentions.

    It is P.E.A.C.E.’s position to recognize death as an unavoidable fact of life, and that the passing of animals at a farm animal sanctuary should not be hidden, but be clearly shared with the community to best honour their memory, demonstrate continued transparency, and permit the community to mourn their passing.

We and others in the farm animal sanctuary and vegan community strongly maintain that the high risk activity brings unnecessary risk to the animals at this location and at neighbouring sanctuaries, and that a sanctuary’s primary responsibility is to remove any possible threats or risks to the animals’ safety and well-being; not to knowingly incur risk to the animals and have to actively defend against those added risks.

The individuals stated that they are under no obligation to explain their actions to P.E.A.C.E. or anyone else and through their actions are indicating they do not intend to discuss the matter any further with P.E.A.C.E.  They are, of course, correct: they are under no obligation to explain their decisions to us or to the public. P.E.A.C.E. has no oversight or regulatory authority over sanctuary operations and never asserted that we do, and neither does any such body exist.  Farm animal sanctuaries set their own standards, do not answer to any external body, and operate with the trust of the community that they act in the best interests of the animals in their care. We had given voice to these concerns from ourselves and the community in the hopes that the individuals would take under advisement these concerns for the safety and well-being of animals in their care and at neighbouring sanctuaries and reconsider their positions.

As any further action is up to the individuals at the sanctuary, P.E.A.C.E. will not be pursuing this further at this time and have no plans to name the sanctuary in question.  We remain hopeful that the individuals will take the concerns brought from the community to heart and reconsider their position on engaging in activity that incurs risk to the animals in their care and heightens the risk to animals at sanctuaries in their area.

Questions

Did P.E.A.C.E. accuse this sanctuary of willful neglect or abuse?

No.  P.E.A.C.E. is aware that the sanctuary operator’s open, high risk activism has triggered threats to the safety and well-being of the animals at the sanctuary as well as concerns that it would spread to neighbouring sanctuaries if their actions continue, but there is no accusation of willful neglect or abuse.

Is P.E.A.C.E. claiming that there are animals from open rescue at the sanctuary?

No.  P.E.A.C.E. is making no claims about the origin of any animals at the sanctuary.  Any reference to open rescue is related strictly to the public actions of one of the sanctuary operators, not associated with any of the animals at this sanctuary.

Why are you concerned about the death of this young animal at the sanctuary?

There were initial concerns made known directly by the sanctuary operator that the young animal’s death was related to threats against the sanctuary, which would have posed a serious concern for the safety of animals still in their care and animals at surrounding sanctuaries as well.  These theories have since been quelled to a degree, but not entirely dispelled, and the circumstances surrounding the animal’s death remain unclear.

What do you mean that news of animals passing should be “shared clearly” with the community?  Are you saying the news of each animal passing should have a public announcement or be in a public list right away?

This is not a prescription for a rigidly maintained record book or immediate social media notices.  We all need time to grieve, and these animals are individuals, not entries in a log book. The emphasis here is on transparency.  It is a fact of life that animals will pass while in a sanctuary’s care. At times this can be from circumstances where improvements can be made, for example it could be determined predators found a breach in fencing or shelters.  Deaths may also be from natural causes such as old age, illness, or sadly even side effects of animal agriculture such as poor health or life expectancy for broiler chickens or turkeys. The key point is to be straightforward and forthright about their passing, to honour their memory and to ensure that we look honestly at the care they were provided in life and in death.  Indications of trying to hide an animal’s death or the circumstances surrounding their death from the public can run counter to that transparency and could be deeply concerning.

Why did P.E.A.C.E. make this statement? By what authority?

P.E.A.C.E. is not a governing or regulatory body, and no such governing or regulatory body exists for farm animal sanctuaries.  P.E.A.C.E. is a rescue and support organization that works with farm animal sanctuaries. Our mission is to support and unite farm animal sanctuaries to ensure animal care continues to exist for rescued farm animals.  P.E.A.C.E. became aware of the current situation through our connections with the farm animal sanctuary and animal rights activist communities, public social media posts, and through concerns brought to us by members of those communities.

P.E.A.C.E. worked in private with members of the farm animal sanctuary community and the specific farm animal sanctuary to address these concerns.  However, from the sanctuary’s responses to discussion we were not confident that the concerns would be addressed. P.E.A.C.E. believes that the farm animal sanctuary and vegan and animal rights activist communities are closely interlinked, and farm animal sanctuaries operate with the trust of those communities.  We brought these concerns to the community as we are concerned for the safety and well-being of the animals at the sanctuary as well as at other sanctuaries in the region by association.

Why aren’t you naming the sanctuary?

P.E.A.C.E. made this statement in a good faith effort to resolve these concerns.  We do not wish to create division or “turn anyone against” the sanctuary. We are making no accusations of intentional wrongdoing, but raised concerns from the farm animal sanctuary, vegan, and animal rights activist communities about the current situation.

Why do you think sanctuaries cannot be involved in open, high risk activism such as trespassing, open rescue, etc.?

As noted in the statement, P.E.A.C.E. takes no position on open, high risk activism undertaken by individuals or groups.  Our concern is that if sanctuary operators engage in this type of action they are not simply making decisions that affect themselves but also are putting the safety and well-being of the animals in their care at risk.  It is P.E.A.C.E.’s position that the animals at a sanctuary cannot consent to their safety being put at risk, and so a sanctuary operator openly engaging in this type of action and linking it to their sanctuary is necessarily in conflict with a sanctuary’s mission to provide a place of safety, refuge, and care to rescued farm animals.

Why Sanctuaries Close

In 2019 we had two farm animal sanctuaries close their doors here in British Columbia, Canada. From the experience of working through those two closures, as well as discussions with farm animal sanctuary owners who have watched many others come and go before, we would like to share our findings. Although it will be obvious to some, we have found it important as a neutral third party to inform the public (as well as anyone interested in starting a farm animal sanctuary themselves) as to common reasons why farm animal sanctuaries fail or close down.

The most prevalent causes are finances, inadequate knowledge of animal care, and struggles with mental health. All three will be discussed in more detail below in their own categories as well as afterwards discussed how they are interlinked.

Finances

When starting a farm animal sanctuary, individuals should not expect or assume they will get financial support from the public. It can take years of promoting your sanctuary and lots of hard work to get to a point where you hopefully will have sustainable financial and volunteer support from the public. Even getting your charity status takes lots of time and paperwork. So when starting a sanctuary you need to be able to financially support any animals you take on for at least the first couple of years, but also actively promote yourself at festivals and on social media. Added costs should also be factored in and generally include infrastructure and medical bills of your animals, and business expenses like a website, email, accounting services, festival setups etc.

You are, in a sense, starting a business, whether or not you like to think of it that way. There are also lots of other “businesses” like yours, nonprofits, competing for donations, volunteer time, and the public’s attention. Donor fatigue is very real and something to be aware of. You need to develop a sustainable financial model for your sanctuary; constant or ongoing gofundme’s or crowdsourcing campaigns are not sustainable and will exhaust your support base.

Most sanctuary owners are good hearted individuals that start a farm animal sanctuary because they want to selflessly help animals. Most are not driven by ego or invested self interest. They might start a farm animal sanctuary assuming people will start donating hundreds or thousands of dollars to them, support them with volunteering, and when none of that happens realize they cannot sustain it themselves. They might have also not learned the very important, but heartbreaking truth: they need to be able to say no. No that they can’t take on anymore animals, because if they do, they won’t have enough time in the day, infrastructure and housing, or financial resources to properly take care of all the animals they already saved, which leads to neglect. That becomes physically, emotionally, and financially draining. For someone who started a sanctuary because they wanted to save animals, saying no to saving a life is soul crushing. So many take on too many animals, and very often too fast.

As a rescue, PEACE is constantly balancing and feeling out who we should ask about housing a given rescue and who we should not. We stress to all sanctuaries we work with that you need to be able to say no. We are not a regulatory organization and each sanctuary is their own business. We cannot prevent sanctuaries from taking on more animals even if it becomes apparent that they should not. We can just advise.

Inadequate Knowledge Of Animal Care

This is a hard one. We have stressed it before with our resource “So, you want to start a sanctuary?”, and we will continue to do so. Please: do your homework; become an intern at a farm animal sanctuary; read all the resources available with regards to animal care; go train with organizations like Farm Sanctuary NY. Lots of sanctuary owners come from a background of either growing up on farms or have a background in stable management; those are often the sanctuaries that have the most knowledge and know what they are getting themselves into in taking care of farm animals. We do not want to discourage individuals that don’t have any background in farm animal care from starting a farm animal sanctuary, but know what you don’t know and learn it before you start.

Unfortunately, having good intentions does not ensure that animals won’t suffer. Anyone in animal rescue, even dog and cat rescue, has seen neglect from inexperience but good intent. Again, PEACE is not a regulatory body and therefore has no legal authority to confiscate any animals, even if we have concerns. The only organization that does have the needed authority is the SPCA, and they are not a vegan organization and do not hold farm animals in the same regard as pets or companion animals. Most farm animals confiscated by them are killed. This can make it extremely challenging for individuals in the farm animal sanctuary community to navigate previous and ongoing cases, where it’s obvious certain individuals should not be running a farm animal sanctuary. When individuals have little or no knowledge on how to take care of farm animals, these animals’ lives are put at risk. This risk is heightened further if someone is unwilling or unable to learn or to realize they should not be running a sanctuary. 

This also reflects poorly on the competence of the farm animal sanctuary community in general if individuals start farm animal sanctuaries but have no experience or know how. So we will stress this again, and continue to do so: Do not open up a farm animal sanctuary unless you have received proper training. The resources listed on our website can hopefully serve as a starting point.

Mental Health 

Mental health conditions like depression, compassion fatigue, burn out, anxiety or other conditions can flare up or become exacerbated by the stress that comes along with running a farm animal sanctuary. The financial strain, saying no to saving animals, as well as mourning animals that have passed in your care all add up on top of the physical work that goes into looking after farm animals. It can become overwhelming. It is hard work mentally and physically and not to be taken lightly. There is a wide range of both mental health conditions and considerations. Individuals with these conditions certainly have the capacity to run a sanctuary, but it is vital that a very dedicated support system is in place. The sanctuaries which we have seen close down frequently do not have this kind of support in place. To ensure that animals will not suffer, we urge individuals with mental health considerations to have solid support in place to ensure longevity, safety and the utmost of care for themselves, and the animals in their care. 

What It Takes

Individuals looking to operate a farm sanctuary need to first undertake proper training in running a successful nonprofit and in the care of farm animals, and must also have strong emotional support available. When this is not done, the financial strain, lack of knowledge of proper animal care, as well as the physical and mental strain of running a farm animal sanctuary drives owners down a bad path that leads to their closing their doors. We ask that please, before you consider starting a farm animal sanctuary, do your homework. We all are here because we care very much for these animals and their well-being. We owe it to them to ensure that before we take them into our care we are fully prepared for that responsibility.  If we don’t, it is they who will be at risk of further stress, disruption, and harm when they once again find themselves without a home that can care for them.