So you want to start an animal sanctuary?
- Published: 22 August 2014
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Many in the animal rights movement aspire to having an animal sanctuary. Bede Carmody began having such ambitions a few years after joining Animal Liberation in Sydney, Australia at the start of 1994 when he stopped eating meat. Twenty years later he is living the dream, having opened A Poultry Place in 2001. Here he offers advice and lessons learned for those who want to follow a similar path.
22 August 2014
For most people wanting to open their own animal sanctuary, it will be an unattainable achievement, due to the sacrifices involved – personal, financial, social and emotional. That’s the hard truth.
For some others they may start out with all the best intentions but something happens that sours the dream – their partner decides sanctuary life isn’t for them and leaves; living in a rural community surrounded by few people who share your values proves too much, or the amount of time required to maintain the sanctuary was severely under estimated.
Thankfully, through my involvement with Animal Liberation I met a couple who had a sanctuary known as Atchin Tan, which was just outside of Canberra in Australia’s Capital Territory and in 1998 I began making regular weekend visits to help out. By the way in case you are wondering Atchin Tan is Romany for stopping place.
In 1999 I moved down to Atchin Tan to live for a year or two so that one of the humans who lived there could take up an opportunity to work overseas. I refer to this time as my apprenticeship.
In 2001 rather than return to life in the big city I took out a mortgage on a cleared five-acre paddock and began establishing A Poultry Place. At the time, Atchin Tan, was the only other place I was aware of which took in what people refer to as ‘farm animals’. I prefer the term ‘food animals’; after all that is what most humans use them for.
It is gratifying that not only has A Poultry Place grown during the past 13 years but a number of other such sanctuaries have come into existence across the country and almost every month or so comes the good news of yet another one being established.
Over the years I have been constantly asked “How do you do it?”
This article sets out my answers.
Begin with your ‘why’
The first thing someone who is contemplating establishing an animal sanctuary should ask themselves is: “Why do I want to?”
There is no right answer for this but there are a few wrong ones.
If the desire is to create a name for yourself; to be seen to as some kind of a hero in the animal rights movement; or any other self-gratifying reason, I say your motivation is wrong.
Those who are to be the residents of your sanctuary must always be the priority.
I believed I could be more effective in my animal rights work by creating a sanctuary, which could support the work of many organisations on issues I am most passionate about – the farming of poultry for human consumption.
Consider your finances
If you have resolved that you are in it for the others, rather than yourself, you need to begin considering whether you can afford to do it.
When considering the financial obligations you need to think long-term. Do you have a strategy?
Don’t expect that there are people out there waiting to hand you pots of money because you have decided to create an animal sanctuary. You must be prepared to invest in it yourself before others may come onboard. My sanctuary, A Poultry Place, benefitted from me working two jobs for a number of years and remains the major beneficiary of my salary.
Time is of the essence
You also need to be realistic about the time involved and whether you are willing to make the commitment.
Running an animal sanctuary is a 24-hour/seven-day-a-week/365-days a year commitment.
You need to be on-hand, or have absolutely trustworthy, reliable colleagues who are on hand whether it is -5 or 40-something degrees.
Those beings residing at your sanctuary will need attention in rain, fog, snow, heat and drought, as well as everything Mother Nature throws in between.
How dedicated are you – really?
So you’ve decided you can finance it and are prepared to invest the time into it. Time to again weigh up whether or not you should do it.
This is a question of dedication. To me it’s like someone deciding to have a child – you are making a lifelong commitment. If you are prepared for that it’s time to begin thinking about the practicalities.
You can’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty.
There are constant cleaning chores running an animal sanctuary and you can’t be squeamish about literally shovelling shit as cleanliness is essential to maintaining the animals’ health.
You must also be prepared to multi-skill and develop new skills. This will likely involve blisters, scratches and small cuts as you master the joys of sanctuary life.
The most challenging aspect about living in the country for a city slicker like me was the new tasks I had to undertake as part of my new life.
Before I lived on an animal sanctuary I had never built a fence. I had never dug a water pipe trench. I had never installed a water tank or an automatic waterer. I had never built an animal night shelter or shade shelter.
I had never laid a slab of concrete. I had never installed a tap or laid out irrigation pipe. I had never planted a row of trees. I had no knowledge of water pumps, installing gates, weed control or paddock management.
Yet these are all skills I have acquired. I don’t claim to have mastered any of them but I know enough to get by.
In sickness and in health
You must also be prepared to be cruel to be kind as those who reside there are dependent on you.
Those who romanticise about having an animal sanctuary often overlook that animals will get sick, which may require you having to give them injections, treat infections, change bloodied bandages, treat paddock injuries which can often make you feel like throwing-up.
Oftentimes when you are treating the sick and injured they won’t be appreciative but it is your responsibility to carry on with the task at hand for their health relies on it.
I now know how to worm horses, sheep and goats; trim sheep and goat hooves, rooster’s spurs and duck claws; worm and delouse poultry.
I have learnt how to give injections to numerous species, as well as mastering the skills of hand feeding sick birds, popping pills down their beaks and ointment into injured eyes.
I have successfully managed to hand raise chicks, ducklings and poults (baby turkeys), which have come my way (usually through school hatching projects), as well as lambs.
I have helped coax hens who had lost the ability to walk after being in a battery cage to walk.
I have learnt how to squeeze pus from infected wounds.
I have learnt how to manage a pony who is foundering.
I have assisted veterinarians stitching up cuts on horses, castrating and tail docking sheep (under anaesthetic of course).
Of course it is essential you have a good relationship with a good (and preferably) supportive vet – I am spoilt on this front!
Dealing with the sick and injured is par for the course on an animal sanctuary. One of the first things I learnt when I began living hands-on with the rescued and unwanted was that deaths are inevitable and can happen despite all the care and attention given to a sick creature.
And of course sometimes death comes suddenly and inexplicably. Too often I have had to make decisions about having someone euthanased. It is never easy and I often have to remind myself it is quality of life rather than quantity, to me this is an essential understanding required by anyone who has a sanctuary.
Take baby steps
It is also important to be realistic from the outset. It is no good overburdening yourself – for either yourself or the residents.
Start small and grow – don’t say yes to every creature you are asked to take in unless you are sure you can cope.
Research how much grazing land is recommended per grazing animal and ensure you have the property to support them.
Make sure you have predator-proof night shelters for residents such as poultry and rabbits who are vulnerable to attack.
Remember not all species will happily co-exist together and that males of many species are usually territorial and will only learn to live together with lots of patience and supervision.
Watch out for stupid people!
Everyone who runs an animal sanctuary has tales about humans. There are those who will leave you packages on your doorstep, or just put an animal over the fence.
There are the well-meaning ones who decide to rescue animals without having arranged permanent accommodation for them and expect you to help out because you have a sanctuary and “that’s what you do”.
Then there are the “animal lovers” like the couple who decided to have their hen sit on eggs so the kids could have chicks and didn’t realise some of the chicks would be roosters;
There’s the “experienced wildlife carer” who didn’t realise foxes attack lambs.
And the person that allowed the “playful” dog, who had just killed some chickens, continue “playing” with lambs.
Unbelievable as they all sound I have endured every one of these situations.
Get good help
Try to ensure you have a support network. It could be ensuring your family is on board and supports your vision; it may be ensuring that all involved with the venture are on the same page and share the same vision.
Do not hesitate to ask for help and advice from people like myself who are living it. I was very lucky that I lived with two friends who had an animal sanctuary for more than two years before I branched out on my own.
Two final things. Firstly, volunteers are great but make sure they are beneficial and helpful – that is, they are willing to get their hands dirty and do not require round-the-clock attention and supervision.
Secondly, don’t expect your neighbours to embrace your vision of an animal sanctuary or adjust to your way of seeing the world; you may need to exercise utmost diplomacy to keep from getting them off-side.
Bede Carmody is the founder of A Poultry Place. To find out more about the sanctuary, visit the Facebook page (you do not require a Facebook account).
Images: Courtesy of A Poultry Place.