For most folks trying to run a farmed animal sanctuary, they soon learn it is a money sink. Not everyone is as fortunate, visionary, or aggressive in their fundraising as the founders of Farm Sanctuary. The founders of Caboodle Ranch and Angel’s Gate Hospice may know that all too well. It’s expensive to run a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for animals. Majority of Americans don’t find it to be of value. Grants aren’t available specifically for sanctuaries. And earned income from tours and bed and breakfast don’t generate much. The only sanctuaries that survive and become effective, amazing organizations are those that have either a strong giving program, adopt social enterprise, or have a combination of the two.
But do any farmed animal sanctuaries exist that are social enterprises?
Last week, I wrote a post on Social Enterprise for Animals, describing what social enterprise means and its potential for promoting animals’ rights. Now I am scouring the web for examples to see whether or not social enterprises for animals truly exist and if they do, whether or not they’re working. I asked several online animal rights advocates on Facebook and Animal Rights Zone what their expectations are for a farmed animal sanctuary. Space, moral integrity, active education and outreach, promoting veganism, and consideration for the animals (including making responsible assessments of the sanctuary’s capacity and not selling them or leasing them to other “sanctuaries”) were some of the responses. So given their definition of a farmed animal sanctuary, does room exist for social enterprise?
The Potential for the Sanctuary as Healing Center
Sanctuaries that are social enterprises have the potential to shift the value of rescued farmed animals from commodity to companion and mutual healer by showing where they come from and that their stories matter. When I visited the Gentle Barn website’s “In Memoriam” page this morning, I was moved to tears. Each of those animals had passed away, but their stories had survived. I could see their faces and imagine their mannerisms, their quirks while they lived. My heart swelled with tender sadness. A photo and a true story–that’s all it took for me to be sold. But for many humans who are insulated from or indifferent to animals’ lives, this is not enough. Selling the emotional and relational value of animals and the importance of their rights through social enterprise has opportunity to reach wider audiences when they also address fundamental human needs. They earn revenue from those whose immediate response may be disregard for animals. In addition to providing lifelong sanctuary for rescued farmed animals, sharing their stories and emphasizing their agency through those stories, Gentle Barn invites at-risk, abused, and “special needs” children to heal with the farmed animals. Opening the sanctuary to children is not a new concept. I would say that the wellbeing of children is definitely in the top tier of fundamental human needs. I don’t know yet the various sources of Gentle Barn’s income so I can’t say that they are a social enterprise, but if they are not earning revenue directly from children healing with animals then they may want to reconsider.
Sanctuaries as social enterprises can also change animal-assisted therapy. The difference between animal-assisted therapy and sanctuary as healing center is in the process of production. Animal-assisted therapy, such as it is now, depends on networks of suppliers and producers that maintain the status quo of animals by breeding and training them for that specific lifelong purpose: to heal a human in need. Farm animal-assisted therapy nurtures the bond for those individuals involved, but we know nothing of how and if it changes the social value or status of animals. When sanctuaries rescue animals directly from animal enterprises and their vast system of production and then directly compete with farm animal-assisted therapy as legitimate healing centers, they can disrupt the status quo. As Gentle Barn expands their program with children, they have an opportunity to offer extended therapy to individual children and teenagers. They would definitely need to consider the investment into the therapy angle, but with extensive research, it may be worth it. They would be the first to create a social enterprise that directly supports their mission to provide rescue, rehabilitation, and lifelong sanctuary for farmed animals, through helping children heal.
The Limitations of Sanctuary as Healing Center
Sanctuaries with “helping people” as an integral part of their mission are not completely identical to sanctuaries whose missions are solely to help animals. All sanctuaries have limited capacity, and how they allocate that reflects where their priorities lie. A sanctuary that is also a healing center may prioritize the healing of humans above the rescue of animals. Heartland Farm Sanctuary and Sanctuary One are examples of healing farms where the farmed animals are a piece of the greater mission that is healing. The goal, then, is not so much to inspire mutual healing between traumatized farmed animal and needy human as it is to provide healing for the needy human. Where they lack the capacity to search and rescue farmed animals, they supplement through partnerships with local humane societies. As a consequence, the sanctuary does not carry the rich, compelling stories of sanctuaries that actually engage in rescue or belong to a network of citizen rescuers. However, because they are both fairly new sanctuaries and are both beginning from a social enterprise angle, only time will tell how they implement it and how it works for shifting the value of animals.