In 2017, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover investigation into Summer Wind Farms, a so-called animal sanctuary in Brown City, Michigan. During their investigation, PETA found animals living in cramped, filthy enclosures, others who were denied veterinary care and still more who were exhibiting chronic psychological distress.
In 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) filed a formal legal complaint against the “sanctuary” arguing that they failed to meet even minimal animal welfare standards including a failure to handle animals as carefully as possible, a failure to provide animals proper medical care and a failure to provide animals a clean or safe shelter including in inclement weather. Between 2012-2016, the USDA alleges that Summer Wind Farms violated the Animal Welfare Act over 200 times.
PETA’s investigation raises important questions about what it means to be an “animal sanctuary” and which animal organizations should be receiving your support.
There are hundreds of animal organizations and facilities across the United States that claim to be “sanctuaries” for exotic, domestic or farmed animals. Unfortunately, many of these “sanctuaries” would more aptly be called roadside zoos or even hoarding situations where animals are warehoused and put on display for overly trusting tourists. Visiting these types of places, which buy, breed or keep animals for profit, or even for seemingly well-intentioned purposes, unfortunately support the animals’ continued confinement and suffering.
Before attending, donating, sharing their social media posts or in other ways supporting a “sanctuary,” you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the organization a non-profit? If so, check that they’re a registered charity with the government (you can do that here). While this doesn’t guarantee that they’re a bona fide sanctuary, it is a good indication of their motives for keeping animals.
- Does this organization buy, sell or breed animals? Real sanctuaries never breed animals. While sometimes sanctuaries are able to rescue animals as babies or pregnant moms who give birth to babies shortly after their arrival, baby animals at any sanctuary should generally be a red flag.
- How are visitors allowed to interact with animals at the facility? Most legitimate sanctuaries have limits on how and when people can visit and interact with their animal residents. Sanctuaries should never encourage animals to perform “tricks” for visitors, or allow visitors to feed them junk food or interact with scared or aggressive animals. Visitors should never be allowed to hand-feed, hold, or touch dangerous animals like tigers and bears.
- Along these lines, you should ask yourself how the animals look. Do they look healthy or ill? Do they look happy or stressed? If they look ill or stressed, be sure to ask why. Many sanctuaries take animals who have been abused or neglected and many animals come to sanctuaries with previously untreated medical issues. Sanctuaries truly concerned about animal welfare should be providing all ill animals with appropriate medical care and should be willing to discuss that care with the public.
- Are the animals living in spacious, clean and enriching enclosures? Or are they cramped, dirty and barren? Animals living at genuine sanctuaries should live in groups with space to roam, explore, play and relax free of trash, debris and excessive muck and waste.
Visiting or donating to pseudo-sanctuaries only perpetuates the suffering of the animals kept there. And sharing their pictures or other posts on social media only serves to legitimize them and increase their reach to more unsuspecting animal lovers. If you see an animal in distress at one of these facilities, please contact your local humane society or animal control. You can find more tips on helping animals suffering from abuse or neglect here.
Please, only visit or support real sanctuaries truly committed to the care of their animal residents and to supporting the rights of animals.