The Microsanctuary Dilemma
The "microsanctuary" movement has gained attention and momentum over the last few years, and this has many of us in farm animal rescue concerned. To understand the multiple layers of concerns, we must look at the positives and the negatives.
The only real positive is the possibility of animals being saved, that said, the overall cost and impact on animal rescue could end up causing more harm and LESS animals saved. Read on to see how.
Here's the number one issue: when a microsanctuary incorporates as a non-profit and actively seeks donations to care for the few animals they are able to take in, this takes away funding from larger, more experienced sanctuaries and forces them to not take more animals in due to funding. Even if the larger sanctuary has room, the funding must be there to cover each animal taken in so the level of care remains the same for the existing residents at said sanctuary. And many of these microsanctuaries actively market themselves, are social network and internet savvy, and, since they have so few animals, have plenty of time to fundraise. This literally prevents sanctuaries who could save many more animals from doing so.
Sufficient room for farm animals is another concern. We work so hard as animal activists to get major companies to give their animals more space, and room to roam; it seems unfair that even though some animals are saved from confinement, they don't have large pastures to spend their lives in and enjoy.
Transport vehicles large enough to carry large animals is also a frequent issue. I've seen well funded microsanctuaries whose only vehicle was a subcompact car. They are unable to assist in transporting animals; and even have several animals who they could not transport to a vet, or evacuate in case of emergency.
Hoarding is a real issue too. There is a fine line between hoarding cases and microsanctuaries. Most of these cases involve people who are not soliciting enough funding, but are continuing to take in more animals than they have room for, or can handle and afford. This leads to unhealthy conditions, as well as sick and unhappy animals. The larger sanctuaries must step up and take in any animals not euthanized when seized by state and local animal controls.
Even when some microsanctuaries are well funded, and keep their resident population to a bare minimum, it causes a problem for the rest of us. When they are contacted by someone asking them to save an animal in need, some say they will help, and then contact a larger sanctuary. I have seen them rely on the larger sanctuary, or rescue group, to fundraise for vet bills, to transport, to foster and find permanent placement, and to even take on the lifetime care of these animals the microsanctuary “rescues.” Of course then the microsanctuary usually makes sure to spread the word to all of their followers and donors that they are the ones responsible for saving this animal in need.
Another issue that arises is the failure, and subsequent closure, of these microsanctuaries and the need for those of us with larger sanctuaries to "pick up the pieces" and save the animals for whom they can no longer provide care. We have seen some completely abandoned, with even the animals left to starve.
All this said, I applaud anyone who wishes to help and rescue animals in need. Two of our friends live in our city and have 11 chickens, 3 pot belly pigs, 4 dogs, 15 cats, a Russian Tortoise, and a Bearded Dragon. They have their lot laid out perfectly to give proper space to the chickens and pigs. The cats have 24/7 access to their own play room attached to the side of their house. The dogs live indoors too, but have a lovely yard in which to play. Their tortoise has an amazing outdoor area to play in and snack. With all these animals, they literally exceed the population of animals at many microsanctuaries, but the big difference is that they consider them their rescues and their responsibilities. They ask for no donations from anyone,and they've not applied for a non profit status; on the contrary, one actually serves on the board of a larger sanctuary and volunteers regularly there, as well as helping with transport and donations to multiple others.
If someone has 2 or 3 or 4 acres, or even less, and wants to save animals, please do so! But if you do, please provide adequate pastures for farm animals; please be ready to be personally and financially responsible, and not cut into the funding and ability of larger sanctuaries to save many more animals; please make sure you have proper vehicles for transporting larger animals; make sure you have a large animal vet who can care for them and make mobile house calls.
There are many large sanctuaries out there who just need additional fencing, additional barns and housing, and a little more funding to be able to take in more animals. They have the room, they just need the funding. Anyone taking funding away from these larger sanctuaries with room to expand, is doing a great disservice to farm animals in need.