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What are Animal Sanctuaries?

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Every year, thousands of animals are abandoned, abused or surrendered by those they trusted most to care for them. For those of us who cherish our pets and consider them family, these events are unthinkable. Sadly, they are an everyday occurrence. Both domestic and exotic animals face these grim issues. Fortunately, dedicated, caring people throughout the country fight endlessly to provide food, shelter and medical care to these animals so they may live in comfort and security. These are the goals of animal sanctuaries, to provide places of refuge for animals, where they will be cared for in a place of permanent residence.

Reasons For Abandonment

Animals come to sanctuaries for a variety of reasons. In the case of domestic pets, it may be a behavior problem the family is unable or unwilling to correct. They may have been abused or neglected. Exotic animals are often purchased with little thought for the special needs of non-domestic species, or they may simply become too expensive to maintain. In the eyes of some, work or show animals may have outlived their usefulness. Each animal's story is unique but the basic situation is all too common. These pets are often the victims of ignorance, purchased only for the thrill of being able to boast of exotic animal ownership.

There are hundreds of organizations nationwide that have formed to help care for abandoned or abused animals. Sanctuaries, shelters, rehabilitation centers and rescue organizations are groups that provide assistance with animal issues. Each group provides a vital service.

Rescue groups may take in strays or answer cases of abuse. Rehabilitation centers offer medical care and physical therapy for those animals that have been wounded, most often wildlife. Shelters provide homes for animals until an adoptive home can be found. The lines often blur between groups and you will find that many humane organizations participate in several aspects of animal welfare.

A sanctuary differs from these organizations in that it is considered a permanent home for the animals that live there. Sanctuaries offer no adoption programs, and there is limited visitation, usually only done in an effort to provide public education and fund raising. All efforts of the sanctuary staff go into the day-to-day needs of the animals such as feeding, cleaning and medical needs. The environment is maintained as natural and as stress-free as possible. Any given sanctuary will vary in the types of animals that are in residence. Some sanctuaries provide homes for only one type of animal, such as wolves or big cats. Other sanctuaries are divided to provide space for several different species. There are sanctuaries that rescue animals retired from medical experimentation, circus acts, or athletic competitions.

To be considered a sanctuary, a non-profit status must be obtained through the IRS and local government. Zoning laws in the state may need to be considered. In the case of private land ownership, permission and permits from the Department of Interior or Department of Fisheries and Wildlife may be necessary for housing and treatment of non-domestic species. You may be asked to document the size and natural features of the property, demonstrate adequate funding and have proper veterinary care set up before any animals are brought to the sanctuary. In the case of domestic animals, licensing by the USDA and regular inspections for management and husbandry will be established.

What You Can Do To Help

There are a lot of ways you can help. Start by spaying and neutering your pets, and keep them on your property where they are supervised. Discourage exotic animal auctions in your community. Volunteer at local shelters and humane organizations. Help with fund raising and public education. Report any case of animal neglect or abuse to the proper authorities.

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