Photo via sneakerdog via Flickr Creative Commons
Animal sanctuaries are like home base, a safe zone for animals that have been abused or displaced where, with luck, they can live the rest of their lives in happy, loving situations. From neglected pets to lab animals, from non-releasable wild animals to farm animals that narrowly escape the slaughter house, these sanctuaries will take in the worst off animals -- as many as facilities can accommodate -- and either house them or find suitable homes for them. Along with a safe place for animals, sanctuaries typically work hard to advocate for animals, including ending factory farming and ending the consumption of animals altogether. Kathy Stevens, founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) has released Animal Camp, a book that highlights the benefits of such safe places, as well as some of the issues that may hold sanctuaries back from being able to spread their message. Animal Camp is one part introduction to CAS, one part introduction to animal rights advocates. Stevens' hope with the book, as stated in the intro, is that we fall so deeply in love with the animals whose stories she shares that we wouldn't dream of wanting to eat them. In other words, readers will suddenly convert to veganism, or at least vegetarianism. Ultimately, that's a goal we can definitely get behind both from an environmental standpoint as well as from a general soft spot for animals. Though for some readers, this may seem above and beyond the goals of an animal sanctuary. To the contrary, it seems many sanctuaries hold the same principles.
A primary point promoted within the book is the idea that humans are not a species above other animals, whose job it is to rule over them as we see fit, no matter what some revered books may say otherwise. To many of us, the idea of a ranch where animals do as they please, without purpose or agenda except to be themselves and well cared for is a wonderful but odd notion. Yet an animal sanctuary is just that -- a place where animals so maltreated in human environments can go to simply live well for the rest of their natural lives. What a beautiful and idyllic place!
To this end, Stevens attempts to convince readers through (admittedly incredibly endearing) profiles of the animals found at CAS that a vegan diet is the only way to go, that animals are special to the point that there should be no desire to eat them, that our factory farming of animals is no small part of our violence and demise as a species ourselves. In fact, it's a major point among many animal sanctuaries. For example, to be listed on Sanctuaries.org, a directory of animal sanctuaries in the US, the sanctuary must not promote the consumption of farmed animals.
It's no wonder that someone running an animal sanctuary would be vegan and promote veganism among visitors -- it's only common sense that saving animals means saving all animals. However, Stevens manages to advance the already problematic division among those who eat meat and those who don't.
For example, in a chapter about educational workshops where kids are introduced to the animals at CAS, she dismisses one mother (of whom she gave no indication of knowing the first thing about her food preferences) as a "pork chop-eater" just because she appeared to dislike the idea of her child crawling around in the mud with a pig. Could it have possibly been that the mother was really worried about ringworm than her child turning vegan? Loving animals doesn't have to mean a complete willingness to get into the mud and kiss pigs -- after all, the mother brought her child to the workshop in the first place, right?
Later, she tells readers "I pity you" if we fail to see how full of individualized personality an animal might be. Through slip-ups like these, Stevens promotes an Us/Them stance on food preferences which takes the shine off of more constructive portions of the book like illustrating how sanctuaries rescue animals from horrific situations, rehabilitate them, and sometimes find new, loving homes for them.
In fact, that is indeed the larger purpose of sanctuaries. The big-picture goal of sanctuaries is not only to provide a haven for abused animals, but to educate the public on the humane treatment of all living things so that sanctuaries are no longer needed. It's a lofty goal, and yes, factory farming certainly needs to be addressed as it promotes inexcusably inhumane treatment of animals. Yet for those readers who enjoy eating meat and go to lengths to ensure that what meat they consume was sustainably raised and humanely killed, Stevens' approach could be a big turn-off from this larger purpose.
There is no doubt that we need a solid education on the value inherent in each living thing -- the status of endangered species, the prevalence of factory farms, the destruction or pollution of ecosystems are all proof of that. Animal sanctuaries are a vital resource for getting that education while saving animals, and we're gratefull for CAS and the work the sanctuary does for so many animals in need. Hopefully that education manages to shine through within the heartwarming stories of the residents at CAS in Animal Camp.
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