Sustainability in Rescue and Sanctuary

This blog was written on October 2, 2016. I added to it and published it on August 24, 2017.

This morning I enjoyed visiting with GG and Blanco's new people. We talked about what it really means to operate an animal sanctuary. She described approaches as having a sense of urgency in rescuing animals where their situation is indeed dire. And the other approach to be that of outreach and education. Hearing this come from another sanctuary person really validates what I have felt for years.

For years I lived with a sense of urgency. Urgent needs of animals created urgency within me. Continually, day in and day out, never, ever winding down. My mind was filled with images of faces, numbers, suffering and desperation. As my mind saw this I would feel it inside of my heart. If someone were to say 'you can't save them all' I would feel resentment for their lack of understanding and empathy for the anguish of the suffering. Of course, I knew that I could not save them all, but neither could I erase them out of my thoughts. And at the very least I could save some.

We have been prepared for sudden or large scale rescues. We fostered 22 horses for local animal protection in 2013. We have fostered numerous large scale rabbit seizures for two animal protection agencies. Each ranged from ten to thirty-five rabbits. In 2008 Pete and I drove to Lewiston, Idaho and rescued 180 pocket pets and three goats. The pocket pets included degus, guinea pigs, sugar gliders, spiny mice and a variety of hamsters. I transported 100 of these animals to Seattle where several small animal rescue groups took them in. We placed the majority of the 80 remaining with local rescue groups. In the mid-90s we assisted with the rescue of several huskies tied to trees in bitter cold weather.

Now days my urgency is transforming in ways that are more sustainable for us. In 2010 I had a brain tumor removed. While it was benign and I am doing well, it caused me deep reflection about our work with the sanctuary and the animals. Between teaching full time and being immersed in rescue and sanctuary work since 1994, I was feeling overwhelmed and drained. This is when I researched the Institute for Humane Education and decided to pursue a Masters in Humane Education with the sole purpose of applying this to the work we do at the sanctuary. This was my answer to being sustainable and continuing to work for the animals.

Soon I will be doing my thesis proposal and thesis. The process takes me full circle to where my heart was guiding me over thirty years ago when I was first wanting to integrate visual art with social justice. The years in between have provided more than enough reinforcement for the importance and validity of art and its ability to communicate in ways beyond words. The social justice issues related to animals are rampant yet hidden. Until I became aware of the vastness of social injustice toward animals I too was walking among the fog.

My life is connecting two loves: Animals and Art. Many years ago my counselor told me that as I grow through sobriety I would find joy in what I loved when I was 10 years old. And it is true. For my 10th birthday my parents bought me an oil painting set and canvas. The first painting I did was of a fox from the cover of a National Wildlife magazine. This image is as clear as it was the day I painted it.

Now I am working on my thesis proposal and thesis soon. The title of my work is 'Visual Art Ethnography and Shedding Light on Social Justice and Animal Experience'. I feel giddy, like a little kid, anticipating the colors, texture, process and product happening with my art. I imagine the life I hope to transfer to a tangible art work that expresses what I see, feel and know. I hope that people will see the 'elephant in the room' and respond with compassion.

We continue to rescue and we always will for as long as we can. But we are putting greater emphasis on humane education than ever before. This is the key.

Photo of GG and Blanco and friends by Jewel Claire Straightedge
Founder of Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig's Roost