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To Buy Or Not to Buy: A Sanctuary Dilemma

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Although in the world of animal sanctuaries, we owners all share an interest in providing homes for farm animals to live out their lives in peace and safety, we are not immune from experiencing divisive philosophical issues that can cause disapprobation and divide us as a community.

Perhaps foremost amongst issues of contention is the matter of whether a sanctuary should purchase the animals that live within its protective auspices.

Let me upfront declare that we have bought some of the animals that live POHP; so what you are about to read is a perspective that counters the (seemingly predominant) view that buying animals is 'not rescue'.

But firstly, let’s look at the typical arguments against buying, as expounded (and related verbatim) by a fellow sanctuary operator.

“1. Buying an animal is essentially paying for his/her replacement. When you buy an animal from a producer, for whatever purpose, you are perpetuating the cycle of exploitation.

2. If someone were to go looking for animals for sale, especially farm animals which are being sold for slaughter every single day, they would easily find an endless supply. However, paying money to save those animals would essentially fund the very industries which majority of those reaching out and asking for our help oppose, and thus purchasing them would only create more demand.

3. Buying a calf to save them from slaughter is no different than buying a puppy from a puppymill because those animals will all inevitably be replaced by others in just as dire circumstances as long as it’s deemed profitable to do so.”

Seems fair and perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? These are persuasive and even compelling arguments.

But are they logically sound?

In essence, the three assertions are one and the same. They boil down to the belief that buying an animal actually makes things worse for those that aren’t saved, since it perpetuates hardship.

For several reasons, that’s seriously flawed logic. Consider the following.

If an animal is to be sold anyway, not purchasing it will in no way remove the field of buyers who will, all too happily, pay their money and murder the creature for food.

Commercial animal farming is a long-established industry. The intervention by the odd purchaser who will save the life of an animal, will have precisely zero impact on the sustainability of that commercial enterprise. It will not maintain it, or even help it. Its impact will be the equivalent of a miniscule droplet of gnat’s pee in a vast ocean. To state otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the scope of the meat market.

The comparison with the operation of a puppy mill is totally inappropriate. Buying from a puppy mill does indeed encourage their operation. Dogs, however, are not bred at a rate of (well in excess of) 7.2 billion per year. A dog’s viability as a sale item is by no means guaranteed. Sale of livestock, unless under extreme circumstances, is.

About 92% of the world’s population eat meat. Believing that not buying an animal to save it from slaughter will cause the demand to cease is utterly ridiculous.

Clearly, if thought through logically, these are fallacious arguments based upon somewhat sounder ones in the field of domestic animal rescue. Our willingness to accept them is perhaps based upon unthinking acquiescence, prompted by the emotive nature of the subject. In reality, the rate at which farm animals are rescued is as nothing when compared with domesticated creatures. There simply isn’t the public interest, demand or personal capability for the vast majority of individuals.

Nonetheless, even if they were valid reasons, to my mind at least, the arguments ignore one fundamental precept.

There is indeed an endless supply of animals being sold for slaughter; but for those animals that are bought, who would otherwise have met with a violent and unnecessarily premature end, things are certainly not made worse. Not only are the lives of their fellow sufferers not made any worse, for those bought, it is a reprieve from a nightmarish death sentence.

If the choice is to pay money for an animal and give it a chance to live its life as it should and could; or save the money and let it be killed, which do you think is better?

The arguments for non-purchase are commonly extended (as by the author of these assertions) to make the point that

“there are more than enough animals in need of legitimate rescue and rehoming that there is absolutely no reason to have to pay blood money to save lives.”

And up to a point, that’s true.

There are, indeed, many farm animals in need of rescue.

But here’s where the greatest flaw in this argument exposes itself. The notion that all sanctuary owners have the same objectives in creating their establishments; the same likes and dislikes; the same access to animals; the same facilities; the same husbandry experience; the same long term plans; indeed, the same anything, is a specious contention.

The reality is that different sanctuaries are created by unique individuals with unique perspectives. I would conjecture that there are very few who set out by saying “Bring me all comers, I’ll save them all”. Sanctuary owners may have preferences for what types of animals they want to look after. From childhood, they may love a specific species of animal. Within a species, they may prefer the appearance or temperament of a certain breed. They may have beliefs that cause them to not want a certain animal. Personal experience may dictate that they are not prepared to take a breed. Their facilities may only be appropriate for certain sizes of animal. The lack of availability of appropriate foodstuffs may determine that they can only consider certain species. In short, there are any number of reasons that may cause them to limit what they will and will not take at their sanctuary.

But suppose that those animals that they are willing and able to take are NOT amongst those “animals in need of legitimate rescue and rehoming”?

What then? Should they give up their desire to save lives and offer safe, forever homes? Why not go and buy animals (that would otherwise have been slaughtered), because it will surely make a huge difference to the lives of those animals that are offered sanctuary, won't it?

Of course, there’s a bigger point here that maybe you’ve not spotted. Maybe you didn’t fully process that phrase with its one, oh so divisive word.

“in need of legitimate rescue and rehoming”

What does that really mean?

Here’s what it implies.

An animal that has found its way into a rescue situation, where it is up for adoption, is worthy of being adopted by a sanctuary. An animal that is on a farm, on its way to inevitable slaughter, is not. Saving it is illegitimate because it has not found its way to a place where it can be obtained without having to pay “blood money”.

Can you see it now?

Let’s not succumb to naivety here. Something we all need to understand about farmers is that they are businessmen. Their animals are a product, plain and simple (despite their frequent protestations that they love them). As such, they have invested in the production process. The animals have cost them money. They expect to see a return on their investment. It’s not commercial reality to expect otherwise of them. They’re simply not prepared to hand over their animals without recompense.

As a vegan, I’m appalled by this commoditisation, but it’s the reality of our world and the truth of the farmer’s commercial situation. Therefore, if you want to save the lives of their animals (because, for whatever reason, you can’t find legitimate’ animals you want/like/need/prefer/can manage), you have to pay that blood money.

And if you don’t’, don’t start whinging when the animal you had your heart set on saving goes under the inevitable knife.

The truth is, those animals “in need of legitimate rescue and rehoming” are the lucky ones. If they’re in a place like the SPCA, they’re already saved. I would absolutely encourage any sanctuary to offer them a home. But, as an example, if POHP had followed the advice of the writer who I quote above, these things would have happened:

· 4 helpless cows would be steaks and burgers

· 8 beautiful old alpacas would have been dogmeat

· 2 stunning horses would have ‘gone to the auctions’ (If you’re not familiar with the term, it means shipped to horse eating countries or ended up as petfood)

· 4 harmless geese would have been eaten, just because they had ‘angel wing’

· 4 delightful goats would have been barbecue fare

· 3 gentle lambs would have somebody's Sunday roast

· 2 weary and abused sheep would have been mutton

These are all animals we have paid ‘’blood money” for. They were all bought from commercial animal farming operations. They are 27 of the 91 we currently have. They are all living happy, rich, fulfilled lives. (Come and visit with them, and you’ll see.) Do you think I should tell them that us paying for them to save their precious lives was the wrong thing to do? That it wasn’t “legitimate”?

The author that I have quoted, unfortunately typical in the beliefs they state, concludes that it is “counterproductive to the cause to “rescue” animals by means of purchase” and they ask their readership to “help us educate those who may have their heart in the right place, but are misguided with their actions”.

But really? Seriously?

If you believe this, have you never heard the expression “whoever saves a single life saves the whole world”. For 27 animals, our blood money has saved their world. There was nothing in the least "misguided" about buying them. It was the right thing to do and worth every penny.

If a sanctuary wants to rescue animals, there’s a great danger in following hard and fast rules. It’s all easy to be persuaded by simplistic but ultimately vacuous arguments, however sound they may initially appear to be.

Unpalatable though it may seem, buying an animal may sometimes be the only way we can save a life.

As I had anticipated, this blog has proven to be a contentious one. Our Facebook referencing of it drew some interesting responses. I am delighted to engage in debate. However, what I was faced with could not be called debate. Where as I had addressed my comments specifically to the ideology being espoused, and dealt with the content point but point, I was barraged with near hysterical input simply asserting that I was wrong. Not one single point that I raise was discussed or even acknowledged. Contributors leveled unwarranted and ill-informed accusations at us that we were not a legitimate sanctuary. Personal comments were made. Consequently, I deleted these negatives. I don't feel that I have to put up with abuse. Me, as an individual, and we, as a sanctuary, are entitled to our beliefs and opinions. If you address these opinions, and not me personally, I'm happy to talk.

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