For many people, the closest experience that they might have had to a living farmed animal outside of an agricultural operation has likely been in the form of petting zoos, either at fixed locations or at farmers markets or special events. Due to the cultural prevalence of petting zoos and the seemingly-benign nature of their operations, many folks have visited farmed animal sanctuaries expecting their experience to be more or less the same. For these same visitors, they may be surprised that sanctuaries are quite different than what they expected! Here are some ways that farmed animal sanctuaries are not like and should not be like farmed animal petting zoos.
The Purpose Of A Petting Zoo Versus A Sanctuary
Humans typically operate petting zoos for one primary reason: monetary profit in exchange for the enjoyment and amusement of other humans. Although there may be a mandate to treat the animals gently, by and large, the experience is to let humans handle animals, regardless of whether this is something the animals want, or if it is appropriate for the animals to be handled by humans at all. Petting zoos typically offer little in the way of education beyond the basic identification of species.
By contrast, a farmed animal sanctuary should be a nonprofit organization focused on providing individualized care to animals, and centering the residents’ emotional and physical well-being rather than prioritizing human desires. A farmed animal sanctuary should always allow residents to have the autonomy to avoid human contact if they do not wish to interact with humans, and should not allow humans into the living spaces of those who are uncomfortable with or uninterested in human contact. Ambassador residents, who have been known to be more amenable to human interaction, should be a focus of visitor tours. A sanctuary should use visits as a platform to share the plight of animals like their residents, and offer actionable ways for a visitor to help others like them.