Founded by Lucie Cerny in January of 2001, Rescue And Sanctuary for Threatened Animals (RASTA) in Chemainus is a refuge for farm animals.
It’s a noble cause. And an incredibly difficult one to manage.
Cerny said sanctuaries are limited in how many animals they can take in due to space, financial and animal welfare considerations. There’s no real point in offering refuge if the conditions aren’t significantly better than where they were before.
But the work doesn’t stop with just taking care of the animals. There’s a bigger picture.
“The most important part of running any sanctuary is education,” Cerny explained. “When people visit, we educate them about things like factory farming because a lot of people don’t know how animals are raised these days. Over 95 per cent of the animals at RASTA come from these overcrowded factory farms.”
Little did Cowichan’s Michelle Singleton know when she toured RASTA a few years back, that the experience would not just change her life, but the lives of many animals as well.
Singleton was already a vegetarian when she visited RASTA. A new mother at the time, it was the talk about dairy…about the reality of how the dairy industry runs, pulling babies away from their mothers and taking their milk, that hit close to home for the momma.
“She decided to go vegan as a result and then she started volunteering for us here at the sanctuary,” Cerny said.
Singleton would visit the sanctuary on Saturdays to help out.
Four months or so after that first visit, a 900-pound pig named Debbie came along that turned Singleton’s life upside down. Or maybe it was right side up?
“We were not able to take her in,” Cerny explained. “We were just maxed out with 70 animals here at the sanctuary.”
What was to become of Debbie?
She’d been a breeding sow but complications with her last litter left her unable to breed again. Her owners couldn’t bear to “turn her into sausages”.
“I talked to Michelle,” Cerny said. “She lived on an acreage. Debbie was the first animal she took in.”
Having lost her father to a heart attack the month before, Singleton was determined to turn her heartbreak into action.
“I wanted to take part in something that would make a positive impact in our community and do something that would make my daughter proud of her mother,” Singleton explained in her facility’s creation story. “My father always believed in me and consistently gave me his unconditional love and support; I knew that he would be proud of me taking on this challenge and at this point I was determined to do it even though I thought the idea was ludicrous only a few hours earlier.”
And so, in September of 2017, thanks to a 900-pound houseguest, A Home for Hooves Farm Sanctuary was born.
It’s just the second official farm sanctuary on Vancouver Island.
“I have always wanted an opportunity to spend my time doing something that was important and for the greater good, so caring for unwanted animals came naturally to me,” Singleton explained. “I also have a two-year-old daughter and raising her in an environment caring for animals is an amazing way for her to grow up.”
Factory farming is “an honestly horrific industry” that many people are not aware of or they choose to ignore, Singleton said. “The abuse and cruelty these animals experience, all in the name of money and an easy food source, is staggering. Once an animal is deemed no longer profitable they are either disposed of or they are fortunate enough to find themselves in a sanctuary where they are well cared for and are no longer exploited.”
Sanctuaries are struggling to fill the need, however.
And it’s not just factory farm animals that need a safe haven to live out their natural lives. Big breeding is a huge problem particularly with bunnies and pot belly pigs, as well.
Many people believe pigs will stay small because they are marketed as “tea cup” or “micro pigs”, which is simply not true, explained Sandi Trent, manager of the Cowichan & District branch of the SPCA. “Ultimately people need to educate themselves that there are no such things.”
Trent cited Esther the Wonder Pig, in Ontario, as a prime example.
Esther was adopted by a couple who was misled into believing that she was a mini pig. Knowing it wasn’t Esther’s fault, the pair tried to make it work. And make it work they did! Derek Walter and Steve Jenkins used social media to chronicle their journey with the pig and in doing so, managed to make Esther famous. The pair has since opened “Happily Esther After”, a farm sanctuary in Ontario.
“Fortunately for her, and obviously it’s osmosed into this amazing situation, but they purchased her as something that she wasn’t and stepped up and changed a lot of lives I’m sure,” Trent noted.
But Esther is the exception.
“Sadly, she is,” Trent said.
Supported by the likes of Cerny and Trent, Singleton is doing her part to help some of the others. She takes in not just pigs but any farm animals provided she has the space to responsibly care for them and the ability to quarantine them for a minimum of three weeks.
Currently, like Cerny at RASTA, Singleton’s year-old sanctuary is already at capacity but she’s hoping to expand by adding volunteers and by fundraising for infrastructure.
RASTA is seeking funds for a desperately needed new barn while Home for Hooves is looking to build from the bottom up, beginning with fencing.
“Good quality and strong fencing is extremely expensive,” Singleton said. “We’re currently fundraising for a perimeter fence to protect and contain our current animals which costs close to $15,000. Once this project is completed we will focus on a large animal pen and shelters along with a chicken run and an outside run area for our disabled farm birds.”
Trent said the Valley is lucky to have both Home for Hooves and RASTA to lean on.
“Places like these are a godsend, however get full fairly quickly,” Trent said. “As with regular farms and shelters, they have a capacity and once they reach the capacity, unfortunately they don’t really have any other options.”
The 4.5-acre Home for Hooves currently shelters 21 animal residents: seven pot belly pigs (Charlie, Charlotte, Puddin, Juniper, Hazel, Gracie and Charles), two Guinea Hogs (Eugene and Violet), four goats (Remi, Finnegan, Buddy and Smurfy), three roosters (Henry, Elvis and Presley), a one-legged turkey (Gertie), two dogs (Rocky and Lucky) and two cats (Alice and Koda).
Trent applauds Singleton’s efforts on behalf of the animals.
“She’s a lovely person,” Trent said. “There’s not too many people that are going to go out of their way but she’s taken it to a whole other element of kindness and being an advocate.”
To learn more about A Home for Hooves visit: www.ahomeforhoovesfarmsanctuary.com
To learn more about RASTA visit: www.rastarescue.org
Check out the Cowichan SPCA at: spca.bc.ca/locations/cowichan