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World In Spain, sanctuaries give forever homes to rescued farmed animals

20:10  01 april  2021
20:10  01 april  2021 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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When Elena Tova rescued a sick pig on a whim nearly 15 years ago, she had never heard of the concept of an animal sanctuary. “Sanctuaries didn’t exist in Spain. The word didn’t exist,” she says, explaining she’d only ever heard “santuario” used in a religious context.

a bird sitting on top of a window: At Gaia, every four months, the sanctuary’s staff deworms all the birds at the sanctuary (ducks, geese, chickens, and turkeys). To do so, the staff treat each bird individually, applying a spray under each wing to free the birds of fleas, lice, etc., and giving each bird a few drops of syrup (Fembendazole), depending on the animal’s weight, to get rid of internal parasites. Veterinary protocols and routines are meticulously observed at the sanctuary. Carla is taking the birds out one by one for a better performance on thedeworming. © Photograph by Ana Palacios At Gaia, every four months, the sanctuary’s staff deworms all the birds at the sanctuary (ducks, geese, chickens, and turkeys). To do so, the staff treat each bird individually, applying a spray under each wing to free the birds of fleas, lice, etc., and giving each bird a few drops of syrup (Fembendazole), depending on the animal’s weight, to get rid of internal parasites. Veterinary protocols and routines are meticulously observed at the sanctuary. Carla is taking the birds out one by one for a better performance on thedeworming. a pile of hay: Gary, physically impaired, is massaged twice a day on his spine to stimulate the neurological system. © Photograph by Ana Palacios Gary, physically impaired, is massaged twice a day on his spine to stimulate the neurological system.

Tova found the young pig, whom she later named Benito, at a farm on the outskirts of Madrid she’d been touring as a place to build a shelter for rescued cats and dogs. All of the farm’s pigs had been sent to slaughter the day before, except Benito, because he had an infection and wasn’t fit for human consumption. The owners were about to kill him. Tova convinced them to give the pig to her instead.

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a person petting a sheep: Paola was abandoned outside a farm when the rest of the pigs were taken to the slaughterhouse. She had a broken vertebra and was unable to move her hind limbs, so it was impossible to get her in the truck. The staff at Gaia sanctuary rescued Paola and took care of her. It took a huge effort and extensive treatment, but now that her vertebra has healed, Paola is starting to regain mobility. Every day, Olivia Gomez, a worker at the sanctuary, treats Paola with physiotherapy and electrotherapy. And although progress is slow, Paola can now stand up with help and even take a few tiny steps. © Photograph by Ana Palacios Paola was abandoned outside a farm when the rest of the pigs were taken to the slaughterhouse. She had a broken vertebra and was unable to move her hind limbs, so it was impossible to get her in the truck. The staff at Gaia sanctuary rescued Paola and took care of her. It took a huge effort and extensive treatment, but now that her vertebra has healed, Paola is starting to regain mobility. Every day, Olivia Gomez, a worker at the sanctuary, treats Paola with physiotherapy and electrotherapy. And although progress is slow, Paola can now stand up with help and even take a few tiny steps.

She searched for shelters to take Benito in. None existed. “We realized we couldn’t take him anywhere, so this was the beginning of the sanctuary,” Tova says. Fundación El Hogar, founded in 2007, became the first sanctuary for farmed animals in Spain.

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Tova continued to rescue cats and dogs, but people also started bringing her roosters and hens, sheep and pigs. Many people who were working with her left, telling her that rescuing livestock was a waste of money. “It wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted to keep rescuing cats and dogs,” she says. “For me, every animal has the right to be rescued.”

Four years later, another sanctuary opened, and then more after that. Now, there are between 30 and 40 sanctuaries throughout Spain, Tova estimates, providing forever homes to abandoned or surrendered farmed animals such as Benito and aided by enthusiastic social media followings.

Grassroots efforts such as Tova’s are changing how people think about how animals bred for human use are treated, says Valerie Taylor, executive director of the U.S.-based Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), which accredits nonprofit sanctuaries around the world that adhere to ethical practices, including bans on breeding and on the commercial trade of animals.

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a body of water: The Animal Home is the only sanctuary in Spain that rescues fish. In November 2020 they host 60 fish. “A fish does not eat the same as a cow, nor does it have the same vet, nor does it have the same space. Each space needs a series of specific cares so that they can live happily. In the case of fish, you have to know from what the water has to be like, what they have to eat and also that it is vegan food that is the most difficult to find, what plants they have to eat because some are poisonous, what temperature it has than having water, knowing how long they live, what diseases they have… It takes a lot of time and money and is not always easy. Elena Tova, founder of El Hogar Animal. © None The Animal Home is the only sanctuary in Spain that rescues fish. In November 2020 they host 60 fish. “A fish does not eat the same as a cow, nor does it have the same vet, nor does it have the same space. Each space needs a series of specific cares so that they can live happily. In the case of fish, you have to know from what the water has to be like, what they have to eat and also that it is vegan food that is the most difficult to find, what plants they have to eat because some are poisonous, what temperature it has than having water, knowing how long they live, what diseases they have… It takes a lot of time and money and is not always easy. Elena Tova, founder of El Hogar Animal.

“There's been a huge shift in animal sheltering altogether, and it’s refreshing to see this being extended to [farmed] species whose suffering is intentionally hidden from public view.”

Millions farmed—how Spain stacks up

a baby sitting in a chair: Patri is resting in his crib at El Hogar Animal sanctuary. This is the oldest sanctuary in Spain, founded in 2008 by Elena Tova. It has now around 250 animals (60 fishes and 45 doves among them), all of them rescued for being abused or abandoned. Most of the animals here have a physical or psychological condition, as this particular sanctuary is very focused in vulnerable animals. This turkey is suffering from a serious infection of the points after undergoing an unsuccessful operation to try to cure it. The serious, incurable disease has left him unable to walk, so he spends all his time in a crib––with pregnancy pillows, cushions to prevent pressure sores, and blankets––or hanging from a swing made especially for him so that he can at least stretch his legs. © Photograph by Ana Palacios Patri is resting in his crib at El Hogar Animal sanctuary. This is the oldest sanctuary in Spain, founded in 2008 by Elena Tova. It has now around 250 animals (60 fishes and 45 doves among them), all of them rescued for being abused or abandoned. Most of the animals here have a physical or psychological condition, as this particular sanctuary is very focused in vulnerable animals. This turkey is suffering from a serious infection of the points after undergoing an unsuccessful operation to try to cure it. The serious, incurable disease has left him unable to walk, so he spends all his time in a crib––with pregnancy pillows, cushions to prevent pressure sores, and blankets––or hanging from a swing made especially for him so that he can at least stretch his legs.

Spain is one of the leading pork producers in the world. In 2019, 53 million pigs were slaughtered for meat in the country. Animal welfare advocates criticize common industry practices such as the prolonged use of gestation crates that confine pigs to tight spaces and the premature separation of babies from mothers. One 2020 undercover investigation by Tras Los Muros, an investigative photography project, of 30 pig farms in Spain documented numerous pigs with severe, untreated infections.

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Spain is also a top rabbit meat producer, with 48 million rabbits slaughtered in 2016. Here too, activists have documented inhumane treatment. A 2014 undercover investigation of 72 rabbit farms by a Spanish animal rights group Animal Equality documented rabbits live rabbits thrown in waste bins, rabbits in cages with untreated wounds, and cannibalism among rabbits in tight confinement. (Read more about groups working to rescue galgos, Spanish hunting dogs.)

a cat sitting in front of a building: A fractured L4 vertebra has left him with no sensation in his hindquarters, also causing urinary and rectal incontinence. Neo will never be able to walk properly again or stand up on his hind legs, but that doesn’t stop him from running and moving around the sanctuary’s 25 hectares with great agility. © Photograph by Ana Palacios A fractured L4 vertebra has left him with no sensation in his hindquarters, also causing urinary and rectal incontinence. Neo will never be able to walk properly again or stand up on his hind legs, but that doesn’t stop him from running and moving around the sanctuary’s 25 hectares with great agility.

Animal welfare nonprofit Would Animal Protection, which evaluates the animal welfare laws of every country, grades Spain a D (on an A through G scale) on its protection of farmed animals, citing the continued use of confining stalls and not requiring animals be stunned before slaughter, among other concerns. (France, Italy, the UK, and Germany also earned a D, and the U.S. earned an E.)

Lucho Galan, spokesperson at Interporc, a trade group that represents the Spanish pig farming industry, says by email that “Spain is a world benchmark in animal welfare” and that Interporc strongly encourages farmers to provide an optimal quality of life for animals.

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“For their part, these so-called sanctuaries seem to us a legitimate option, but the same respect that farmers give [the sanctuaries] is what we expect from them for our activity,” he says. Many in the rescue community tout the importance of developing good relationships with farmers, to facilitate rescues and keep an open dialog about treatment of animals.

“Sanctuaries are the only opportunity that we ever get to see these kinds of animals in a different environment—the only way we can learn about and truly connect with these animals outside the [farming] industry,” says Abigail Geer, founder of Mino Valley Farm Animal Sanctuary in Galicia, a rural area in northwestern Spain.

a tattoo of a cat: Bichi, a blind and toothless 22-year-old cat, snuggles with Elena Tova, founder of El Hogar Animal sanctuary, a month before her death. The cat has received the best possible care and has survived renal failure, four cancer operations, a herpes virus that occasionally made it impossible for her to breathe, mouth operations, arthrosis… Bichi and Felix, the lamb tattooed on Elena’s neck, surrounded by flowers and butterflies with the powerful message, “Vegan.” The two are symbols of this sanctuary, which was the first ever founded in Spain. © None Bichi, a blind and toothless 22-year-old cat, snuggles with Elena Tova, founder of El Hogar Animal sanctuary, a month before her death. The cat has received the best possible care and has survived renal failure, four cancer operations, a herpes virus that occasionally made it impossible for her to breathe, mouth operations, arthrosis… Bichi and Felix, the lamb tattooed on Elena’s neck, surrounded by flowers and butterflies with the powerful message, “Vegan.” The two are symbols of this sanctuary, which was the first ever founded in Spain.

Geer, originally from the U.K., founded the sanctuary with her husband in 2012. It was the first in the Galicia region. It began spontaneously: The Geers had mentioned to friends that they hoped to start a sanctuary one day, and someone brought them a female sheep, unable to walk, who had been abandoned on a mountainside. Nestled on 50 acres of meadows and woods, the sanctuary is now home to more than 300 animals, mostly rescued from the agricultural industry.

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Many animals at both Mino Valley and El Hogar have special needs. Because laws prohibit sick animals from entering the food supply, they—along with disabled and injured animals—are often found abandoned or are surrendered, Geer says.

Almost every sanctuary animal has a harrowing origin story. There’s River, a pig found next to a riverbank with four broken legs. A bicyclist noticed him and contacted El Hogar. Now River is healed and thriving. Mino Valley is home to 16 rabbits that were left to die in a barn fire on a meat farm in 2019. Now they live in spacious, hay-filled quarters.

Hurdles and hope

For every animal rescued, there are thousands who die alone. “Those things live with you and haunt you,” says Geer, who has struggled with insomnia, guilt, and depression. But over time, she says she’s become better at managing these feelings. “It doesn’t mean I’m not grieving when animals die, but it’s definitely evolved. It has to, to keep doing this without getting completely burnt out.”

“People in sanctuaries are very strong but also very sensitive,” says Tova. “There are lots of ups and downs and in the long run, after many years, not everybody can take it.” She and other sanctuary owners say that it’s the animals at the sanctuary—whom they all refer to as their family—that give them strength.

Those in the rescue community share a universal language and creed. Most sanctuary owners are vegan, and they tend to refer to animals as someones and avoid using pronouns like it when the sex of an animal is unknown. Ismael Lopez started Fundación Santuario Gaia outside of Barcelona in 2012. He says he’s noticed the beginnings of a shift in how people in Spain think about animals. “People are evolving faster than politics,” he says.

Those changes are reflected on social media and are translating into tangible benefits. Gaia is now home to 1,500 animals and has over a million followers on Facebook. “Without social media, this growth would not be possible,” Lopez says.

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El Hogar and Mino Valley also have dedicated followings on Instagram and Facebook, from Spain and all over the world. The sanctuaries share rescue stories in real time, raising money for individual cases. Others have monthly membership options through websites like Patreon. All of the sanctuaries rely on donations from the public.

While changes are happening at the grassroots level, sanctuary owners say they still face structural hurdles. If a truck full of pigs crashes on the way to a slaughterhouse, for example, it’s illegal to rescue the animals without the owner’s permission.

“They’re not victims—they are property,” Tova says, explaining that owners are able to apply for insurance money for animals that die in a road accident. Because of regulations on animal transportation and health, rescuing animals also requires paperwork and government approval, which can often take up to two weeks, says Lopez—time that a sick or injured animal may not have.

Even finding good veterinary care for sanctuary animals can be a challenge, Greer, Tova, and Lopez say. They often take in animals who need significant medical care. But for veterinarians, especially in rural, agricultural areas, Geer says, it’s often “the first time they’re ever seeing these things in these animals and the first time people have ever asked for help with this stuff.”

But in recent years, veterinary students increasingly have started to embed at sanctuaries. Santuario Gaia has hosted several veterinary students for months at a time, Lopez says.

The true power of farm sanctuaries “lies in the connections they can foster between humans and individual animals,” says Taylor of GFAS, especially when people can follow a rescued animal’s evolution.

Laro, a 20-month-old cow, had been kept tethered by to a short chain in a shed in Cantabria, in northern Spain. Left standing in his own feces, he was only able to lie down and stand up; he’d never been able to walk around. Angela Gómez, who lived locally, had heard him crying out when he was a few months old, and for over a year, she went to visit him every week, touching him through a slat in the barn. His owner planned to keep him until he was three years old, and then slaughter him for meat, she says.

Gómez eventually persuaded the farmer to surrender Laro last August, when he was 14 months old. Mino Valley posted about his case on Instagram and raised 1,100 euros in one day to cover his transport across the country to the sanctuary.

Videos from the past seven months show his new life, starting with his first wobbly steps after arriving at Mino Valley. “He was so scared to even walk,” Geer says. Another video documents him staring up at rustling leaves. Another, his first snowfall.

This week, the sanctuary posted a video of him running, jumping, and doing spins through the forest.

“Sometimes,” Geer says, “I honestly just cry looking at them, from happiness.”

Why Earth's most beloved creatures are headed toward extinction .
Scientists have found that more than 90% of land-based endemic species and 95% of marine ones are facing the devastating consequences of greenhouse has emissions.In a study published Friday in the journal Biological Conservation, scientists warn that some of the richest concentrations of plants and animals on Earth will be "irreversibly ravaged" by global warming unless countries make a real effort toward their goals made under the 2015 Paris climate treaty. They report a high danger for extinction in almost 300 biodiversity "hot spots" if temperatures rise three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

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This is interesting!