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Research Articles
Published: 2015-10-12

Farmed Animal Sanctuaries: The Heart of the Movement?

Independent Researcher
Queen's University
sanctuaries citizenship farmed animals domesticated animals intentional communities


One of the fundamental challenges for animal rights theory is to imagine the contours of just relations that humans might have with “farmed animals” once we stop confining and killing them for food. What sorts of social relationships would cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals be able to form with us, and with members of their own and other species? What kind of sex life, family life, and cooperative activities might they want to engage in? Farm sanctuaries are one of the few spaces today where these questions are being asked, and where possible answers are being explored. However, if sanctuaries are to be effective spaces for exploring a better future, some of their current practices may need to change. Farm sanctuaries originally developed as places of safe refuge for abused animals who were rescued from factory farms and slaughterhouses. Rescued animals live out their lives in safety and comfort, and also serve as ambassadors to the visiting public for all of the animals who remain trapped in the animal-industrial complex. We call this the “refuge + advocacy” model, and it is a noble vision that has inspired many people. But the offer of safe refuge is not the same as the opportunity to create a new and shared interspecies society. A different vision of a farm sanctuary would see its animal residents less as refugees and ambassadors, and more as citizens and pioneers of new “intentional communities” who are given the freedom to create a new social world. This paper explores the limits of the refuge + advocacy model, both in terms of the messages it communicates to human visitors and the freedoms it provides to its animal residents, and outlines an alternative model rooted in emerging practices of intentional community.


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