If you had told me a year ago that I’d be writing my first post about starting an animal sanctuary at the age of 41, I’d have believed you. I’ve always had a deep love for animals. Even so, starting a sanctuary wasn’t on my to-do list- a distant, fleeting thought maybe, but nothing close to a plan. So how did I come to start an animal sanctuary and why do I think you should start one too? Let me start at the beginning.

I’m vegan. I’ve been vegan for eleven years now- it’ll be twelve in January. My veganism builds the framework for the way in which I live my life. It challenges me to rethink everything that I’ve ever thought about animals and the way in which we use them. It was my veganism that led me to animal sanctuaries, and it was animal sanctuaries that changed my life.

Oh, I know. It sounds dramatic. And it is, to a certain degree. The changes that result from meeting animals on their own terms is nothing short of remarkable. No matter what you think you know about animals, the survivors living at animal sanctuaries will show you more. I have always loved animals and have sought out every opportunity to be with them. Before I visited the animal sanctuary I thought that my familiarity of being around animals had given me a good idea of what animals were like. I was completely and utterly wrong.

I’ve been an advocate of animal sanctuaries since my first trip to Farm Sanctuary. I’ve created Sanctuary Spotlight to highlight the important work that sanctuaries do. It features a global database of sanctuaries, a guide to sanctuary wishlists, and even a guide on how to help animals. Highlighting this vital work is important, not only because it helps to raise awareness about our responsibility to care for animals impacted by human dominance, but because it helps to raise awareness about animal sanctuaries that bring humans and animals together in such a way to develop relationships and bonds, creating individuals and not exhibits. They are amazing spaces.

The idea for the sanctuary came to me one day after spending some time online talking about my latest rescue, Tully Banks. Tully had walked in front of my car, during a thunderstorm, on a busy road. I rescued her not realizing that she had gotten pregnant that very day (true story). Two months to the day, Tully gave birth to three kittens. I never intended to keep the kittens because kittens are so easy to place and I wasn’t ready to rescue more cats. But as I watched the family grow and bond I discovered that I didn’t want to break the family apart- so I didn’t. The kittens are about to turn two, and they along with Tully joined the three other cats and two dogs living here at that time. That brought the number of cats living here to seven.

I was talking about the Tully Banks family when one of the other caretakers at another animal sanctuary joked about how I was basically running a cat sanctuary. Later the same day, I saw a link for the Microsanctuary Movement. The Microsanctuary Movement is an initiative to help vegans rescue and care for farmed animals through a revisioning of “sanctuary,” with the goal being to inspire and empower more people to use whatever resources they have right now to provide safe homes to non-humans who are typically seen only as commodities.

The concept of the Microsanctuary Movement really resonates with me. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been a big fan of animal sanctuaries for a long time so the idea of an animal sanctuary wasn’t new to me. But the way that the concept of a sanctuary was reframed made the whole idea seem like something that I could not only do, it seemed like something that I should be doing. I started to think about the rescue work that I do in a much different way.

I began to envision turning my home into a sanctuary designed with the needs of the cats living here now, and future cats I’m sure to meet. The focus of the Microsanctuary Movement is on farmed animals and not animals considered as “pets” like cats and dogs, so I don’t meet the criteria to be a part of that movement. But their work has inspired me to create my own microsanctuary devoted to cats- specifically, bonded pairs and senior cats who would otherwise have a hard time finding a forever home.

I have provided hospice care for senior cats and cats with terminal illnesses for the last five years. I know how important end of life care is for them. Sometimes, all a sick animal wants or needs is a warm lap or someone to give them comfort when they aren’t feeling well. I want to be that person. Rather, my wife Charleen and I want to be those people. So, we filed all of the necessary paperwork and it’s official- we are Four Urban Paws Sanctuary! We’re not a 501(c)3 yet, although we plan to apply in the future once we get the sanctuary up off the ground and running.

Charleen and I have been rescuing cats (and a few dogs) for more than a decade now. We’ve fostered animals, started our own TNR for the feral cats in our neighborhood, and taken in dozens of cats throughout the years. There are currently 3 senior cats, 4 young adult cats, 2 dogs, and 1 recently rescued cat that is 5 – 10 years old and terribly sick. Our lives revolve around cat feeding schedules and vet visits. The cats have more toys, towers, window seats, activities, and even rooms than we do! We’ve turned our entire 2nd floor into a large cat play area with climbing, scratching, and chase activities.

And it’s just the beginning.

We have dreams to have more space so that we can rescue more seniors. I’d love to build a senior ward with special considerations for older cats and loss of mobility. I also would like to- no need to– build a sick ward. Our latest rescue, Leo, needs isolation and quiet to recover from a nasty upper respiratory infection due to the herpes virus. He’s extremely contagious and the only available space to rehab him is on the second floor- in the cat play area. So that means that the other cats have less room to run, which is bad because the kittens need to run.

So, we have plans. Speaking of plans, I planned to announce this when the website was complete and the social media accounts were all up and running…but having a few sick cats will eat away at any free time and so the website isn’t as finished as I want it to be. I’m announcing now to begin sharing the stories from the sanctuary- like Leo who just came to us three weeks ago. I hope you’ll come back and get to know the animals of Four Urban Paws and read how they came to be with us. And how we create spaces for all life at the sanctuary.

Oh, I said I was going to tell you why you should start a sanctuary. You should have an animal sanctuary because animals desperately need us. If you can, adopt a few animals from the shelter- have an unofficial microsanctuary of your own. If you can’t, please support the work that animal sanctuaries do by donating, sponsoring an animal, or sharing their stories. Every action helps sanctuaries and the people who run them help more animals.

Come back when I post a zillion pictures of Leo and start to tell the tale of Snot-pocalypse 2016: the Snotting.

Till then be good to each other. – KD



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