Consider the Source

Star at Home for Life May 2011
Where do Home for Life's animals come from? From all over the world and from nearly every state in the country. Their geographic derivation is straightforward but only part of the answer.

According to Wikipedia's an animal sanctuary " is a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Unlike animal shelters, sanctuaries do not seek to place animals with individuals or groups, instead maintaining each animal until his or her natural death ... The mission of sanctuaries is to be a safe haven,where animals receive the best care the sanctuary can provide".
A sanctuary will often be the last resort and only chance that animal will have to avoid an untimely death by euthanasia. Animals who are unlikely candidates for adoption- the old, disabled, medically or behaviorally challenged- have little hope for life anywhere else but a sanctuary. Dogs and cats in one of the four categories above can be offered to sanctuaries from a variety of sources- private parties, veterinarians, shelters, foster and rescue organizations, animal control facilities, and breed rescue groups. Some of Home for Life's animals arrived via abandonment- tied to the front gate, thrown over our fence,left in boxes on the driveway. Most of the animals who come to Home for Life have had at least one home, and most have had two or three and some as many as five or six adoptive homes before coming to the sanctuary.

The best things in life are never free, and this is true for sanctuaries which will offer the only opportunity for life for the animals surrendered to them. Home for Life's cost of care for the average animal at the sanctuary is $202.00 per month: this amount covers food, veterinary care, grooming, staff salaries, utilities, and many additional costs to keep the sanctuary running and care for the animals. Any person or organziation who wants to surrender an animal to Home for Life is asked to fill out our simple application so we can evaluate whether this dog or cat truly has no other option. In our application we ask the surrendering party to contribute to the animal's cost of care through sponsoring the animal. An amount of $100/month is suggested- less than half of what it costs us to care for the animal at Home for Life. There is space on our form to explain if sponsorship at this amount is not possible, and to suggest a different amount. If sponsorship of the animal is out of the question then, we ask for the best one time donation the surrendering party can make. In other words, we will negotiate,but we will not take an animal for free. We believe that the service we offer of lifetime care for special needs animals is valuable. We need to be able to pay our staff a living wage in order to retain quality people, to pay our vendors and maintain our facility. We believe people value what they pay for and that includes care for animals and saving their lives.

Saving animal lives requires a multi-faceted approach. Spay and neuter strategies avoid the births of unwanted animals, aggressive adoption and marketing strategies will find homes for many others. But for those animals already born,who may not be ideal adoption candidates, "the third door®" * offered by sanctuaries such as Home for Life provides a viable lifesaving alternative. Historically, animals entering a shelter have had two ways to leave: door #1 via adoption and door #2 via euthanasia. Sanctuaries offer a lifesaving, life affirming third option for animals who may not be able to be adopted but for whom euthanasia is not a good choice either. The problem is that that sanctuaries and "the third door" option they provide have not been embraced by the animal welfare community . Because of this lack of recognition, sanctuaries struggle for legitimacy and for the financial support which makes their work possible.

Sanctuaries have been discredited in the press and by national animal welfare organizations who have equated them with pathological hoarding situations. Many sanctuaries begin with the best of intentions but because of lack of funding, become unable to care for the animals. One issue is that organziations need to decide if they are a sanctuary or a shelter: sanctuaries offer lifetime care for animals while shelters are temporary living arrangements where the goal is to see animals adopted. Animals at a facility permanently need different accomodations made for them and different care and committment then animals for whom an organization is a temporary waystation.

There is a huge cost associated with lifetime care for animals with special needs. Sanctuaries cannot rely on the income generated from adoption fees. Animals offered to sanctuaries as a last resort often are accompanied by an ultimatum: take the animal - at no charge- or it will have to be put down, put to sleep (killed). It is not hard to understand how sanctuaries who are founded with the mission to help the most desperate of unwanted animals get into trouble; when told that that the animal offered for placement will be killed if not taken, that the sanctuary is the last resort, the sanctuary stretches one more time, to help just one more, in order to save the animal's life.

A few weeks ago, Home for Life received a magazine from one of the very wealthy, national animal welfare organizations which raises money nationwide.(no idea how we ended up on the mailing list). The cover story was all about the horrors of animal hoarding, and the example cited in the article involved an animal sanctuary where this national organization had intervened to take the dogs and cats from the facility due to the neglectful conditions in which they were being kept.The article discussed how, sadly, the sanctuary may have started with good intentions about helping unwanted animals, but soon became overwhelmed and financially unable to provide for their charges on even the most rudimentary level.

Just a few years ago, this same national organization, rich and endowed beyond the wildest dreams of most animal rescue groups, had called Home for Life. They requested help and sanctuary placement for a one year old paraplegic pitbull at their shelter. Paraplegic animals are incredibly difficult to care for well, to insure they reach their potential for a quality life and that they stay healthy. The monthly cost of a paraplegic animal easily exceeds our average monthly cost of $202. 00 a month due to the amount of staff time and veterinary care devoted to them . We explained this to national organization representative and sent national organization an application- the same application we send to anyone wanting Home for Life to take an animal.(we have had the same application for 12 years and have not increased our suggested donation and sponsorship amount in that timeframe ). National organization got back to us in due course, stating that they would not contribute to Home for Life for taking the paraplegic pitbull and for her lifetime care with us- because they were a non profit charity. Home for Life projected 10 or more years of care for the lifetime of this special need, high maintenance dog,that we would have to subsidize - while national organization took the credit for saving the dog's life. * *

Star, above, is a deaf, elderly english setter, estimated to be age 10. She was found alone and cold on a blustery March day this year by Sheriffs in Marble , Minnesota, far north of the Twin Cities. She had no collar or tags, but she did have several mammary tumors, including one the size of a baseball on her inner thigh. She was unspayed- of course. The Sheriffs brought her to the Star of the North Shelter in Coleraine MN In late April,2011 Home for Life received an email from a shelter volunteer who was fostering the setter. She has stepped up to help the dog when the shelter to decide to close due a dirth of funding (Read that story here).The volunteer asked for help on behalf of her charge- veterinary care and permanent placement as she was unable to keep the dog. Home for Life's Emergency Medical Care Fund paid to have her spayed and the tumors removed( all were benign thankfully). It had been out of the question given the shelter's circumstances to pay for the surgery for the dog, and we knew this would be the case when we offered to help. She did convalesce after surgery at the home of the foster in Northern Minnesota, and in late May joined Home for Life as a permanent resident of the sanctuary. We thought that was the end of it and were glad we were able to help the shelter with at least one of their dogs-who among those in animal rescue would not have comiserated with the heartbreak of having to close the doors and the struggle and challenges of survival in this economy? She was named Star in honor of the Star of the North shelter who took her in when she was abandoned even though they were fighting for survival.

To our surprise, about a month after Star came to Home for Life, we received a thank you note from their board and a check for $100- unasked for and unexpected- from this organziation stuggling to survive.

Their note read:

"With Warmest Appreciation"

Dear Home for Life:
May all the kindness you give to others always come back to you.Thank you.
Our deepest gratitude for helping our Star.

Star of the North Humane Society Board of Directors.

I was so moved by this card and that this shelter, facing closure, still somehow found the money for a contribution to acknowledge and support the work of Home for Life. Their contribution, a fraction of what we had spent to help Star, still conveyed that they recognized and valued the life saving service sanctuaries like Home for Life provide. For that recognitions and validation of our mission,we are very grateful.

*The Third Door® is a registered trademark of the Animal Sanctuary of St. Croix Valley dba Home for Life.

** the paraplegic pitbull from the national organization was adopted by a dog wheelchair manufactuturer.