Looking for a weekend activity that’s truly memorable? Plan a day trip to visit a local animal sanctuary! Sanctuaries are unique, special places where children and adults of all ages can interact with and learn more about the animals that we don’t usually get a chance to know firsthand and up close.
There are many different kinds of sanctuaries. While some have more familiar companion animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits, many specialize in all manner of farm animals, such as pigs, cows, goats, sheep, turkeys, chickens, ducks and more!
What unifies sanctuaries and makes them different from zoos, petting zoos, and regular farms is that their residents are all rescued. Many of them offer guided tours to the public, where you can expect to hear the inspiring personalized stories of the animals you meet.
One thing I love about animals is that they are unabashedly unafraid to be themselves, especially when they are in a happy and nurturing environment. They are a lot like children that way, which is why they often get along so well together! At sanctuaries, animals have the freedom and room to express their natural tendencies, and let their individual personalities shine in a safe place where they are assured to be well cared and provided for.
You may get to rub a pig’s belly or watch one make a straw nest bed to tuck their best friend into. It’s a chance to get friendly licks from a calf and see a goat leap for joy. You can have the satisfaction of viewing chickens frolicking in a dirt bath, enjoying the sun on their backs, or find out how sweet and cuddly some turkeys can be.
No matter whom you get to meet on your visit, you will get the opportunity to experience these individuals in a new light. You may even be surprised to find that the ones you connect to most are the ones you would have least expected. I never would have dreamed I’d have warm and fuzzy feelings about a chicken or a turkey before I got to know some at a sanctuary!
Here are a few tips if you’re interesting in visiting an animal sanctuary:
- Plan ahead: Another key point of difference between sanctuaries and zoos: because sanctuaries are havens focused on care and rescue, the animals’ needs always come first. Typically this means visitor hours are more limited to give the animals space to relax and enjoy their own time. Some offer regularly scheduled tours, while others may be by appointment only. It’s best to look up each one’s visitor info on their website or call/email ahead of time.
- Getting there: Sanctuaries are often located in rural areas just outside of cities. This is partly because of zoning laws, and also to accommodate the amount of space the animals require to roam and play in. Pick a day to go where you have a good amount of time to get there and take it all in. You can organize a carpool or share the cost of a car rental with others to make a group trip of it.
- Donate: Tour admission prices are generally low-cost or sometimes even free, but you may want to consider leaving a small donation (it could be money or other items they may be in need of i.e. food, tools, towels for bedding etc.) Many sanctuaries will have wish lists, which they usually post on their websites.
- Volunteer: If you enjoy your visit, consider returning to volunteer. There’s always lots of work that goes into caring for so many animals, and help in many different areas is usually welcome and very appreciated! Volunteer roles may include feeding the animals, painting/repairing fences and housing, raking, weeding, and even giving an animal one-on-one cuddle time! There may also be opportunities to help with special events and fundraising. Ask about all-ages opportunities for lending a hand!
- What to wear: Dress for the weather and bring proper closed-toe shoes or gumboots for your visit. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, as you may get some (adorably) muddy paws on you!
Look up a sanctuary in your area and book a visit for your family; it’s guaranteed to warm your heart and put a smile on everyone’s face!
Here are a few of them to check out, but it is by no means a complete list:
The Alice Sanctuary (Airdrie, AB): Located about 30 minutes from Calgary, this sanctuary is a haven to various farm animals, including cows, sheep, goats, ducks, mini horses, and donkeys. Tour info here.
Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary (Campbellville, ON): Home of Esther the Wonder Pig and friends. You may have heard of her. She’s kind of “internet famous” and a big deal on Facebook. Esther is a bit like a real life Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. Approximately 1 hour drive from Toronto.Visit the Events Calendar page for info on public and group tours, work days, and special events.
NEAR VANCOUVER/LOWER MAINLAND
The Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary (Aldergrove, BC): This happy family is made up of many different species of farm and companion animals who live in harmony together! Located approximately 1 hour away from Vancouver. Contact them by email to set up a visit.
Hearts on Noses Sanctuary (Mission, BC): HONS is dedicated to the care of over 40 potbellied pigs, mostly who were former abandoned or neglected pets. They also have a few full sized pigs who were saved from the food industry, and some non-pig occupants too. About 1 hour away from downtown Vancouver. Visitor info here.
SAINTS Rescue (Mission, BC): SAINTS stands for Senior Animals in Need Today Society. Most of the animals they take in are seniors or have special needs, and would have a hard time being adopted through local shelters. They care for approximately 120 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and also horses, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. Approximately 1 hour drive from Vancouver. Tour info here.
NEAR VICTORIA/VANCOUVER ISLAND
RASTA (Rescue and Sanctuary for Threatened Animals) (Chemainus, BC): With RASTA’s recent relocation from Alberta in 2015, they have become the first sanctuary for farm animals on Vancouver Island. They serve as a permanent home to many abandoned and abused animals, with a strong focus on farm animal advocacy. Approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes from Victoria. Visitor info here.
Written by Miriam:
Miriam, one of our On Call Booking Agents, is originally from Toronto and has been living in Vancouver since 2010. She graduated from Trent University with a joint degree in Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies. Some of her favourite things include books (of the picture and non-picture variety), ghost stories, and making noises on her ukulele.