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  4. Going Green: Your Animal Sanctuary and The Environment

Going Green: Your Animal Sanctuary and The Environment

A view of a green mountain landscape. A herd of sheep are gathered on the top of one of the mountains.
Want to explore how the sanctuary world ties into the larger environmental movement? Check out our resources on the intersections here!
Photo by Qingbao Meng Courtesy of Unsplash


Environmentalism can be broadly defined as a movement that deals with the relationship between humanity and the rest of the world. It generally recognizes that human impacts on the environment have often caused adverse effects to plants, animals, and larger ecosystems, and the value in protecting natural resources like oceans, mountains, and forests as well as non-domesticated non-human animals (especially endangered animals) and their ecosystems. Environmentalists often make day-to-day choices in their lives that reflect their values, for instance choosing products that are biodegradable, minimizing their use of fossil fuels by using bikes and or public transportation, or planting pollinator-friendly gardens full of native plants.

In a sense, the animal rights movement can be seen as an extension of the environmental movement. Advocates who push for the consideration of the rights of non-human animals are often deeply concerned about how we, as humans, interact with non-human animals on a day-to-day basis, and how that interaction impacts the world around us. Animal advocates’ daily lives may often be very much informed by choices to reduce harm to non-human animals, for example by eschewing the consumption and use of animal products like meat, eggs, milk, leather, and feathers. Advocates also likely believe that industrial animal agriculture is a human activity that massively contributes to harms beyond animal abuse, acknowledging environmental harms such as deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and methane emissions that contribute to climate change.

When it comes to the animal sanctuary and rescue world, it is unsurprising that much of our community prioritizes the consideration of the larger context in which we operate, and how we can not only change the lives of the animals that we directly love and care for, but also minimize any harmful impacts we may have on the larger natural world.

At the Open Sanctuary Project, we have existing resources that address compassionate animal caregiving within the context of also caring for and considering the larger natural world. We recognize that part of creating and maintaining sanctuary spaces involves consideration of our larger surrounding communities, both human and natural. We are proud to offer this resource as a consolidation of our work on questions around operating a sanctuary in the context of responsible environmental stewardship, and we look forward to adding to our existing offerings. This resource will be updated as we do so.


In any movement, education is a key component when it comes to opening hearts and minds to the consideration of new values, new considerations, and new practices. Sanctuary education is critically important when it comes to this, and it presents a special opportunity to introduce a better understanding of the intersections between compassionately caring for farmed animals, and good environmental stewardship. 

  • Fostering Empathy Towards Farmed Animals starts with Entangled Empathy author Lori Gruen’s definition of empathy as “the ability to put oneself in the place of another and try to understand how the world looks to that other, not from one’s own perspective, but from the perspective of the individual going through it.” Fostering empathy is not just a critical step to developing compassion for farmed animals, but also is crucial when it comes to humans developing a better understanding of the natural world generally.
  • Early Elementary-Age Sanctuary Education Lesson Plan #3 is the third part of a multi-part sanctuary education plan, and is designed to get youth digging in the dirt! Gardening is a great way to get community members to directly engage with the natural world, and to embed themselves in a meaningful relationship with a sanctuary community!

Climate and Natural Disaster Considerations

As our climate continues to change due to human activities (including animal agriculture), sanctuaries will likely find themselves facing new and unexpected challenges with regard to extreme temperatures and potential natural disasters such as wildfires. While these resources do not all directly address the issue of climate change per se, they can be useful guides for sanctuaries that are encountering new conditions as a function of climate change.

When it comes to temperature considerations, we have the following resources available to you:

  • The Care of Chicken Residents in Extreme Cold is a species-specific resource that addresses the issues that can arise when it comes to ensuring chicken residents’ comfort and safety with regards to those dreaded cold temperatures. 

Sadly, climate change-related impacts on sanctuaries aren’t limited to just fluctuating temperatures and extreme weather conditions. As we have seen over the last year, wildfires have had a serious impact and can present a serious risk to your sanctuary. 

  • Fire Safety At Your Animal Sanctuary is a great starting resource for anticipating and mitigating risks of fire to your infrastructure and your residents. Having a plan in place for such a situation is one of the most important steps you can take!
  • Wildfire Preparedness For Your Animal Sanctuary specifically addresses some of the concerns you should be aware of when it comes to the possibility of wildfires. From advice on working with your local fire department, considerations around evacuation, and developing a fire preparedness and response plan, this resource can help you get ready for one of the scariest possibilities a sanctuary could face.

Land, Water, and Infrastructure

Living in community with sanctuary residents brings to light a lot of considerations when it comes to interfacing with the natural world. These resources can help you with that, from learning about naturally occurring toxic plants, to designing infrastructure with an aim of enabling residents to enjoy a more stimulating and natural existence while also enjoying safety from predation!

  • The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database is an incredibly useful tool when it comes to assessing your residents’ living areas. You can click through individual plants in this database to see more information, and use filters to be able to find the information most relevant to your sanctuary and residents. Being able to identify toxic plants and safeguard your residents from them is key to providing a safe environment! 
  • Resident Drinking Water Considerations At Your Animal Sanctuary gives you guidance to ensure that your residents have access to safe, clean, palatable and easily accessible water, as well as giving advice on water testing, daily cleaning and replenishment, and the right location and set up for water testing. The importance of quality water access for your residents can’t be emphasized enough!
  • Preventing Hardware Disease At Your Animal Sanctuary is a resource that can help you secure your infrastructure so that you can avoid the consequences of your residents consuming potentially toxic or harmful human-made objects such as nails, screws, staples, wire segments, coins, jewelry or other small pieces of metal.
  • Breaking The Mold: How Animal-Centered Design Can Transform Sanctuaries addresses the notion of designing spaces that can help enable sanctuary residents to thrive by considering how to go beyond basic design requirements for living spaces, and create habitats that look more like what residents would design for themselves if they could, which often involves envisioning and creating spaces that more closely resemble the natural spaces from which farmed animals’ ancestors came.
  • Pigs and Mud: Let them Wallow! On a note related to the question of animal-centered design, this resource addresses providing a natural outlet for a particular behavior specific to pigs, which allows them to mimic behaviors that both wild pigs and their domesticated ancestors enjoy: using mud, cool streams, and rivers to cool off safely.


Safe coexistence with wildlife is a critical part of providing sanctuary. Protecting residents from predation while also respecting wildlife’s right to exist can be a tricky proposition, but these resources can help you navigate that balance:

  • Fly Mitigation Strategies For Sanctuary Cow Residents is designed to give you the advice on how to employ fly mitigation strategies to keep your cow residents safe and comfortable, while also considering the bigger impact on the environment and other living beings who may not be official residents, but still call your sanctuary home.

Waste Management

Any animal caregiver is extremely familiar with poop. Lots and lots of poop. Waste from industrial animal agriculture has hugely significant environmental impacts, and so in the sanctuary world, it’s really good to model more careful and thoughtful waste management practices. These resources can help you navigate these questions:

  • Introduction To Manure Management For Farmed Animal Sanctuaries covers several ways to manage the manure at your sanctuary and includes a guide to creating a manure management plan that will best suit your needs. Manure management is an important aspect of sanctuary management, in addition to keeping your residents safe and healthy.
  • Composting 101: The Scoop On Poop is the third resource in our series on manure management and explains the composting process and the tools and techniques required to successfully compost waste at your sanctuary. Composting can be a great option for sanctuaries because if done properly, it can reduce parasite and fly populations, limit offensive odors, and be spread onto pasture lands.

Communicable Animal Diseases

Parasites and naturally occurring viruses are all environmentally-related risks when it comes to the care of farmed animal sanctuary residents. While they may not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to your sanctuary and the environment, the epidemiology and implications of these kinds of diseases do have important implications, including with regard to questions like zoonosis and medication resistance. The resources listed below offer guidance with regard to these issues:

  • Advanced Topics In Resident Health: Avian Influenza is a veterinarian reviewed resource that describes the means of contraction, symptoms, and ways to address the deadly avian influenza virus. It outlines biosecurity and recordkeeping measures to protect your avian residents.
  • Advanced Topics In Resident Health: Barber Pole Worm is a veterinarian reviewed resource that discusses this gastrointestinal roundworm of ruminants and camelids, which can cause serious disease, especially in sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas. It also discusses the question of medication resistance with respect to this tricky parasite.


A very common issue that comes up within the environmental realm is the question of toxicity. From questions of toxic dumping, pollution from industry, and contamination of waterways, it seems like toxins are frequently on folks’ minds. At the Open Sanctuary Project, we have also spent a lot of time thinking about toxicity, specifically working on lists of things that are considered to be toxic to a myriad of different species that might be sanctuary residents! Below, you can find those lists by species in alphabetical order:


There is a natural connection between creating sanctuaries for survivors of animal agriculture and environmental stewardship. Creating meaningful connections between humans and the non-human world is a critical part of both addressing the harms perpetrated by humans on the natural world, and the specific harms perpetuated with regard to animal exploitation. We look forward to continuing to explore the intersections and overlaps between these movements and sharing more resources with you in the future. If your sanctuary has practices in place to help protect the environment that you would like to share, or if you’re interested in learning more about practices we haven’t yet addressed, please feel free to reach out to us! 

We are grateful to Alastor Van Kleeck for drawing our attention to the importance of consolidating and highlighting our resources focused on the intersections between sanctuary and environmental stewardship. Do you have a suggestion as to how we can better organize our resources for the community? Let us know!

Updated on April 22, 2022

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