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From birds to elderly dogs to wolves, animal sanctuaries offer comfort and protection to animals from all walks of life. However, not every animal sanctuary has the needs of the animals at heart. This blog post explores different types of animal sanctuaries and how to tell which ones are dedicated to animals above all else.

Defining Animal Sanctuaries

Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) defines an animal or wildlife sanctuary as “a place of refuge where abused, injured and abandoned captive wildlife may live in peace and dignity for the remainder of their lives.” These animals can include endangered animals such as the Bengal tiger, or elderly pets that need constant attention, such as the internet-famous dogs at Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Sanctuaries and the Animal Welfare Act

Put forth in 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulates the treatment of animals for purposes ranging from entertainment to research. AWA sets standards for sanitary conditions, proper healthcare, typical diet, and other factors that contribute positively to the lifespan of an enclosed animal. However, AWA does not impact every sanctuary. 

As a federal law, AWA only impacts locations and organizations that exhibit animals publicly, such as zoos. While some sanctuaries are open to the public and invite visitors to see animals up-close, those are the only sanctuaries protected under AWA. That’s not to say every privately-owned animal sanctuary is a den of cruelty—the American Sanctuary Association (ASA) and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) offer accreditation to sanctuaries that are responsible and compassionate.

For example, The Oasis Sanctuary in Scottsdale, Arizona houses over 800 parrots and other exotic birds. While visits are welcome, they must be scheduled in advance and a minimum donation is suggested. This is the case with many non-profit animal sanctuaries, which rely on donations and publicity to stay in operation.

True Sanctuaries

Many animal rights advocates agree that sanctuaries should serve as retirement homes for animals. In that respect, proper accommodations must be offered. “True” animal sanctuaries offer habitats that emulate what the animal would experience in the wild, including mud pits for elephants and plenty of trees for monkeys. Such sanctuaries also prohibit commercial trade of animals for purposes of “exhibition, education, or research,” according to GFAS. In addition, “unescorted public visitation” is banned. Guided walking tours of sanctuaries are allowed, but unlike zoos, animals have free rein. These “true” sanctuaries are places that care deeply about animals, whether endangered, sick, or simply old.