After a few days camping around Bend, Oregon, we drove north again through Mount Hood National Forest. Complete with winding roads and soaring fir trees, the scenery made it feel like our minivan was the star in a rugged car commercial.
As we pulled into the driveway of our next sanctuary stop, we felt like we were trespassing on someone’s private property. Out to Pasture Sanctuary lies on three acres in Estacada, Oregon tucked into a neighbourhood about 50 kilometres southeast of Portland. The Co-Founders, John and Kit Collins welcomed us in past a wooden gate, which revealed sections of neatly laid-out pastures in their backyard.
The couple has operated the non-profit sanctuary for the past 11 years but has been taking in animals since 2004. They have around 125 animals, all who have found their forever home in Out to Pasture.
We meet farm animals with familiar stories: potbelly pigs who outgrew their “cute” months as household pets, dairy goats saved from slaughter, and a large pig who outgrew her utility at a local school program.
The residents have been rescued from abuse, neglect, and slaughter. There are former farm animals, and animals rescued from scientific laboratories, including 30 rabbits and dozens of pigeons. We learned that rabbits are often used for cosmetics testing, or for the “lethal dose 50” test.
The LD50 test is a commonly-used approach to determining lethal doses of drugs, whereby an animal is given half of a drug dose every day until they die. Pigeons, on the other hand, are used in behaviour research environments and are used to train hunting dogs by taping their wings down and then throwing them as far away as possible.
Following a tour of the sanctuary, we spent some time talking to John about the importance of sanctuaries and of animal rights activism. Out to Pasture is steeped in compassion, thanks to the tireless dedication of Kit and John and the influence of their spiritual practices in yoga and meditation.
John became a vegetarian back in college. While fishing one day, he began to contemplate what the experience was like for the fish on the other end of the line. As his train of thought continued, he realized that he didn’t want to kill a fish he caught, which made him realize that he didn’t want to pay for someone else to do it either.
“I backed myself into a corner,” John laughed. “I stopped eating meat and fish right then and there.”
John and Kit raised their children as vegetarians, and nearly 20 years ago his teenage daughter brought home a poster answering the question “where does milk come from?” At the time, they had thought veganism was extreme, but they tried it and never looked back.
John and Kit are avid yoga and meditation practitioners. John credits the teachings of his yogi guru, PR Sarkar, for solidifying his belief of the importance and value of plant-based lifestyles and honouring the value of an animal’s existence in the ecosystem and in the world.
“We just don’t look at animals as creatures with existential value. Most people look at them for their utility. Their existence is of indescribable value in and of itself,” he explains, referencing Sarkar’s teachings.
“Animals will do whatever possible to survive to prolong their existence. We violate and ignore that when we look at them merely for how useful they are to us.”
It becomes easy to understand why animal sanctuaries serve an important purpose once you understand that animals value their lives. Having a sanctuary helps to show why it’s wrong to exploit animals because you’re given the opportunity to meet animals and see them do things humans do, like experience complex emotions, make time for play, and develop social relationships.
“You get to know them as unique beings in a sanctuary environment. You see that they actually want to have a better quality of life and that they move towards activities and places that bring them comfort, pleasure, and security,” John says.
John goes on to explain that sanctuaries are also critical in caring for animals that were brought into this world by human intervention.
“When a farmer’s ultimate purpose is to get their flesh or milk or use them for experiments, they get a quality of life only sufficient to produce the product, which doesn’t give them the quality of life that they’re capable of. Once rescued from those situations, animals need to be cared for by humans because they’re domesticated breeds and can’t survive without us.”
So if you think about it from the point of view of what animals need or what animals want, then they need sanctuaries.
Farm animal sanctuaries run contrary to farms for agriculture. For one, sanctuaries require a lot more work and money into the animal then you could get by selling it. There is no commercial reason to run a sanctuary, so they operate for the sake of the animal.
“Sanctuaries also operate for the sake of humans,” John adds.
“We actually benefit if we don’t use animals. Science tells us that eating animals and their products are harmful to us.”
He explains that sanctuaries benefit people by giving them the idea that animals have other ways of living besides being used for food and other products. Humans see animals be given this quality of life and it gives them pause to think about whether they want to harm that animal through consumership.
“When people come and interact with animals in a peaceful and natural setting they start asking questions of themselves. Questions like ‘do I want to kill that animal so I can eat pork chops? Do I want to end its life to eat meat?’ People come to these realizations when they visit sanctuaries,” John says.
John and Kit are the first to acknowledge that in the context of hundreds of millions of animals being killed every year for human use and consumption, the +100 animals who call Out to Pasture home are the lucky few.
The more that people can see animals who are fortunate to spend their final years in a sanctuary, the more we’ll see changes that will take us farther away from the animal agriculture industry. And the more lives that will be saved.
“Sanctuaries are the happy story of the animal rights movement,” John explains. “It might not look like we’re making a dent in the system, but if you could inspire 100 people to make the compassionate choice of going vegan, you’re saving 100,000 animals.”
Our time with John and Kit inspired us to stay the course on our mission to raise awareness of how interconnected we are with the world around us. Spending time at Out to Pasture reminded us that even if hundreds of millions of animals are needlessly killed every year, saving as many as we can by going vegan, or operating an animal sanctuary has a direct and positive impact for the lucky few who do survive.
“Animals very much care about what you eat and what you do, because it affects them. I wish people would remember that as much as possible,” says John.
Out to Pasture Sanctuary is an animal sanctuary located in Estacada, Oregon. They provide a loving, permanent home to animals rescued from abuse, neglect, and slaughter, including farmed animals, animals rescued from scientific laboratories, and others.
They are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that relies on community support. Your donations and volunteer time give a happy life and peace of mind to their rescued residents!
This article is part of a series from The Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour; The Seva Life’s 10,000-kilometer road trip across Canada and the United States to visit and volunteer at animal sanctuaries and raise awareness about compassionate living.