This month we celebrated our 25th anniversary of Animal Place. Check out this interview with co-founder and executive director, Kim Sturla, where she explains how it all began.
What inspired you to start Animal Place and what were you doing before?
I started Animal Place because I was saddened by the degree of suffering farmed animals experience, the lack of laws protecting them, lack of education people had about them, how few people were speaking on their behalf and because I knew that there is something every person can do to help.
Before I co-founded Animal Place, I was running Peninsula Humane Society and living in Pacifica. Starting Animal Place lead me to selling my home, changing to a job that allowed flexibility for me to work at the sanctuary, and moving to Vacaville, CA. on 60-acres of undeveloped land.
When you began, did you ever think Animal Place would grow to be what it is today? What were you originally hoping for?
No, I was hoping to have a shelter to save the animals who had nowhere else to go. We were saving animals from our local shelter, some local unwanted animals, “test animals” from UC Davis and UC San Francisco. We had no real master plan. That’s how it is with most non-profit organizations: you blindly and enthusiastically jump into the water with both feet. The key to success is just being flexible enough to evolve.
Did you have experience with animal care? How did you learn? Did you hire caregivers?
Yes, I was the Peninsula Humane Society director and our co-founder Ned was a veterinarian. We had basic knowledge of animal caregiving, but we had great access to expertise. It was just the two of us for the first ten years, and after that we hired our first employee. She was a pre-vet student who now runs her own organization and is a veterinarian for Sonoma Humane Society. She worked with us mornings and some evenings for years in exchange for free rent.
What options were there for rescued farmed animals in the early 1990s?
There were no options, really. That’s why we adopted our first sanctuary resident, Zelda, from the Peninsula Humane Society. Our adoption staff had worked tirelessly to find her a loving home, but everyone who wanted to adopt her wanted to eat her.
How did you learn to care for individuals who have been bred for early death?
It was a lot of trial and error. Another sanctuary had started a few years before and we did a lot of networking. We often consulted large animal vets from UC Davis. Mostly, it was working through issues as they came along.
What kept you going through difficult times early on?
There was never a time when I thought, “I can’t go on”. What kept me motivated was my very strong commitment to saving animals. It was staying aware and focused on the importance of the work we were doing. I’d occasionally check in with myself to make sure that life was what I wanted, but always came back with the same thing. And here we are 25 years later.
What advice would you give others wanting to start their own farmed animal sanctuary?
I’d advise anyone hoping to start their own sanctuary to spend a lot of time at other sanctuaries. Then, develop a business plan, knowing the initial costs will all come from your own pocket. Mostly, know that this will be a life-long commitment and see it as such.
What are you hoping for the future of Animal Place?
I hope that it continues to grow, save as many lives as possible, and change many hearts and minds. I also hope that we never compromise our core mission of humane education and saving lives.
What are some amazing animal bonds that you’ve witnessed?
A few that stand out are: The way Joe, who was a Jersey steer, would regularly nuzzle and groom Lulu the Pig.
The way Norm (goat) would wait for his elderly goat companion to catch up with the herd. His pal was arthritic and slow-moving and Norm would never leave him.
The way Aloha and Bruce (pigs) would sleep together every single night.
To me, that’s like asking if I have ever witnessed any amazing human bonds — they’re bonding all the time, it’s that basic.
Any favorite rescue stories that moved you?
Yes, in that they are all wonderful. Any large scare rescue is powerful. In 2005 we conducted our first one, and I helped remove 2000+ hens from feces-encrusted cages. In 2013 we liberated 3000 hens and then charted a cargo plane to fly 1100 to east coast sanctuaries. During Katrina, I scooped up hundreds of frail little bodies scattered over destroyed farms. We save 1100 chickens in three nights on Mississippi farms.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, jumping over a fence and trespassing onto an abandoned farm only to document and photograph dying sheep and goats. That was where I saved Sebastian - a sickly week old goat. He was one of the few who made it out of there alive.
When I first saw Bruce, the pig, while investigating a local cruelty case, he was just a skeleton living in mud and muck. Cruelty charges were filed and within 48 hours we received custody and coaxed him into our stock trailer with a bucket of fruit and pastries.
My memories would be far fewer if it was not for you. Thank you for being a part of the awesome work we accomplish together.
Oh, and if you are trying to think of that one special birthday present to give to the animals in celebration of our 25th - try a vegan diet! That is just about the best gift they could ask for!