Thursday, February 28, 2013

Saving Lives and Changing Hearts

New Kid's Book is About Animal Sanctuaries

OK, first the requisite disclaimer. The author of “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts: Animal Sanctuaries and Rescue Centres,” Rob Laidlaw, is a close friend and colleague, and the back cover has a blurb by another close friend and colleague, Adam Roberts. The book mentions Born Free USA’s own primate sanctuary, in Texas. That said, the fact is that this is a book I’d praise even if I had no connection to it in any way, because it is something I have longed wished to see, well done. I just wish there were a version for adults.

But this is for kids, one of a series of such books by Laidlaw that introduces young readers to the pluses and minuses of animals, particularly wildlife, in captivity. His two earlier volumes, both recommended, deal with animals in zoos (“Wild Animals in Captivity”) and animals used in entertainment (“On Parade: The Hidden World of Animals in Entertainment”). “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts” takes the reader on a tour of animal sanctuaries and rescue facilities around the world.

Laidlaw defines an animal sanctuary as “a place of refuge for unwanted, neglected, abused, injured or abandoned animals,” and breaks them down into three types: those that take in domestic farm animals; equine sanctuaries for horses, donkeys and mules; and wildlife sanctuaries that accommodate any of a wide range of animals wild by nature.

If there is something close to a common denominator linking the animals who wind up in such sanctuaries, it might be called “good luck.” But also, as a rule, the animals have survived some level, sometimes horrific, of abuse before finally winding up in a sanctuary. Domestic animals have fallen off trucks on their tortuous way to slaughterhouses; wild animals have lived for years in tiny cages or made to perform stupid tricks on some stage, or horribly abused in laboratories. Many come from situations where they were in the control of inept, or uncaring, people, to sanctuaries where there is specialized knowledge and adequate homes.

The common theme linking the incredibly diverse assortment of animal sanctuaries featured is that they provide, as well as is possible, what is needed by each species, or group of species. Here is a sanctuary for turtles and tortoises, another for lions, and another for parrots, and one for chimpanzees, and another for pigs and other livestock.

The line between sanctuary and rehabilitation center is a little blurred in places, although the latter, such as International Bird Rescue Research Center, tend to involve rescue, as well as rehabilitation, and Laidlaw tells me he is thinking of a book focused on wildlife rehab. I hope so, because the overall format works so well. It’s not merely an iteration of various sanctuaries, but also kid-friendly descriptions of what is involved in establishing and maintaining an effective sanctuary.

Some may be very small, back-yard operations, while others, like the wonderful Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), co-founded by the recently deceased and much beloved Pat Derby, are huge.
Often Laidlaw focuses on an individual animal, such as Maggie, the elephant who languished in an Alaskan zoo until, in 2008, she was sent to PAWS, where she has flourished, or an old friend of my own, Audrey, the turtle who stayed with me for several weeks after being rescued from a bucket where she had languished for 20 years on a diet of egg whites (see:>), now in a turtle haven, Lil Res Q, with proper food and proper diet and space to roam and do turtle things.

I don’t want to sound all preachy and sentimental, but to me this is the kind of book for which there is a pressing social need. Its greatest value, I think, is in introducing children to the concept of simple caring in the form of interspecific altruism, and to show them people whose humanity bursts through the species barrier to accommodate at least some of the innocent and voiceless victims we humans produce in such staggering numbers. For billions of thinking, feeling creatures, we are the villain. But within our midst there are heroes and good guys, and good deeds worth knowing about.

I warmly recommend “Saving Lives & Changing Hearts: Animal Sanctuaries and Rescue Centres.” (Here’s a link to buy the book in Canada and here's one for the United States.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA