Find out how to Save a Sanctuary

Founded in 2016, Charlie’s Acres – a farm animal shelter in Sonoma, California – has been a place where visitors can socialize with animals rescued from traumatic circumstances.

But in March, when Sonoma County was issuing protection orders to curb the spread of COVID-19, personal tours were canceled. An important source of income evaporated overnight and part-time workers were laid off. In connection with voluntary freezing, fewer people had to care for the animals.

Within a few weeks, we realized we had to adapt, says Tracy Vogt, founder of Charlie’s Acres. Indeed, the innovations Vogt and the leaders of other sanctuaries led in the COVID-19 era to survive show that wildlife sanctuaries, while vulnerable, are also resilient – just like the animals they call home.

Virtual visits
Every resident of Charlie’s Acres – nearly 150 pigs, goats, cows, chickens, and more – has their own story of evading abuse, lab tests, or even the plate. By sharing animal stories on tours, the sanctuary aims to educate visitors about how animal and human protection are intertwined. Tour guides usually provide information on how [visitors] can personally make decisions about food and what they can do to help animals fight climate change and help their own health, ”says Vogt.

With tours at the heart of the sanctuary’s educational mission and business model, Vogt knew she needed to find a way to keep it going during the pandemic. Charlie’s Acres, like many other sanctuaries, quickly evolved into offering virtual tours and they have proven very popular. “It’s basically the same as a personal tour,” says Vogt. “Unfortunately, you cannot experience the petting in person.” One silver lining is that online tours have expanded Charlie’s Acres audiences, with people from all over the world signing up.

In June, Charlie’s Acres was able to resume in-person tours – limited to 10 people each and with COVID-19 safety protocols in place – but demand for these tours is below that of pre-pandemic demand. However, virtual tours are still going strong.

A new point of contact

In April, Charlie’s Acres participated in another online innovation called “Goat 2 Meetings,” developed by Sweet Farm, an animal shelter in Half Moon Bay, CA. Companies and individuals can rent a goat or other animal for online meetings or virtual events such as birthday parties and happy hours “Zoom-Bomb”, which brings unexpected joy to attendees. As Zoom meetings became a lifestyle, the Goat 2 meetings grew in popularity.

Charlie’s Acres was so busy handling requests for Goat 2 meetings that in April Vogt was able to put some of the part-time workers on hold she had laid off in March. Although demand has declined since June, the meetings during the months of lodging were a ray of hope for the sanctuary’s bottom line.

A long way

While online listings have helped make up for lost personal tour revenues, Charlie’s Acres and other protected areas are still facing additional financial hardship. For one, Charlie’s Acres missed the opportunity to raise funds at its first-ever gala fundraiser, which was scheduled for early May, but has been postponed indefinitely due to restrictions on personal gatherings.

There was also a decline in the purchase of goods, sales of fresh produce from the shrine garden, and donations. Since the outbreak of the pandemic: “We haven’t seen very many monthly donors. People are more reluctant to get involved, ”says Vogt, probably due to the fragile economy.

In August, one-time donations of funds and supplies spiked as Charlie’s Acres became an evacuation site for animals and workers from nearby sanctuaries displaced by local forest fires. The need for support in protected areas – financially and otherwise – continues to exist (see “Lend a hand”).

Moo-ving forward

Charlie’s Acres continues to explore new ways to adapt in the midst of the pandemic – for example, by developing virtual educational programs for children.

And with the holidays on the horizon, Vogt hopes that supporters of the sanctuary will consider giving animal sponsorships as gifts. Each sponsorship serves to supply individual animals with food, veterinary care and much more and includes prey with animal motifs. At a time when COVID-19 has disrupted human interactions, sponsorships convey the joy of building a bond with a new friend – blurry or feathered.


Consider these creative ways to help your local animal shelter.

  • Make a wish come true: Buy supplies from the sanctuary wishlist.
  • Take action: Become a community animal advocate.
  • Spread the word: Share the sanctuary’s social media posts.

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