I don't talk about my day job very often, but I've worked in the pet care industry for the last four years. The company I work for donates money to animal charities (over £3.5 million so far) and in December I was given £50,000 of the charities budget to spend on four animal charities of my choice. Understandably I was thrilled to bits!
With £50,000 to play with, and free rein to do what I wanted with it, I chose to give £12,000 in cash to four of my favourite animal charities, and then spent the remainder on physical goods from their wish lists. This included all sorts from food and bedding to cleaning supplies and tools. I'm not exaggerating when I say that calling four charities I really care about and telling them about the donations was the best day I've ever had at any job I've ever had - and I've had a few!
That was, however, until yesterday. Because yesterday I got to visit one of those charities and meet some of the animals who are benefiting from the money.
I went to F.R.I.E.N.D. Farm Animal Rescue in Kent with my lovely colleague Gillian, armed with my DSLR and a car boot full of cat food and fencing supplies. Gillian almost got attacked by the geese in the yard, which obviously wasn't at all funny. The rescue's owner, Mark, showed us around and told us the story of how his late wife, Marion, started the sanctuary after rescuing a lamb from a livestock market. With his trusty volunteers, he keeps the place going in her memory, and the site is home to dozens of animals who will get to live out the rest of their natural lives without the threat of being neglected, abused or slaughtered for their meat.
I had expected the field trip (pun intended) to cement my vegetarianism, and it did. But one thing I didn't expect was for the day to remind me about what I really want out of my life, and even give me an epiphany about how to achieve it.
I've known for years that I want to run an animal sanctuary of my own. Ever since I first watched The Good Life (for the uninitiated it's a TV show about a couple who decide to run a smallholding from their suburban garden), knowing I couldn't eat animals that I raised, I knew I wanted to save as many animals as I could from being hurt, forgotten or used. Saving animals means more to me than almost anything in the world.
I've done a little in the last few years by rescuing rabbits from some, for want of a better word, shitty homes. I have four at the moment, and intend to keep them in safety and happiness for the rest of their natural lives, but I've cared for over a dozen more, some with appalling health troubles because of terrible care from their previous owners.
You might not think a farm in Kent would be the place to have a moment of personal clarity, but I did. I have always known I wanted to own an animal sanctuary, but being ankle-deep in mud and surrounded by happy animals I suddenly knew that it's not something I want to do, but something I have to do. And I think I know how I'm going to do it.
I think it's pretty obvious that I can't run an animal sanctuary out of my new home, because it's got a tiny yard which is only really spacious enough for the animals I already have. But I have a plan. I'm still working on the finer points of it, and when I've nailed it down you'll be the first to know, dear readers. However this much I can tell you:
- Støre by Elena Bjørn will be back in 2018
- I am now offering free digital marketing help to animal charities
- You will be seeing much more content about my visits to animal sanctuaries in 2018