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The Farmed Animal Sanctuary Movement: A Role for Social Work in Veterinary Medicine

Room C

1 CE Hour

Presented By

  • -
    In-Person, Live Webinar



Farmed animal sanctuaries provide cruelty-free living to animals traditionally commodified by animal agriculture. The first farm animal sanctuary in the US was founded in 1986 in Watkins Glen, NY with a mission “to combat the abuses of factory farming, advocate for institutional reforms, and encourage a new awareness and understanding of farm animals and the benefits of plant-based living.” Farmed animal sanctuaries are self-identified as organizations committed to offering a cruelty-free environment for animals to live out their natural lives and flourish. Unlike rescues and adoption organizations, sanctuaries often keep all of the animals in their care and do not typically place animals elsewhere. Sanctuary work is animal-centered and non-exploitative. By “centering” the animals, often referred to as “residents,” sanctuaries are designed to promote thriving and not just respite from cruelty.


The demand for veterinary care of sanctuary residents, including species that have traditionally only lived brief or constrained “working” lives, has substantially increased. This includes care of adult production animals, animals born with disabilities rendering them unusable in farming, and animals severely injured from breeding and “working” conditions. Using extensive social media networks to raise funds, sanctuary organizations often manage to afford expensive and exhaustive life-saving treatments. This emerging type of veterinary practice, one that we might call “Sanctuary Medicine,” presents exciting opportunities for veterinarians, veterinary teams and students.


Veterinarians are not always trained to treat conditions that may develop when farm animals are maintained as companions or are living in a sanctuary setting. For example, the treatment of complex acute and chronic conditions for an animal that was rescued from being “downed” at a farm can strain the standard components of veterinary curriculum and specialty training. Similarly, the orthopedic needs of a piglet who shattered her back legs falling off a transport truck on the highway can put care providers in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. Concurrent to this expectation for more advanced care is farmed animal species’ designation under the USDA as food-producing animals, thereby limiting administration of certain medications. As large animal veterinary medicine faces a higher percentage of hospitalized patients needing advanced care, the risk of distress and burnout increases.


In this presentation, we will use a case study from a hospitalized sanctuary resident to explore the role that veterinary social work can play in supporting all members of the care team, including the sanctuary owners. Social work is uniquely suited to be in this role given our training in meeting people where they are and honoring the dignity and worth of all beings.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Describe the rise of the farmed animal sanctuary movement.

  • Summarize examples of challenges faced by veterinarians caring for patients living in sanctuary.

  • Discuss the opportunities for social work in the farmed animal sanctuary movement.

CE Policy
This course is fiscally sponsored by International Association of Veterinary Social Work . There may be potential biases or conflicts of interest inherent to this relationship, and it must be disclosed to participants. These conflicts of interest have no bearing on the course content and have been resolved.
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