How to Visit an Animal Sanctuary

Written by Alysa Tarrant

In the United States alone there are hundreds if not thousands of animal sanctuariesBut what exactly are animal sanctuaries, and are all sanctuaries created equal? In this article, we’ll explore the questions you may have about animal sanctuaries and the answers might surprise you. Keep reading to learn more!

Finding and Visiting a Reputable Animal Sanctuary

Perhaps you’ve just learned about a great animal sanctuary near you or you’re headed on a trip and want to stop at a sanctuary along the way. The sanctuary’s website is the best way to learn if they give tours, what their hours are, and if there is an entrance fee. Most sanctuaries will ask for a small donation that helps them to provide food and shelter for their animals. 

If you’re unable to learn about this information from this website, or if they don’t have a website, give them a call. Generally, sanctuaries are happy to have visitors who can share their love with the animals, but it’s always best to check. 


 True animal sanctuaries generally make it very clear that they are non-profits. If this information is unclear or unavailable, the so-called “sanctuary” might really be a petting zoo or someone with unlicensed and exploited animals in their backyard. Head to the “What Makes a Reputable Animal Sanctuary” section below if you want more information

Tips for Visiting an Animal Sanctuary

Be sure to check with the individual sanctuary as they will all have different rules to help keep both the animals and visitors safe.

  • Make a donation: Even if the donation is “suggested”, it’s polite to make a small contribution. If the sanctuary is a certified non-profit organization, you know that the money goes toward feeding and sheltering the animals, as well as paying their pricey vet bills.
  • Ask before touching: Animals are just like people! Some love cuddles and others want to be left alone. Some pigs like to be scratched behind their ears while for others, this might be a sensitive spot and they prefer their bellies to be scratched. It’s always best to ask your guide before touching an animal in order to avoid bites, scratches, or unhappy animals.
  • Take a tour: The best way to make the most out of your time at a sanctuary is to take a tour. Experienced guides will know the animals well and will be able to tell you about their likes and dislikes as well as their history and arrival at the sanctuary.
  • Purchase something from the gift shop: If the sanctuary has a gift store, buy a little something. The profits will go back to the sanctuary and you’ll also be providing free advertising. This will generate more interest in their efforts. 



Are Sanctuaries Good for Animals?

Reputable sanctuaries are incredibly good for animals! The animals that live in these sanctuaries are often rescued from horrible situations. Some animals are rescued from factory farms where they would have faced inevitable slaughter, while others come from zoos or tourist attractions.

Animal sanctuaries allow the animals to live out their lives in a peaceful and harm-free way. They’re able to run around and be social with others, get enough food, water, and sleep, without being tortured into performing or killed for human consumption.

What Makes a Reputable Animal Sanctuary?

Not all sanctuaries are good!

It’s so important to do your research before going to a sanctuary because some places pretend to be sanctuaries in order to get money, none of which goes towards the wellbeing of the animals. 

For example, there’s been a lot of discussion about elephant sanctuaries in Thailand recently. This article from National Geographic provides some in-depth information on the topic, but if you don’t have time to read it, here’s the takeaway: Reporters discovered that an elephant sanctuary in Thailand was owned by the same group that owned an elephant circus just down the road. The elephants were rotated between the “sanctuary” and the circus, where they were tortured into performing for and giving rides to tourists. This just goes to show that not all sanctuaries are what they claim to be! When it comes to wildlife sanctuaries, if you can touch it or get near it for a photo, it’s not a good place.

bear in sanctuary

On the other hand, farm animal sanctuaries are a little bit different. Domesticated animals like pigs, cats, dogs, goats etc. are more familiar with human interaction. In either case, it should be the animal’s choice to come to you.

If you’re still uncertain about whether or not a sanctuary is reputable and actually good for the animals, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Is the sanctuary accredited?
  • Is it a certified non-profit?
  • Do the website links direct you to information? If they keep leading you back in circles, this is a red flag.
  • How are the animals housed? Real sanctuaries won’t lock animals up in small cages, they’ll do their best to replicate the animal’s natural habitat.
  • Do the animals have enrichment opportunities? Just like humans, animals get bored when they have nothing to do. Good sanctuaries will offer animals places to play and things to play with.
  • Are animals bred? Reputable sanctuaries do not breed their animals.
  • How are animals acquired? All animals should be rescues and should never be taken out of the wild. 
  • Specifically for exotic and wildlife sanctuaries: are visitors are allowed to touch, hold, or even stand close to the wildlife? If it’s not an animal you would want to run into in the wild (elephant, giraffe, wolf, tiger, lion, fox) and the sanctuary promises a safe encounter, it’s probably not a good sanctuary. Even if they let you hold/touch a baby animal, this is a major red flag! It’s incredibly stressful for the animals and in order to make them cooperative, the animals are usually drugged or chained.

If you’re not sure about the ethics of a sanctuary, or if something still doesn’t seem right, don’t visit! 

elephant sanctuary

How Can You Help Our Sanctuary

If you want to help our sanctuary, give us a visit! If you’re not in the area, we can always use volunteers or donations which always go towards helping our animals live a long, healthy, and happy life.



Your Support Makes a Great Life for our Rescued Animals Possible