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How it All Began

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The idea of dropping everything, selling homes, and moving to a blank-slate piece of property in rural northern California to rescue farmed animals is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it sounds downright frightening!

And yet that is exactly what Kim Sturla and Ned Buyukmihci did in 1988 – both sold their homes, emptied their savings account, and purchased 60-acres of raw land in Vacaville, CA.No electricity. No fences. No barns. No permanent home. No phone. Only a trailer and the conviction that what they were doing was right.

For Ned, a veterinary ophthalmologist and professor at UC Davis, providing sanctuary to rescued farmed animals not only helped those individuals but also offered him a respite from the barrage of anti-animal sentiment at research-rich UC Davis.

Says Ned, “I wasn’t so naive that I thought starting a sanctuary for farmed animals would make a difference in the astronomical numbers being raised and killed each year. But giving those individuals a chance to live their lives to the fullest mattered to them and from a purely selfish point, I enjoyed living with and being around these wonderful individuals.”

While working at a Bay Area humane society, Kim saw firsthand her colleagues’ disconnect toward farmed animals. Before she became the Executive Director, the shelter took in a pink farm pig. The shelter staff named her Zelda and doted on her.

“We’d all take breaks and visit Zelda in her straw-filled dog kennel and feed her peanut butter sandwiches. Everyone loved her.” But when it came time to find a home for Zelda, the only offers came from people interested in slaughtering and eating her.

Kim and her colleagues knew this was unacceptable and they refused to adopt her to anyone interested in killing her.

“But at around the same time we were trying to find Zelda a home, we held a fundraising event in which ham was served to raise money for dog kennels. No one seemed to make the connection. While they gave treats to Zelda, they were snacking on her brothers and sisters!”

That year, 1989, Zelda became the first official resident of newly incorporated Animal Place. It had taken a year to build fencing and the first barn, but the sanctuary was now ready for residents. For the next ten years, Ned and Kim would be the sole caregivers and funders, volunteering at the sanctuary while working full-time jobs.

What started as volunteer-run, small sanctuary has over the years transformed into one of the most respected sanctuaries in the country.  For years, Ned and Kim had done more than simply care – the sanctuary was a physical reflection of their compassion in action. Today, it is a model sanctuary with a 600-acre sanctuary, a new 12-acre rescue and adoption center, a 7-acre Guest House, a 15-acre residential internship property, and a dedicated team of more than 25 employees!

But in the beginning, it was just Kim and Ned, some raw land, and a germinating idea of making something important for farmed animals out of nothing.

– Marji Beach, Education Director

5 Responses so far.

  1. Kay Warren says:

    Enables those of us who care but don’t know exactly what to do
    to dream bigger.
    I’ve taken in needy animals my entire life… a few at a time.
    I want to work with more but don’t know how to start or with
    whom….also not sure about with which animals.

    As soon as I can organize my life to do so I want to volunteer at
    different animal refuges/sanctuaries to get more training & perhaps
    reach a decision.

  2. Charlotte Elizabeth Gray says:

    An amazing story with such tender hearted dedication it causes pain and tears.
    God bless you all! I have no income, but I pray for you. God’s creation is loved and respected by you, as good stewards and human beings.

  3. Katie (Kaiting) Yu says:

    I have nothing but pure admiration for people like Kim & Ned who not only gave their all for a cause that most humans don’t give a fleeting thought about, but also succeeded through various trials & tribulations over a 30-yr. time span.

  4. Your story is so very inspirational and gives us hope! I’ve attached a link to our FB page. We’re a fledgling animal sanctuary in Burton, B.C. with pigs, goats, horses, geese, sheep, alpacas, a llama and quite a few dogs. We hope to have cows and chickens this year. Our vision includes an education centre, a guest house, and a vegan cafe. Our mission involves helping people make that connection between these very special beings and the food on their plates, the clothes they wear and the products they use.

    We have a small but incredibly dedicated group of volunteers. We’re looking for any advice or information you could give us that would help us along this path. Wishing you continued success and joy!

    Very Best Regards,
    Laurel Dhalla

    • Claire C says:

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for dedicating your life to helping animals! We wish you luck!

      If you have any specific questions/advice needed, you can send an email to info@animalplace.org . Thank you!