Kinder to animals: life on a small sanctuary

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» Kinder to animals: life on a small sanctuary

Founders of The Base Vegan Retreat Animal Sanctuary, Jacqui and Fiaz, talk about making conscious choices

The Vegan Society Conscious Choices graphic featuring The Base vegan sanctuary staff and white rabbits

Fiaz: Jacqui and I were vegetarian originally and decided to open a vegetarian bed and breakfast. When we became vegan several years ago, the business became vegan too, as we opened our own sanctuary.

Jacqui: We didn’t necessarily plan on rescuing animals – it just happened organically. We homed a few rabbits to start with, and we just kept taking on more animals. We currently look after 44 animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, turkeys, dogs, chickens and ducks. The business pays for the animals – the medical care, feed, enclosures and everything else they need.

What kind of experience do your visitors have?

Fiaz: A lot of people who come to stay are curious about change. We have a lot of meat eaters come and stay, and we talk to them and hopefully sow some seeds before they leave.

Jacqui: The animals are free roaming here, so everyone who stays sees them and interacts with them. There’s quite a reflective atmosphere here. People come and they think about their choices, and the things they’re doing in their life every day. Lots of people start a vegan journey after coming to stay.

For example, we do ‘bunny picnics’ with our guests. We put a blanket down as well as a beautiful bowl of food for the rabbits – cabbage and carrots and herbs. The kids will wait for the rabbits to come over and then feed them.

Walk me through a typical day in the life at The Base Vegan Animal Sanctuary

Jacqui: It’s different every day, but there’s always an early start! Today I took a guinea pig to the vets for a procedure while Fiaz created new housing for the animals. There’s also cleaning and preparing for guests, as well as feeding the animals.

As you know, we recently came to film some of the animals at The Base for our Conscious Choices campaign, which is all about encouraging people to make everyday swaps that are kinder to animals. Rabbits and guinea pigs are so often used in animal testing, for cosmetics and toiletries. How different are the lives of your rabbits and guinea pigs from those animals?

Fiaz: It’s night and day. Our main goal here is to allow the animals to have choices, whether it’s burrowing and digging, or socialising and chasing each other across the lawns. We have animal welfare at the heart of our sanctuary. It couldn’t be further from what happens in those labs.

Jacqui: In labs, animals are kept separate and alone. Rabbits and guinea pigs need companionship. We have no animals living alone here. Socially, the rabbits especially are fascinating, and we have small groups of rabbits living together around the garden and in different bonded groups.

Occasionally you’ll have a rabbit who wants to switch into a different group. They’ll slowly start spending more time with the other group, and then they’ll actually move house. The social groups are in constant renegotiation.

Tell me about some of your newest rescue animals

Fiaz: We have many rescued animals: we recently had a guinea pig arrive, and then we realised that she was a pregnant mama. She gave birth to three little babies – we called them Sage, Parsley and Thyme.

Jacqui: She was such a good little mama with her three babies, and she was so protective over them. A lot of people don’t realise how sensitive animals like guinea pigs are.

Fiaz: Guinea pigs have big vocabularies as well. The guineas at our sanctuary squeak when they’re hungry. They make a kind of purring noise when they’re happy and chirpy noises when they’re excited.

What would you want to say to individuals who are involved in testing cosmetic products on animals or who buy those products?

Jacqui: I’d want to highlight that it doesn’t work. Humans and other animals react so differently to ingredients and products, so it’s unnecessary as well as cruel.

Fiaz: Buying vegan products is a vote for a different world. We need to do other things too – educate people, raise awareness and campaign.

The Base Vegan Sanctuary staff member Jacqui, holding a guinea pig

What does making conscious choices mean to you?

Jacqui: It feels to me like a sense of freedom. People say you’re giving things up and it’s a hardship, but I always say it’s a freedom to wake up every morning and know you’re not contributing to animal suffering.

Fiaz: It gives me a sense of control too. In a world that is often unpredictable and overwhelming, we can’t control much. But I can choose what I’m eating and what I’m buying.

What’s it like to look after so many animals?

Fiaz: It’s very grounding and an act of service. You know you’re doing something important, looking after someone besides yourself, which in turn is very good for you. Whatever else is going on, I know that first I’ve got to look after the animals, feed the animals and ensure that they’re safe.

Jacqui: I get up feeling very excited to do it every morning. I love watching the animals and observing their behaviours, and I get so much pleasure seeing them follow their basic instinctive behaviours like digging. It brings me so much joy.

I would encourage everyone reading to take the time to think about how amazing other animals are. They’re here with us, not for us. We can all take small steps to be kinder to animals every day.

For more information please visit the Conscious Choices campaign page. Follow The Vegan Society on FacebookInstagram and X and use the hashtag #ConsciousChoices to join the conversation! Find out more about The Base Vegan Animal Sanctuary at

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