Like many of you who read Diana’s blog yesterday, I was moved to tears thinking about all of the captive chimpanzees who have spent most or all of their lives in biomedical research and who have never known a life of sanctuary. Instead, their only perspective of life thus far is from behind metal bars, with no autonomy, no hope. And her post got me to thinking about what it means to provide sanctuary for Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy and Negra and what it possibly means to each one of them.
Webster’s dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter” and “the protection that is provided by a safe place.” To me, that definition just doesn’t seem to convey the whole meaning of what I think the word sanctuary means.
I certainly agree that sanctuary means a “safe” place where someone is protected. But, I also think sanctuary means so much more than just that. To provide sanctuary also means to provide a place where each and every chimpanzee can feel the sun on their face and grass beneath their feet. It means providing opportunity for each of them to make choices on behalf of themselves, like whether or not to go outdoors or stay inside and nap or to play a game of chase or pass the troll with human caregivers. It also means providing a space in which there are no expectations of any of them other than for them to be themselves; essentially providing a place where they call the shots. And sanctuary means providing a home where they can feel hope, love and a place they consider their true home. This is what providing sanctuary means to me.
And finally, for me, sanctuary means that we humans are here for these chimpanzees, they are not here for us. I look forward to the day when all chimpanzees currently in captivity are retired to a true sanctuary.