His mission is to make sure that every animal in his care lives a cruelty-free life. 

By Hana Hong
August 13, 2020
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Christopher Vane, Little Bear Sanctuary
@littlebearsanctuary/instagram

The average family has a couple animals—maybe more in more extreme cases—but 58-year-old Christopher Vane is not an average person. He has over 150 pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, goats, and even a 15-year-old tortoise named Keisha.

Vane's mission is to rescue farm animals from slaughter so they can live out their lives in peace. His no-kill sanctuary is called Little Bear Sanctuary, a 30-acre property in Punta Gorda, Fla. where animals are free to roam in their natural habitat instead of being locked in cages. Because of its high standards for animal care and business practices, it’s considered a verified “true sanctuary” by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

The animals in Christopher’s care are a mix of abused farm animals and animals who were abandoned by their owners. When asked about his favorite animal at the sanctuary, Christopher said he has a special fondness for the very first resident at the sanctuary—a 300-pound pig named Willy. 

There’s even an odd pig couple—two pigs named Casper, a 1,000-pound Yorkshire pig, and Elvis, a svelte 200-pound potbellied pig—who, despite their size differences, are best friends. 

Vane has a particular fondness for pigs and is passionate about pig education. Like other pigs on the property, Willy was bought as a pet but surrendered when he got “too big,” which is unfortunately what happens too often with pigs that are purposely malnourished and then marketed as “miniature.” According to Vane, a few of his rescued pigs remained small from chronic malnourishment before rescue and suffered bone defects as a result.

Willy was trained to sit before he got to the sanctuary, but Vane says Willy taught all the other pigs at Little Bear Sanctuary to sit too. “I’ve heard that pigs teach each other stuff, but to see that in real life was pretty amazing,” said Vane. “It just kind of cements their intelligence.”

Vane decided to name Little Bear Sanctuary in honor of his late mother, Ursula, which translates to little bear in Latin. Christopher says he remembers one very important wish she had: “When I die, I’m going to have a barn up in heaven. And I’m going to have all the animals and they’re going to stay with me.”

Although Ursula passed away about six months prior to the shelter’s inception, Vane says working with the animals has been a great way to handle the loss and grief he had upon losing his mother. 

“She was my biggest supporter,” Vane told TODAY. “She taught me compassion. She always loved animals. I know she’s looking down on us.”

Prior to saving animals, Vane was a real estate agent, physician assistant, and veterinary technician. Now, Little Bear Sanctuary is a full-time job that he runs with his husband, Randy Sellers. Naturally, they’re both vegans.

Vane's work in combating animal abuse has even garnered national attention, and he recently won this month’s GoFundMe's Hero award, spotlighting excellence in utilizing the crowdfunding platform for good causes.

If you want to support Little Bear Sanctuary, you can sponsor a farm animal, volunteer, or give a donation on their GoFundMe page to help keep the place running. The organization also has an Amazon wish list if you want to buy items directly for the individual animals. Vane says he hopes to secure $55,000 in funding to expand the sanctuary by another 20 acres and construct an area for visitors. 

“We really want to bring the community in. It’s part of our mission. We really want to be a destination here and have a beautiful space for visitors,” said Vane. “Every day when I walk outside the house, it just makes me smile. You can’t be depressed here. These animals just change your day.”