House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary via Facebook
House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary via Facebook

10 Animal Retirement Homes

House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary via Facebook
House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary via Facebook

Shelters have a hard time finding adoptive families for elderly pets, animals with disabilities or chronic medical conditions, large animals that need special facilities, and working animals who have outlived their usefulness. Some people have stepped up to provide permanent care for these animals, so that they can live out their lives in comfort and security.    

1. OLD FRIENDS FARM

Many thoroughbreds are born each year, but only a few can be champion racehorses. Of the rest, some become pets and a few will be used for breeding stock, but even they become old eventually. In 2002, the public was shocked to hear that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sent to a slaughterhouse. The Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen was already trying to raise money to start a thoroughbred retirement farm, and the response to Ferdinand's fate brought in enough donations to open Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky. That's where former champion racehorses live out their retirement years alongside thoroughbreds that never raced—160 horses in all. The farm in Georgetown and its other locations in Franklin, Kentucky, and Greenfield Center, New York, are open to the public daily. Pictured above is 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, who is now a resident of Old Friends.   

2. CHIMP HAVEN

For decades, the U.S. produced medical breakthroughs with the help of experimental lab animals, including hundreds of chimpanzees. When animal testing began declining, research centers found themselves with a surplus of elderly chimps. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) founded chimpanzee retirement farms, funded through the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act.

Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana, is the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, home to more than 200 retired research chimpanzees on 200 acres of forest land. The chimps are free to roam, build their own nests, and associate with each other as they please. The staff at Chimp Haven interacts with the chimps to ensure they have veterinary care, complete nutrition, and enrichment.

3. HEARTS THAT PURR

Hearts That Purr Feline Guardians via Facebook

Elderly people worry about what will happen to their cats if something happens to them. In Tucson, Arizona, they know that their pets can be taken in by Hearts that Purr Feline Guardians. The cats that come into their care live in a family environment, but the demand is more than the home can provide. Founder Jeanmarie Schiller-McGinnis began a foster care program to help alleviate overcrowding by placing cats with other elderly people who could use a companion pet. The foster cats remain under the guardianship of Hearts That Purr in case something happens. Some of the cats are available for permanent adoption.     

4. HOUSE WITH A HEART

Dogs of advanced age and dogs with disabilities have a hard time finding homes because they present unique challenges and potential expenses not usually associated with the many younger dogs available for adoption. In 2006, Joe and Sher Polvinale turned their Gaithersburg, Maryland, home into a pet sanctuary for such hard-to-place canines. Joe has since passed away, but Sher continues to run House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary, a retirement home for elderly and special needs dogs. With the help of a team of volunteers, the dogs get proper care and lots of affection.  

5. SHEBA'S HAVEN RESCUE

Sheba's Haven Rescue via Facebook

Sheba's Haven Rescue in Inverary, Ontario, Canada, is both a retirement home and a hospice for dogs. It takes in shelter dogs with incurable illnesses, disabilities, or limited lifespans and offers a loving family environment and palliative care. The resident dogs have three acres to explore, and orthotics, such as wheels, for those who need them. Dogs that are able can visit a local nursing home to spend time with human residents on Wednesdays. Dogs that were considered unadoptable have a permanent home at Sheba's Haven.       

6. THE SHANNON FOUNDATION

The Shannon Foundation via Facebook

The Shannon Foundation is a farm in St. Clair, Missouri, where all kinds of retired pets and farm animals can live out their lives. Current residents of the 100-acre farm include dogs, cats, horses, llamas, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry, deer, a Fennec fox, and exotic pet birds. Some are special needs pets from shelters, others came when their owners died, and some were rescued from abusive situations. A few of the younger animals—including sugar gliders, emus, and horses, as well as cats and dogs—are available for adoption.  

7. THE CENTER FOR ELEPHANT CONSERVATION

In May of 2016, Ringling Bros. Circus officially retired their last 11 circus elephants to a sanctuary in Florida. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation sits on 200 acres of land between Tampa and Orlando. The facility holds 40 Asian elephants who have either retired from the circus since 1995, or are offspring of retirees.

8. THE ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN TENNESSEE

Ringling's Florida facility is not the first elephant retirement village in the U.S., nor the largest. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has 13 elephants who retired from zoos and circuses and live on more than 2700 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

9. ELEPHANT NATURE PARK

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a retirement home for elephants that have spent their lives working in transportation and heavy lifting, or were rescued from abusive owners. Elephant Nature Park is supported by tourism, and runs various elephant care projects in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

10. BIG CAT RESCUE

People are enamored with the idea of an exotic pet, like a wildcat, but then find that a full-grown wild animal is too much: too expensive to feed, too strong to live with, and in need of too much time and space. Exotic wildcats raised in captivity can't go to a normal shelter and can never be returned to their native habitats.

Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, provides a permanent shelter for big cats and exotic wildcats that began their lives in captivity. In addition to abandoned pets, they take in cats rescued from roadside zoos, circuses, and other stressful situations. The current population includes lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, cougars, bobcats, servals, ocelots, and more. Their mission is to give big cats as wonderful a home as possible, but Big Cat Rescue also lobbies against the exotic pet trade and works to educate the public about wildlife issues. They also have a great YouTube channel

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14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
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Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.

1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.

A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.
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So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.

2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.

A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
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It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: An eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.

3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.

Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.
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Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch them themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).

4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE ...

Two bald eagles perched on a tree.
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Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: The male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.

5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.

Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.
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Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.

6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
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Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.

7. FEMALES ARE LARGER THAN MALES.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
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In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weigh about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.

8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.

A bald eagle flies across the water.
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People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.

9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.

Baby eagle chicks in a nest.
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Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.

10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.

An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
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You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.

11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.

A bald eagle carries a fish off in its talons.
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It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.

12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.

Close-up of a bald eagle's face.
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What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.

13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.

A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.
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If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.

14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.

A bald eagle
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There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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