Just north of Grand Rapids on a 12-acre property live two adults, four kids, seven pigs and five chickens. Dominion Sanctuary, a haven for animals and humans alike, was created by Allie Gadziemski and her husband Jim. Just over three years ago, Allie Gadziemski found herself taking in an abandoned chicken — who ended up living in their home for three days — until she could be placed in a rescue.
With the chicken gone from the living room, Gadziemski’s lifelong dream to take care of mistreated animals could not be put off any longer. She and her husband immediately started looking for a larger property where they could take in animals in need of sanctuary. They found it near Sparta, and on Mother’s Day 2018, Big Carlos the pink pig, and his kids Moana and Mowgli, moved to Dominion Sanctuary. Since then, the sanctuary has officially become a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and four more pigs and five chickens have joined them.
Of course, it’s tempting to keep taking in more animals. But for now, Gadziemski and her family are careful not to grow too fast. That sustainable approach includes limiting their sanctuary opportunities to just pigs and chickens. Keeping their mission tightly focused helps them make sure they can take good care of each one of the animals — and continue enjoying their work to provide a peaceful, loving environment for each creature.
As more people grow increasingly concerned about the environment, health and animal rights, shelters and sanctuaries are becoming more common. Unlike shelters, sanctuaries are not rescuing animals to then send them out to new owners. Instead, when a sanctuary takes in a new resident, it’s usually for life. Sanctuaries often take in neglected, abused or abandoned animals of all kinds, with a mission to provide a humane home for life.
Founded on vegan principles and working to help people “understand the plight of ‘farmed’ animals” and learn about plant-based living, Dominion Sanctuary is helping its West Michigan community to connect to a practice of empathy, embrace collective responsibility and increase sustainable choices in their everyday lives. It’s also the only one in the Grand Rapids area that takes in pigs — Allie’s favorite animal since childhood.
“I’ve been an empath my whole life, so I felt the sadness of what happens to farmed animals pretty heavily, even as a young child,” Gadziemski said. “I just knew in my heart that I was there to be a friend to animals, rather than a consumer of animals.”
Now she and her family all work together to care for the residents. The sanctuary has grown with the help of volunteers providing over 2,000 hours of help in a year and dozens of donors helping pay for food and veterinary care. Together, they’ve created not just a safe place for animals, but a welcoming environment for visitors as well.
Though they’re careful to explain that it’s not a petting zoo or a hobby farm, by which they mean animals don’t have to perform for humans and are not exploited in any way, they do provide chances for donors and other visitors to see and connect with the animals. They provide educational opportunities with events a couple of times a month, like “Pigs & Kids” and “Yoga with Pigs,” as well as monthly tours. These unique events give people a chance to get to know the animals — and their personalities. “It’s a great way,” said Gadziemski, “for people to see the animals as more than just food, but as individuals.”
Perhaps the best event, though, happens on Thanksgiving Day. Over 40 friends and donors join the Gadziemskis on the holiday to provide a feast for the animals — big platters of food are provided for the pigs and chickens. In 2019, one friend even made a cake for the pigs to enjoy. Only after the animals are treated to their feast do the humans go inside for their own plant-based potluck. It’s just one way that the Gadziemski family shows their love to their animals and their appreciation to the donors and volunteers that make Dominion Sanctuary possible. Still in need of more donors and volunteers to help with the cost and work, husband Jim says Dominion has become an inspiration, and a labor of love, for his family and so many more.
“Allie’s really the inspiration to the rest of us,” he said. “She has a very kind and loving heart to do this, and it makes us want to do it with her.”
Her empath beginnings have turned into not just a family enjoying caring for animals together — but a growing community of support.
Not to mention that Big Carlos and his friends have found peace.
Pigs & Kids
Sat. May 23, Sun. May 31
Begins at 10 a.m.
Yoga with Pigs
Sundays at 4 p.m.
June 7, July 12, Aug. 2, Sept. 13
*RSVP needed for all events
Plan a group visit
Small group visits can be arranged on an individual basis.
Become a sponsor, volunteer or donor
Help feed the animals and pitch in on special projects, in person or with your financial support. Visit dominionsanctuary.org for more information.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the above events may be canceled. Check the sanctuary’s website for updates.