Master Hanuman. Photo: Santuario Vale Da Rainha
One day in Brazil, a bull was being transported to get slaughtered for meat but he somehow escaped his fate. He broke through a wall and kept running until he finally made his way to Santuario Vale da Rainha. When he arrived, his face was stained with tears — he was hurt and injured. But when he looked at Patricia Varela, he knew he was in safe and protective hands.
The bull was later named Master Hanuman for his bravery and strength. The bull is but one of the 250 animals that the sanctuary has rescued and provided rehabilitation.
Santuario Vale da Rainha was started by Patricia Varela and her husband, Victor Favano, in 2011. The couple left city life to be close to nature, moving to the countryside to start the sanctuary.
Today, the duo works to rescue and rehabilitate animals, raise awareness and educate the larger public. We spoke to co-founder Patricia Varela about her love for animals, how the sanctuary came into being and why the animals are life’s greatest teachers.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How and when did you decide to start a sanctuary?
I am almost 50 years old, a yoga practitioner, teacher and devotee of life. I was 17 when I turned towards vegetarianism and in my late 30’s I went vegan. Yoga introduced me to a more conscious lifestyle. After my husband Victor and I moved to the countryside, we started the sanctuary in Brazil. I never thought about starting a sanctuary but today, I’m glad I did.
Is there a particular animal or experience that made you want to start the sanctuary?
I had a dream of someone telling me to look after all living creatures. The following day, a friend of mine asked me to adopt her horse because she could no longer take care of him. As soon as the horse arrived at the small farm we were living in, I realized that it could offer space to many other animals in need.
Patricia with Master Amithaba. Photo: Santuario Vale Da Rainha
Interestingly, you call your animals Masters. What does that mean? Describe your relationship with animals.
All my animals are called Master Animals because they are the greatest teachers in the world. They teach us valuable lessons that enrich our lives. I learned unconditional love and forgiveness from them. As I spent more time caring for animals, I noticed that my ‘Master Animals’ taught me to be a learner, student of life, a reverent person willing to learn from every being.
Everyone has something to teach, but we need to find the space within ourselves to let that knowledge come into our souls. My Master Animals taught me to surrender, to trust and to love again. As they heal from their wounds, they heal us and make us better people. It is a powerful experience to embrace a heavy and giant Master Animal who could easily hurt us but they prefer to be gentle. They teach us to be strong and kind just like them.
Your sanctuary focuses on education, rescue and rehabilitation. Tell us, how do you go about doing each of these?
This was a guide from my teacher — Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo. Rescuing them is important and rehabilitation comes as a consequence. Education, therefore, prevents new rescues. Jetsunma says that rescuing them is about compassion. On the other hand, to raise awareness and education awakens people’s consciousness. So we need rescue, rehabilitation and education. Otherwise, we’d have just one wing. We can only fly with both sets of wings. Flying in these terms means the end of oppression by the healing of the oppressor and the victim.
You must experience sad things in a shelter from time to time, such as receiving an abused animal or seeing animals die. How do you deal with it emotionally?
In this journey, I learned that service is not about us. Yes, there is pain, there is sadness, then there is my own drama. But it is not about me. So from an emotional standpoint, I give it all to them. I surrender. I removed myself from the scene and if I am tempted to get caught in my own emotions, I remember their teachings on unconditional love. I cultivate a genuine feeling of gratitude for all seen and felt, for all I have known, for having had the chance to talk and to listen, for having seen their serenity and tranquility knowing they were loved. It is a blessing and never a curse to help an animal.
Children visiting the sanctuary. Photo: Santuario Vale Da Rainha
What’s the most challenging thing about running a sanctuary?
The most challenging thing is dealing with the selfishness and ignorance of people. The majority of people have the ‘I-ME-MINE’ attitude, people are selfish and don’t care for animals and other creatures. When we start caring and begin seeing animals as sentient beings, we don’t harm but serve. But till then, we are in this cosmic school, learning and dealing with the consequences of our own shortcomings. And these consequences challenge us to keep on believing and fighting. We have seen animals in great trauma, tears, pus, blood, we are often tempted to give up. But my personal mantra is to refuse to be another victim of the aggressor who I believe can change — as I’m, myself, trying to be a better human.
What is most rewarding?
One of the most rewarding aspects is realizing that there is a seed of goodness in every person’s heart. We see it blooming when we educate people about the atrocities done to animals. Another rewarding aspect is when I see my Master Animals recovering and wanting to live again. This is actually another distinct teaching of theirs. They always want to live. They know life is still beautiful, no matter how hard it is, they like to put up a good flight.
Can you share a unique story of a rescue operation that you've been part of?
Of course. Once when I was going to a field to rescue a Master Horse many years ago. My husband and I could not understand where his pain was, he could not stand up. We managed to move him from one side to the other, finding his intestines coming out of his belly. The human who abused him also abandoned him in a distant pasture. This Master Horse passed away on my lap, with my husband’s hand on his head. Of course, we wanted to rescue him but it was too late. We were just compassionate and letting the horse’s life take its course. The death of an animal is also very important. There is no beauty in death and sadness, but there is beauty in being embraced when sad. And for each embrace, I am thankful.
Patricia with Master Shiva. Photo: Santuario Vale Da Rainha
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day is when we never know if we will have to get on the road to rescue someone or to stay put treating the ones who have already been rescued — telling their stories day after day in an attempt to let them live through our words. We do not have any routine, any guarantee of having lunch or getting a full night's sleep. But I have no complaints. I honestly consider it a blessing to live a life of service.
Do you have a favorite resident in the sanctuary? Tell us the story behind how this resident got there.
They are all loved in unique ways, there are different connections and bonds, but they are all special. Once, a buffalo arrived pregnant from a dairy farm. The pregnant buffalo led me to study the relationship that once lived between a man and animals. I studied Native Americans, Egyptians, and many cultures to understand the behavior, and I became close friends with this Master Buffalo. My parents have always taught me to be strong. But for some reason, I thought that I could either be strong or kind. But never both. But when this 1,800 pound Master Animal with horns laid carefully on top of me, like a Master Cat, I suddenly understood that love is the strongest aspect of life. Over the years, she has been teaching me to remain strong but remain gentle.
We donate US $1 for every review our members make- what does the $1 look like for the sanctuary?
Every donation means the world to us. All funds revert to this mission to happen, for Masters to have all they need from food to medicine. [We have] more than 250 rescues with almost 140 living in our sanctuary, [so there’s] plenty of work to do.
Suffering is everywhere and animals are mistreated all over the world. We might have given them shelter and care but they create the maximum impact on us. Whatever we do is just a drop in the ocean. But every single person who is transformed and inspires change can save many animals and eventually all. Changing our diet to adopt veganism will make the world a better place to live. We are all an ecosystem and we need each other to live in a sustainable, prosperous world.
abillion onboarded Santuário Vale da Rainha in September, and so far, with your support, we have donated US$18,125. All the donations will go towards building a veterinary hospital to provide medical care to the inhabitants of the sanctuary and the animals in need in their area. Your review matters, your impact matters! Every review you post generates $1 that you can then choose to donate to Santuário Vale da Rainha and other 66 nonprofits on abillion. So create a meaningful impact with each review.