As Christopher Vane attended a real estate seminar in 2015, he was physically there, but his mind was elsewhere. He had wanted to become a veterinarian ever since he was a little boy.
However, life didn’t go as planned, and by 2003 he was in Miami pursuing a real estate career. He’d become a vegan at the time, and due to this shift in his principles, his love for animals took center stage in his life.
When the speaker began to delve into the subject of following one’s passion, that’s when it hit him – he had to follow what his heart really wants.
The product of that realization is the 30-acre Little Bear Sanctuary, a rescue operation in Punta Gorda built out of his love for animals and his mother, Ursula. In fact, he named the shelter in her honor (Ursula means “little bear” in Latin). During the final years of her life, his mom always used to say: “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.”
Sadly, Ursula passed away about six months before her son opened the no-kill sanctuary for farm animals.
“She was my biggest supporter,” Chris, 58, told TODAY. “She taught me compassion. She always loved animals. I know she’s looking down on us.”
Little Bear Sanctuary has rescued over 150 animals ever since it opened in 2017. Currently, it’s home to 74 pigs, 29 sheep, and other animals such as cows, chickens, goats, and a 15-year-old tortoise named Keisha. The no-cage shelter is a place where mistreated animals and those rescued from slaughter can live out the rest of their lives in peace.
Five rescue dogs love roaming around the sanctuary to visit the other animals, including Shrek and Fiona, the pigs, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two donkeys, and Shrek, the goat.
There’s also a 1,000-pound Yorkshire pig named Casper and a 200-pound potbellied pig named Elvis. With the assortment of animals at Little Bear, it’s safe to say there’s never a dull moment in the sanctuary!
While Chris insists he doesn’t have a favorite among the residents, he admits he has a particular “fondness” for Willie, a 300-pound pig who’s also the sanctuary’s first rescue.
“He’s quite the character,” he said. “He greets everybody and he loves his belly rubs.”
Maintaining a shelter for animals is no easy task. Thankfully, Chris has the help of his husband, Randy Sellers, the vice president and director of operations of the sanctuary.
The duo shares a deep love for animals, and Randy has also become a vegan himself. Their relationship blossomed even though Randy ate fish on their first date.
“He’s a great support,” Chris said. “I don’t know what I would do without him.”
Chris and Randy didn’t want the animals to be locked in cages, so they let them freely roam the 30-acre property. And because of its excellent animal care and business practices, Little Bear has been verified as a “true sanctuary” by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
Chris’s work in fighting animal abuse has claimed the whole nation’s attention, and he was recently declared as the GoFundMe Hero for August. He hopes to secure $55,000 in funding to develop and expand the sanctuary to help more animals and make it a more friendly place for visitors.
Chris and Randy are about to finish building an in-house clinic in there. They also plan to develop a one-acre garden, a couple of tiny homes for guests, and a space to host vegan weddings and other events.
Chris doesn’t earn any money from running the sanctuary and says it’s the hardest job he’s ever had. However, it’s also the job where he found the most fulfillment.
“Every day when I walk outside the house, it just makes me smile,” he said. “You can’t be depressed here. These animals just change your day.”
Thank you for the great work you do in saving all these animals, Chris! If you want to help give rescued animals a better life, you can help the sanctuary do so by clicking here.