WEBSTER, Fla. – The Chase Animal Rescue and Sanctuary — a nonprofit rescue in Webster for primates, tortoises, exotic birds, deer and more — is set to run through the summer and host a variety of animal-themed events.
One of the weekly events the sanctuary uses to bring in funding is a ‘sloth meditation’ session on Saturday mornings, wherein participants can go through a meditation session while surrounded by sloths living at the rescue.
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“They’re not allowed to handle the sloths, but it’s a really cool event because they’re actually in a huge, tropical environment, and the sloths are being sloths, sleeping or slowly walking around,” said Nina Vassallo, the rescue’s founder. “And then the meditation guide kind of guides them through becoming sloth-like — it’s like a visualization of being a sloth in the rain forest, and people love it.”
Vassallo said another feature lets attendees paint with the lemurs at the sanctuary.
“Once a week, we do a painting. Local artists come in, and it’s like canvas and acrylic, and then the participants will paint,” she said. “The lemurs come out and kind of help. Sometimes, they’ll put a handprint on it or walk over it. Other times, they’ll just hang out in the trees above them. That’s another event that’s really popular.”
Furthermore, the rescue offers a program called ‘Lemur Yoga’ that allows attendees to perform yoga alongside — as the name might suggest — lemurs.
Like all other programs at the rescue, lemurs can choose to interact with yoga-goers as an instructor guides them through the class, though participants are not allowed to harass any of the animals.
While the rescue is not open to the public, these private events are available for paying attendees. The proceeds go toward helping the approximately 160 animals cared for by the sanctuary.
According to Vassallo, managing such a large nonprofit still takes quite a bit of funding.
“It’s a lot...I would say $20, around $25,000 (per month),” Vassallo said. “But the way we do things, the habitats are really big. And we don’t spare any expense if we can make the animals’ lives better, so all the money that comes in goes right back out.”
While the sanctuary began more than 15 years ago as a dog rescue, Vassallo said it has evolved to include many other animals, including endangered Ruffed and Ringtail Lemurs.
“We would pull dogs from the local shelters before they got euthanized and adopt them out or rehabilitate abandoned hunting dogs,” she said. “Then, about ten years ago, someone brought us a brown lemur. It was 30 years old. They were retiring, and they were going to start traveling, and they needed a place to put her.”
Vassallo said the sanctuary is no longer a dog shelter, but it instead became sanctuary for all sorts of other animals.
However, despite the eclectic range of animals, the sanctuary said one type is the major focus.
“It’s basically primates. We focus on the lemurs and cotton-top tamarins and marmoset monkeys,” Vassallo stated. “It’s just kind of been ‘organic transition’ for lack of a better description.”
Vassallo added the sanctuary has approximately 60 active volunteers who focus on bringing “enrichment” to the rescue — toys, foraging options and structures to help simulate the animals’ natural habitats.
The rescue also provides opportunities to sponsor animals for a monthly fee that goes toward providing the animals with the resources they need, according to the sanctuary.