Black Pine Animal Sanctuary had a very humble beginning and, like many organizations, it has evolved to become what it is today.
In the late 1980's the sanctuary's founder Karen Hoag, her husband, and their young daughter, Megan, were living at an historic farm house located at the west edge of Albion, the county seat of Noble County in northeastern Indiana.
Karen's life-long passion for animals is often summed up by her own admission that as a little girl "I always wanted all of my stuffed animals to come to life." With ample acreage and several outbuildings suited to farm animals now sitting vacant, she and her carpenter husband slowly began adding to their family. Within the first few years they were enjoying the daily routine of caring for African ostriches, potbelly pigs, llamas, and black Welsh mountain sheep.
What was then known as Bonar's Funny Farm soon took a turn when the family adopted a pair of mountain lions. The arrival of the large felines brought about a new chapter of growth when followed by two Siberian tigers retiring from the circus. Not long after, two snow leopard cubs arrived, surplus from an Indiana zoo. With these changes came a new name: Black Pine Exotics.
By 1995 Black Pine Exotics' population was growing into a full-time job for Karen. She soon sold the hair salon she had owned in town for years to work full-time at the sanctuary. Because of delays in getting chores done, caused by well-meaning but curious friends and neighbors, a decision was made to establish business hours and begin to allow people to visit the animals on a regular basis. Within the first two years hundreds of local school children and families were visiting on field trips and summer outings. A small gift shop was added, and Black Pine Animal Park was born.
From 1995 to 2003 Black Pine grew, and with the growth came more sophisticated educational programs, a volunteer program, and more animals. Bengal tigers, chimpanzees, and black bears all retired from performing to live out the remainder of their lives at Black Pine. Growth posed many challenges, not the least of which included divorce. Though Karen relocated to Tennessee for a period of time, she returned to fulfill her wishes for the animals. In 2004 Karen led the sanctuary through its most important transition into a non-profit organization.
Karen had always wanted to ensure that no matter what happened to her personally, the animals would be assured a good and permanent home and that someone would be there to care for them. In forming Professional Animal Retirement Center, Inc., she did just that. A core group of dedicated volunteers came together to form a new board of directors and the sanctuary became a 501c3 tax-exempt organization.
Since 2004, Black Pine's board of directors has taken many steps to help ensure the best care possible to animals in need. The board adopted a no breeding, no buying, no selling, and no trading policy to help ensure every animal given refuge will not be jeopardized by unplanned or irresponsible growth. This commitment to grow slowly was challenged, however, when the sanctuary lost its lease in 2006.
In April 2006, Black Pine was leasing the privately owned land where the sanctuary was originally founded and built. The landowner, who had since moved out of the adjoining residence and was no longer involved in Black Pine, was notified that his property insurance carrier was going to terminate coverage. Though the sanctuary's own insurance was not affected, the landowner gave only two choices to the sanctuary: buy or move. In short, the board determined it in the best interest of the sanctuary's future to move.
The sanctuary's Relocation Project was kicked off in June 2006 and by December that same year the sanctuary had relocated to its current site. By the end of 2010 all of the original residents, and several that had been adopted in the meantime, were all comfortably living in new, permanent habitats. Another name change was made to Black Pine Animal Sanctuary as the organization further embraced its true mission.
More than 1,200 individuals and businesses donated to the rebuilding process and continue to support the non-profit mission today! Over 40 community volunteers and unpaid college interns work routinely in carrying out the daily husbandry needs of the animals. Nearly a dozen dedicated animal keepers provide the foundation necessary to ensure high quality care for the animals. They are led by a team of consulting veterinarians who also donate their time and talents.
If Karen has learned anything during this roller-coaster chapter of her life, it is to never give up. Today she happily tells visitors about her wishes as a child, though she admits, "if I had known how much poop would be involved...?" Still, she'd "do it all over again!"
- Lori Gagen, Executive Director