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San Diego Animal Sanctuary & Farm offers peace to furry residents and human visitors alike

Housing zebras, horses, camels, and more, the 20-acre animal sanctuary in Alpine teaches children about the importance of compassion, respect, and patience

Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

“The idea of one person being able to save and change the lives of so many animals and, in the process, heal his family and provide a beautiful space for the community to enjoy deeply resonated with me,” reflects Agnes Barrelet, founder and executive director of San Diego Animal Sanctuary & Farm. Barrelet is speaking about We Bought A Zoo, the 2011 movie starring Matt Damon that she says inspired her to create her 20-acre animal sanctuary in Alpine.

A former Rancho Santa Fe resident of 15 years, Barrelet says she dreamed of giving people a unique experience where they could spend time with animals they may not otherwise get to enjoy. Over the last eight years, San Diego Animal Sanctuary & Farm has rescued more than 200 animals — horses, zebras, pigs, ostriches, camels, a bison, and the list goes on. “I’m originally from France and I would have never imagined that one person could do something like that, but the United States supports and encourages such initiatives,” she says. 

With a mission of connecting people and nature, the sanctuary is open to the public seven days a week from 10am to 5pm. It teaches children about the importance of compassion, respect, and patience, and is a grounding space for all who visit, where disconnecting from the digital world allows for full immersion in the present.

Over the years, the organization has developed programs such as on-site field trips, school presentations, and private camps to promote experiential learning and core memory experiences. In 2023 alone, the farm’s educational programs reached nearly 3,000 students, working with the Boys & Girls Clubs, the YMCA, different homeschool groups, Make-a-Wish Foundation, and the Children’s Museum in Escondido, just to name a few. “The most rewarding aspect of creating such a beautiful space is seeing the daily impact on our animals and guests,” says Barrelet. “It brings out the best in people; it brings joy, peace, and healing.” 

In 2023, the regenerative, biological, and no-till farm fully developed its two-acre garden after years of soil preparation. “We have been working on our farming operations since inception, but the soil had been completely depleted and it took several years to build it back,” explains Barrelet. “We’ve established our vegetable garden and are now focusing on expanding our orchard and will soon be creating a food forest and a new pumpkin patch,” she adds. Compost is made on-site from greens, browns, and manure collected from all the animals. The farm also uses an industrial vermi-composting bin to collect castings and enhance its soil. The results are fresh, nutritious, and tasty fruits and vegetables, available to the farm’s rescued animals and the community.  

“These past several years have been extremely hard but also extremely rewarding,” says Barrelet. “Whenever we welcome a new animal, my heart fills up with lots of emotions. Whenever we move an animal into his forever pasture, it is a beautiful feeling of accomplishment. Whenever a guest experiences an up-close and personal experience with one of our animals and I have the chance to witness the encounter, my heart is filled with joy, love, and gratitude. And it’s not only me — my team experiences the same feeling. We feel very lucky to do what we do.”

To help with its fundraising efforts, San Diego Animal Sanctuary & Farm’s 11th annual gala, themed “Disco Wonderland,” will take place on March 8 at Bahia Hotel Resort. The evening will support the nonprofit’s ongoing operations and will provide a much-needed influx of cash flow to allow the farm to repair shelters and fences while enabling veterinary care as needed. Beginning at 5:30pm, the fundraiser will kick off with a cocktail reception, followed by a three-course gourmet dinner, live and silent auctions, and dancing. 619.320.4942, sanctuaryandfarm.org


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