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This vegan activist co-founded O'ahu's first animal sanctuary

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Hannah Mizuno from Aloha Animal Sanctuary Photo: Aloha Animal Sanctuary

Aloha Animal Sanctuary is the first animal rescue sanctuary in O'ahu, Hawaii. Co-Founded in 2019 by four motivated animal activists, it is now home to more than 2 dozen rescued animals. It is one of the many animal sanctuaries supported by abillion through our giving program.

Hannah Mizuno, one of the co-founders and the Director of Development of the sanctuary, was an animal lover from a young age. As she learnt about animal farming and agriculture, she became an animal activist, speaking up for animals facing horrible fates. Saddened that many industries that profited-off animal abuse were still largely operative on the island, she knew that she had to take matters into her own hands to create a safe space for the animals she loved.

We caught up with Hannah Mizuno to talk about her motivations, favorite moments and future plans for the sanctuary.

Hi Hannah. Tell us about your life before Aloha Animal Sanctuary. What did you do?

Before the inception of Aloha Animal Sanctuary in 2019, I was a recent high school graduate and worked as a manager at a vegan restaurant. I enjoyed serving healthy, plant-based food to my community and helping a small local business grow. When I was 16 years old, I made the commitment to fully embrace a vegan lifestyle. For me, it was a simple decision. Once I learned that I could be healthy without eating animal products, there was no going back! The truth is, I never wanted to eat animals. I just thought that I needed to, but like so many others, I was misinformed. Of course, the environmental devastation animal agriculture causes, and the health benefits of veganism, were contributing factors as well, but the bottom line was that I didn’t need to consume animal products to thrive. That is all I needed to know to make that transition.

Early on, I didn't know anyone else who identified as vegan. After being vegan for 2 years, I felt compelled to do more to help animals. That is when I became involved in animal rights activism, mostly doing community outreach, to represent animals and offer education about their plight. Here in Hawaii, common animal issues include dog tethering, pig hunting, and cockfighting. Being born and raised in the islands, these common-place issues have always been deeply saddening to me. My dream was to give back to my home, community, and animals. A sanctuary seemed to be the perfect solution to rescue farmed animals who lacked resources and representation while helping people make the connection that animals are sentient, intelligent, and worthy of protection. At 20 years old, I became one of the founding members of Aloha Animal Sanctuary.

We understand that you have been a lifelong animal lover and even envisioned creating your own sanctuary when you were younger. Where did your love for animals come from?

I believe that for many, the love of animals is inherent. Children are born full of love and curiosity about all forms of life. My own love for animals is a mysterious one since I was actually allergic to many animals for most of my childhood. I still have some allergies to a few but my love for the animals helps me to push through! I did not get much hands-on experience as a child but always admired them from afar.

I believe what attracts me to animals is their pure spirits. They love wholly and seem to understand the fundamentals of life better than we do. From a young age, I felt compelled to save animals who were in distress. I knew that it is a hard world for animals and that they deserved better. Animals, just like humans, simply want to be safe, fed, and loved.

When I was 7 years old, my family got our first dog, Bear. He showed me how special and gifted animals are. Bear loves everyone with all his heart, and he brings people together. He lives life in the moment, valuing connection and the wonderful outdoors. He cares deeply about his family and friends. Bear brings a smile to everyone’s faces. He reminds me of the important things in life: fulfilling our basic needs, being present, and celebrating togetherness.

Tell us more about how the opportunity for you to join the team of co-founders at Aloha Animal Sanctuary arose.

Our founding team consists of four animal rights activists, Jessica Palomino, Anchi Howitz, Nick Pecoraro, and myself, who came together to start O’ahu’s first 501(c)(3) nonprofit farmed animal sanctuary. We saw the dire need for farmed animal rescue and representation on our island and came together to make that vision a reality. We were involved in other animal rights organizations at the time and felt that O’ahu needed a farmed animal sanctuary. Our community needed a place for people to come together and establish meaningful connections with farmed animals. We believed that if people had the opportunity to meet farmed animals, they would do more to protect them.

What is a typical day at Aloha Animal Sanctuary like for you?

My role includes resident medical care, animal enrichment, fundraising, volunteer training, tours, rescues, managing emergencies, rehabilitating/fostering, and administrative tasks to help run the sanctuary.

Can you share any unique rescue operations that you have been part of?

One event that comes to mind is the rescue of 6 pigs from a local backyard farm. This was a complex rescue. A pig farmer’s family members had developed an emotional connection to the pigs, especially the sick and injured ones. The farmer did not see the pigs as individuals, but his daughter and wife had a change of heart. The daughter had eventually convinced her father to surrender 6 pigs to the Sanctuary. It was difficult witnessing the animals in distress and in unsanitary conditions. It was difficult to leave the others we could not rescue behind. Though this memory is a difficult one for me, it is also a story of hope, knowing we could inspire the next generation, like his daughter, to love animals instead of harming them.

What is the biggest challenge you face in running the sanctuary?

The biggest challenge in running a sanctuary is battling compassion fatigue and burnout. As an entirely volunteer-run organization, there is always lots to do. We are constantly wishing we could do more, and every rescue we cannot take is deeply saddening for us. It can be challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance and establish boundaries. As a board, we do monthly check-ins to ensure all our Directors are practicing healthy self-care. To properly provide loving, quality care to each of our residents, we must take care of ourselves as well.

What motivates you to stay committed to this mission despite these hurdles?

My biggest motivation to keep going, despite the struggles, is witnessing the impact the sanctuary makes in the community. Seeing the individuals, both animal and human, whose lives are positively impacted by the Sanctuary, inspires me. When I see an animal finally feel safe in their home, or a person makes the connection that animal lives matter, it is extremely fulfilling.

Hannah Mizuno and Anna sharing cuddles Director Hannah Mizuno and Anna sharing some cuddles. (Photo: Aloha Animal Sanctuary)

It’s been over one year since Aloha Animal Sanctuary has been in partnership with abillion, how have the donations from abillion helped the sanctuary?

abillion has helped support our local vegan businesses and fundraise for Aloha Animal Sanctuary. During the coronavirus pandemic, abillion enabled us to continue to raise funds for the rescued animals’ food, medical care, fencing, building costs, and more. Our supporters were able to raise funds for the sanctuary without personally donating their funds, which was imperative in a pandemic that forced many out of their jobs. We are grateful for the support of our community both near and far, including abillion, who helped us get through this difficult time.

Mama Gaia and Baby Felício Volunteers taking care of newly rescued Mama Gaia and Baby Felício. (Photo: @julianabenson23)

As a sanctuary that’s fully run by volunteers, can you share more about the ongoing fundraising efforts?

As a volunteer-run nonprofit organization, Aloha Animal Sanctuary relies entirely on community support. Without volunteers or financial generosity, we could not provide the meaningful service we do to O’ahu’s farmed animals in need. We raise funds for the animals through merchandise sales, tours, animal sponsorships, Patreon, events (virtual and in-person), grants, individual donations, abillion, and more.

What has been the most rewarding moment for you since joining the team at Aloha Animal Sanctuary?

The most rewarding moment is witnessing the growth of the sanctuary. We started with four determined individuals, one pig, and no electricity or running water. The land the Sanctuary resides on was previously used as an illegal dump. There was tons of trash, as well as 31 invasive trees that needed to be removed due to their brittle and dangerous nature. The individuals who volunteered, donated, and supported us from the beginning helped us rejuvenate the land, create a beautiful and safe environment, and build Aloha Animal Sanctuary into what it is today. We could not have done it without the support of our amazing community.

Haku the pig Aloha Animal Sanctuary’s first animal resident, Haku the pig. (Photo: Aloha Animal Sanctuary)

Is there anything interesting that the sanctuary is doing this year that you want readers to know about?

The Sanctuary is going to begin the construction of the Learning Center this year. The Learning Center will be an educational facility designed to expand our reach in the community, creating programs that empower Hawaii’s youth to take action in protecting farmed animals. We are very excited about this development that will impact animal lives for years to come.

Through abillion's giving program, you can channel donations to Aloha Animal Sanctuary. Every time you post a review through our app, you earn US$1 that you can donate to Aloha or any of the other worthy charity and cause partners we support.

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@benroy profile image
I can’t believe your amazing job!! 😱 congratulations!! I hope I can visit your sanctuary some day 🙌🤩💚
@gabba profile image
Beautiful. Also, the learning centre is such an underrated, yet key factor in this fight against systemic animal cruelty. Thank you so much for your services. Your story is truly inspiring… Keep up the amazing work. Not all hero’s wear capes 💚💙💜
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