‘My passion has always been with animals’: Bottineau woman opens animal sanctuary in South Africa

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From North Dakota to South Africa, one Bottineau woman is living out her childhood dream by simply helping.

“I was born in Minot but raised my whole life in Bottineau. So, just that little town just further north,” Lauren Vad said.

But despite it being little in size, Vad says it left a big impression on her life.

“It’s a different type of community. Everybody has your back,” Vad explained. “Like if push comes to shove and something happens, you need help, everybody’s got your back.”

And that meant her having others backs too.

“You don’t even need to know who they are,” she said.

Vad went on to attend the University of North Dakota where she received her degree in education and got her feet wet in helping others, now for a living.

“I taught for a little while and then I did teach special needs kids as well which I really enjoyed,” Vad said.

Enjoying it so much that she decided to travel the world teaching.

“Education actually brought me here because I was helping at a facility with school tours,” she said.

For the last 6.5 years, Vad has lived in South Africa helping students through the education system.

While some may say that’s a heavy enough workload, Vad wanted to do more.

“My passion has always been with animals,” she said. “Like I was the child always trying to find little Robbin’s nest and like hatch the eggs under my light.”

While that was a failure, that passion as a child sparked an idea she had been sitting on.

“Basically we’ve been discussing the possibility of a sanctuary for about 2.5 years,” Vad said.

The sanctuary she’s referring to is the Warriors of Wildlife.

It’s a nonprofit that helps animals get out of uninhabitable conditions.

Sanctuaries are scattered across the world and Vad is now the founder of her own.

“We started the construction of these initial enclosures and things like that to take in rescues in January,” Van said.

On April 29, Vad and her team received their first four lions from the Ukraine.

“We’re just trying to give them the best life we can,” Sanctuary Director Keegan Smith said.

Smith says he’s proud to see “outsiders” come in and help.

“We have all walks of life here. It’s a very unique experience. It’s very different,” he said.

Vad says her hope, as the sanctuary grows, is to get more North Dakotans volunteering in South Africa and trying something new.

“That’s the whole point, is doing something different, get involved and just enjoy it. I mean it’s an excellent opportunity,” she said.

Vad says if anyone is interested in taking a trip out to the sanctuary or wants to help donate they are more than welcome to connect with her by clicking here.

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