Fairytale Farm Animal Sanctuary Fights for Happily Ever After
When Kimberly Dunckel and her family bought their 3.3-acre property in a semirural neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, they wanted it to be not only their home but a place that bettered their community. When community members began asking them to care for animals in need, their vision came into focus: Create a place where both people and animals could thrive. Fairytale Farm Animal Sanctuary was born, and over the past year and a half, that is what it has become.
Today, the sanctuary is home to donkeys, goats, ducks, rabbits, and more. Many of these animals have special needs—like little Archie, a goat born with his back legs fused. At Fairytale Farm, Archie gets special care and a set of wheels so he can happily scoot around.
True to the Dunckels’ vision, the sanctuary has also become an important community fixture. Their neighbors embraced the sanctuary from the beginning. Girl Scouts and homeschoolers visited to learn about the animals. Volunteers ensured the dozens of animals living at the sanctuary received love and care. The unique physical challenges facing many of the animals Fairytale Farm cares for provided a special opportunity to connect with sanctuary visitors who have struggled with their own disabilities. And community events helped raise the money needed to continue the good work.
But now, thanks to Winston-Salem, the sanctuary faces an impossible—and unconstitutional—choice: stop all events and limit volunteers or shut down entirely.
Why? Because under the city’s zoning code, any use of property not expressly permitted is forbidden. And even though no one has complained about its volunteers or events, the code does not permit Fairytale Farm.
But ownership of property becomes little more than a name on a deed if you cannot use that property to improve your life and your community. Which is why Kimberly has joined with IJ to defend Fairytale Farm.
The North Carolina Constitution protects the right to use one’s property without arbitrary government interference or unequal treatment. It also protects the right of individuals to pursue their chosen occupation, including nonprofit enterprises like the sanctuary, free from arbitrary interference. That is exactly what is happening here: The city’s zoning code permits many home businesses, as well as golf courses, schools, churches, recreation centers, and other uses involving clients and visitors. There is no good reason why Fairytale Farm should be excluded.
This isn’t the first time IJ has taken on a North Carolina city going after people just trying to do some good. In 2020, North Wilkesboro tried to stop the Catherine H. Barber Memorial Shelter from moving into a new building donated to it. Though the town acknowledged the shelter satisfied the zoning code’s objective requirements, it decided a shelter wasn’t “harmonious” with its neighbors. Following an IJ lawsuit, a federal court sided with the shelter, finding the town abused its power in trying to shut it down.
North Carolina’s courts should do the same for Kimberly. By using her property to build community and help animals, Kimberly is not hurting anyone; she’s only helping. And as IJ is going to help her show, she’s got every right to do so.
Anna Goodman is an IJ attorney.
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