Updated:DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. —
A Dawson County animal sanctuary is being forced to move.
The Amicolola Deer Park is a haven not only for rescued animals, but for also special needs children. Thousands from the Atlanta area visit each year, but now, the owner has one month to leave. He said he’s in desperate need of help.
“It’s a labor of love for us. We hope to continue it,” Sean Smith told Channel 2’s Diana Davis.
He opened the deer park 10 years ago as part of his outreach ministry for special needs children and adults. With 120 llamas, deer, pigs and goats, interacting with the animals is an integrated part of therapy.
The longtime property owner recently died. Smith said the heirs have other plans for the land and told him he and the animals have to find a new home.
“As of today, we have 30 days to exodus,” Smith said Friday.
He's found a 70-acre piece of land a few miles away, but the move comes at a bad time. The deer are in rut for mating and breeding season.
“To move them right now literally would threaten the lives of many of them. You would bottleneck them into containment,” Smith said.
He said the move will take about $20,000 -- some going toward a lease purchase of the land and the rest to help with moving the animals and putting up fences and outbuildings.
“We can do it, but we can’t do it alone, and it’s going to take money,” Smith said.
He said if he doesn’t get the help he needs, the park and animal sanctuary may close right when Christmas programs should begin.
“It would crush me. This is my calling. I mean, I literally was called to be shepherd over these animals. To give that up would be like giving up my family,” Smith said.
Smith is negotiating with the owners. He hopes he'll get a reprieve to stay at least through the Christmas season. If not, he’ll have to be out by Nov. 11.
Click here to donate to the park.