My Only Sunshine

Local sanctuary helps animals and the community

By Cathryn RakichAugust 2022

Dominic is first to greet me when I push open the wooden gate. At 4 months old, this wiry-haired kid goat is playful, curious and sugar-coated. He was found tied up behind a business in Sacramento and taken to the Front Street Animal Shelter before making his way to Only Sunshine Sanctuary in the rural outskirts of Elverta.

Vegetables, a 5-month-old Jersey cow, nudges my thigh, his soft brown head begging to be scratched. “He’s like a giant puppy dog who loves to be petted,” says Kristy Venrick-Mardon, founder of Only Sunshine Sanctuary.

Vegetables and his brother Gilligan were born on a dairy farm in Elk Grove. “Males are not useful to the dairy industry,” says Venrick-Mardon, who took in the pair when they were one day old.

Neapolitan has no interest in meeting me. He’s too busy rooting around the chicken coop. The potbelly pig was abandoned three years ago near the sanctuary with third-degree burns across his back. “Neapolitan is a gentle soul. He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Venrick-Mardon says.

Venrick-Mardon, who works for Kaiser Permanente’s call center, purchased her home on a 1-acre lot in 2013. “I bought the property with the intention of filling it with animals,” she says. “Not necessarily with the intention of a sanctuary. I’ve just always loved animals.”

While the house was in escrow, Venrick-Mardon came across Harold, an 11-month-old Vietnamese potbelly pig, on the Sacramento SPCA website. “They told me he was really shy and not that friendly. I walked in and he rolled over for a belly rub, and I thought OK, you’re coming home with me.”

With Harold on board, Venrick-Mardon built fences and other outdoor necessities for her fur and feathered family. “Slowly, I would find other animals that needed homes in the community.”

Next to arrive were three Nigerian dwarf goats—Curly, Moe and Shemp—who were advertised on Craig’s List. “Someone wanted the mom’s milk, but not them,” she says. “They were four hours old. My first bottle-babies.”

As Venrick-Mardon became more involved in helping animals, including trapping, neutering and returning feral cats, she decided to take her homestead a step further. In 2020, Only Sunshine Sanctuary became a nonprofit 501(c)(3).

Among the pigs, cows and goats are three dogs, five cats, six roosters, 15 hens and six pure white domestic ducks. Four ducks were rescued from a park in Los Angeles. Venrick-Mardon spotted the other two while kayaking on the American River. “I said, ‘Those are not wild ducks.’ Domestic ducks can’t fly. They can’t get away from predators.”

Most of the chickens are from backyard flocks—from people who lack the capacity or desire to care for them. Roosters are another issue.

“In Sacramento, you can’t keep roosters,” per a noise ordinance, Venrick-Mardon says. “People buy chicks. Their chicks turn out to be roosters. The city says you can’t have them. But Sacramento has no place for them to go. So they get dumped or they go to the shelter.”

COVID exacerbated the problem. “People got all these backyard flocks. Six months after that, all the rescues, all the shelters got this boom in roosters. It was like clockwork.”

Then there are rabbits. Venrick-Mardon and her team rescued more than 45 domestic rabbits from a park in Citrus Heights. “Someone probably dumped a few a long time ago,” she says. “People see them and perceive them as thriving out there, so they continue to dump them,” especially after Easter “when their kids are no longer interested.”

Helping the community is an important part of Only Sunshine Sanctuary’s work. In June, with a generous donation from a supporter, the sanctuary hired a mobile vet clinic to serve the homeless community along the Sacramento Northern Bikeway near C Street.

The clinic altered two canines, provided emergency care for a dog with a chain embedded in his neck, vaccinated 15 dogs and handed out flea medication, pet food and other supplies. Nikky’s International Meals donated 150 breakfasts.

Earlier this year, the sanctuary held two mobile vet clinics, funded by Maginis Roofing in Rancho Cordova, providing free spays and neuters for 20 rabbits.

In addition, the sanctuary works with INALLIANCE, a nonprofit serving adults with developmental disabilities. INALLIANCE volunteers visit twice a week to interact with the animals and help with chores.

Fundraising includes monthly movie nights, where guests bring blankets and lawn chairs to watch a film projected on the side of the house. The sanctuary hosts the annual Vegan Chef Challenge in October, when area restaurants offer plant-based menus. “This year we are focusing on environmental reasons to try a vegan meal, even once,” Venrick-Mardon says.

To donate, volunteer, adopt or foster, visit

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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