Camilla Alkhassadeh, co-founder of Little Hill Sanctuary, explains how they had to relocate their animals to higher ground after the recent storms flooded their property. —Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian

ROYAL OAKS—For seven years, Little Hill Sanctuary (LHS) in Royal Oaks has been rescuing animals from abuse, neglect and slaughter, while teaching the public about animal agriculture and plant-based living. The nonprofit shelter, nestled on a steep hill off of Maher Road, is home to about a hundred rescued animals, including pigs, sheep, goats, horses, chickens, turkeys and more.

But when historic storms pummeled the region in early January, the sanctuary was flooded, as rain rushed down the hill from nearby farms and roads, surging into animal pens and destroying the main service road. The bottoms of fences were buried, chicken coops sunk into the mud and animals had to be relocated to higher ground.

“Anything we did was not going to stop the water from shooting directly into the horse area,” said Helbard Alkhassadeh, who co-founded LHS with wife Camilla Alkhassadeh. “Even though it hasn’t rained for a few days, it’s still full of water. The horses can’t be in there. Their hooves would get wrecked.”

The sanctuary’s pig pen was also completely filled with mud, making it difficult for the animals to maneuver safely. 

“Now the pigs can move around a bit, but a week ago, it was impossible,” Helbard said. “You’d be walking in there in small puddles and then all of a sudden, you’d sink down 12 inches.”

This is not the first time that LHS has dealt with flooding. Last year, a flash flood hit their property and did similar damage. Sandbags left over from that incident still line part of the property. Helbard said he spent a year preparing, building new pens higher up the hill and raising the chicken coops onto platforms. But it wasn’t enough.

“The rain was nonstop,” he said. “All of a sudden, we get this month-long storm. It just kept coming.”

LHS is located in a low-lying area, where runoff from local farms flows down into Maher Creek. But a number of nearby culverts and streams, one of which buts up against a side of the sanctuary, have been neglected, Helbard said. 

At the end of the culvert is a pipe that should allow water to flow through and into the creek. But the passage is currently clogged full of debris and trash. The water has nowhere to go but into LHS.

“This culvert is supposed to be cleaned out regularly, and it should be dug another few feet deep,” he said. “When it comes down here, it hits a bend in the road and shoots right into our property.”

Little Hill Sanctuary co-founder Helbard Alkhassadeh (left) surveys the damage to their property from recent storms. —Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian

Added Camilla: “It’s frustrating because this is not ours, so we can’t go in and clear it out ourselves. Because it’s private land, the County can’t do anything either, so we have to figure it out.”

LHS is currently in the recovery stage, scooping itself out of the mud and trying to find safe, dry places not only for the animals themselves but also to store their feed. Due to the road being washed out, they have had to move items with small carts or completely by hand.

Helbard estimated that recovery could cost the nonprofit at least $25,000.

“And that’s just to start,” he said. “There are so many things we need to fix. We are finding new things every day. And this might happen all over again, and create an even bigger problem.”

Eventually, he said, LHS may have to find a new home. 

“We’re looking for another property where we can have a safer, more secure sanctuary,” he said. “It just isn’t safe here anymore. The animals are supposed to be living their best lives, but instead they’re going through this. Our purpose is to keep these animals happy and comfortable for the rest of their lives.”

Little Hill Sanctuary is taking donations through their website and have also started a GoFundMe campaign. For information and regular updates, follow the organization on social media.

“There are a lot of people in this area who care about animals,” Camilla said. “There are a lot of folks with land, and funds, and the ability to do things. We love it here, we really want to stay in this community. Anything people can do, even just sharing our story is a big help.”

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


  1. I hope people will lend some support to Little Hill Sanctuary. They are wonderful folks and have been hit so hard by this flooding. Please help them if you can.

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