Michael Aufhauser was born on 25th April, 1952, in Augsburg, Germany. The graduate of a three-year drama school program (at Zerboni Drama School in Gauting, near Munich), gained roles in TV series, film and theater.
He’d spent three years in the limelight as an actor when he decided to work in tourism in the United States. First in Europe, then internationally, Michael Aufhauser developed innovative tourist programs and became Vice President of a major American travel agency in Boston.
The Road to Animal Protection:
It was back in 1991 when Michael Aufhauser looked out of his office window on the Costa del Sol and saw some dogcatchers taking away street dogs. He decided to follow them. Shortly afterwards, he then had to witness a scene in which approx. 40 dogs and cats were horribly gassed to death. He immediately bought the surviving animals – who would have been killed next – and made sure they were placed in proper homes.
Together with "Pro Animale" (Pro Animals), the animal protection league, and his long-standing partner, Irene Florence, over the years ahead, Michael Aufhauser rescued more than 1,000 animals. At that time, an ARD TV program, "Animal Suffering" already highlighted the maltreatment of animals in Spain. But rescuing animals only deals with the symptoms. Michael Aufhauser has a mission to tackle the causes.
Creating A New Philosophy:
Michael Aufhauser very quickly realized that if you protect animals you also protect humans. His credo: Even if we were to succeed in protecting animals from humans, our achievement would amount to nothing. It’s only when we’ve succeeded in no longer needing to protect animals that we’ll have reached our goal. Then, we’ll truly have changed something: Ourselves!"
Now, Michael Aufhauser’s philosophy is all about achieving an inclusive humanity embracing animals and nature. His approach is to make constructive suggestions for solutions, instead of only highlighting the cases of animals in distress. He sits at the same table as people who cause real animal suffering. His greatest goal is even more clearly in sight. His deep concern is to continue reminding people that animals are not objects, but empathetic, fellow creatures. If this reality is widely understood, laws can be changed in consequence and there’ll be fewer cases of animals made to suffer.
How Gut Aiderbichl Began:
Michael Aufhauser and Irene Florence were searching for a place to house Michael’s horses and for animal shelters to keep rescued animals. When they started out, there were only 25 animals. Their friendship with a bank manager helped them purchase the beautiful estate above Lake Wallersee by the town of Henndorf. Building attractive stables and estate premises made plenty of people curious and visitors already showed up to view the estate under construction.
Gut Aiderbichl attracted an above-average level of interest for a regional property. Media interest was high. Animal rights campaigners made contact and in 2001 suggested holding an ecumenical religious service for animals. At that time, animals were in dire need, cattle especially. Millions were senselessly "culled" and the report on the religious service focused the spotlight on how and why these animals were treated that way.
Gut Aiderbichl emerged as a place to care for animals in a way that’s true to their nature, but it also became a popular place for everyone who wanted to help animals in need, but without knowing where they were to provide shelter for rescued animals. Very quickly, the existing stables had to be expanded. Irene Florence was still able to follow this development, though she sadly died in 2002.
Without his partner, Michael Aufhauser now had to come up with a concept to make an estate of this dimension economically viable over the longer term.
He established a GmbH with administrative offices and a non-profit trust found (foundation) with a strong team to lead Gut Aiderbichl into the future. Dieter Ehrengruber and Friederike Grünthal took over as managing directors.
The number of rescued animals at Gut Aiderbichl grew dramatically and the first external properties were established.
Michael Aufhauser’s keenest interest is to see that large animals such as horses and cattle, yet also pigs, goats and sheep are not left in good faith in shelters where maintenance and the cause of the sanctuary is different to Gut Aiderbichl. Michael Aufhauser’s approach was heavily influenced by Johanna Wothke, founder of "Pro Animale" (Pro Animals), and they have cooperated for many years. Johanna Wothke promises that all the animals she rescues will no longer live in fear and stress. That’s also an important principle for keeping animals at Gut Aiderbichl.
If horses and other large animals are to live at Gut Aiderbichl until the end of their natural lives, this involves huge resources for their welfare and maintenance. They are meant to feel at home – just like house pets with private owners who offer them ideal living conditions. All this requires plenty of support and is only possible with exceptional and brilliant employees who have outstanding training.
In 2006, Bernd Funda, Chairman of the Board of the Dr. Hatto Egerer – Stiftung in Deggendorf, turned to Michael Aufhauser. Together with his wife, he had long since admired the work of Gut Aiderbichl. When Dr. Hatto Egerer died, he left a legacy – 12 of his own horses living at his estate in Eichberg near Deggendorf. The board of the foundation determined that the budget offered insufficient liquid funds to keep these 12 horses at the estate until the end of their natural lives. The Dr. Hatto Egerer – Stiftung consequently leased the estate and horses to Gut Aiderbichl over the longer term. That’s how another place for humans and animals to come together was created in Bavaria and with the same philosophy – Gut Aiderbichl Bayern was born! Gut Aiderbichl substantially expanded the estate and more generous expansion is planned in future.
The Köglerhof property in Carinthia and Brandstätter estate in Kilb/Lower Austria are now also part of the Gut Aiderbichl non-profit trust fund. In total, Gut Aiderbichl has 25 sanctuaries in Austria and Germany, Switzerland and France giving the best of care to more than 5.600 saved animals. Both estates in Henndorf and Bavaria make huge efforts to generate the resources needed for keeping all the animals – visitors can meet the animals, they can enjoy light snacks in our restaurants or purchase gifts and annual membership tickets or animals sponsorships.
Our estates not open to visitors are maintained by donations and grants. That means on top of the responsibility towards our many animals, there’s a huge effort to ensure cost-effective operations. Gut Aiderbichl is a success, but it’s still not making a profit. No state funds are available to support the cause.
And this cause forms Michael Aufhauser’s life’s work. On the one hand, this is all about preserving and developing what’s here, and on the other hand it’s a case of supporting young people who will manage and take care of Gut Aiderbichl by embracing the philosophy and ensuring it continues to be a success for years to come.
Michael’s most important message remains to communicate to everyone: "Animals are not objects, but empathetic fellow creatures. They are capable of feeling pain – just as we are." Michael Aufhauser believes it is irresponsible to force them to suffer the dreadful living conditions of mass breeding and animal transports over vast distances in stifling heat or freezing cold, in overloaded trucks, relentlessly for days and nights and often without food or drink, and finally only to end up at the slaughterhouse.
Michael Aufhauser lives in Salzburg. Of course, he is surrounded by animals. Every day, his time is taken up with meeting the needs of this ambitious project. He gives his time purely on a voluntary basis for Gut Aiderbichl and does not receive any profits – neither from book, film or other royalties. Everything that he does is exclusively for the benefit of the Gut Aiderbichl project.
Michael Aufhauser and his many employees have agreed upon some important goals. Foremost is establishing a new philosophy towards those who are less powerful in our society and especially towards animals who met hard times. To achieve these goals, today more than ever before, it’s a question of reaching out to the broad public. And that’s a permanent mission.
Some examples of this special mission are TV programs such as "Christmas at Gut Aiderbichl" (Eurovision) and the docu-soap series "The Animal Rescuers of Aiderbichl" (Access-Prime-Time, 20 episodes) and the prize award "Gut Aiderbichl – A Golden Heart for Animals" (Eurovision) and film series "Paradise for Rescued Animals" as well as hundreds of documentaries about Gut Aiderbichl.
Michael Aufhauser has appeared as a guest on many TV shows (such as Johannes B. Kerner, Nachtcafe etc.). Celebrities also work with us to spread the word. Two books published in the same year – Umdenken mit Herz ("Have a Heart – Think Differently") and Rettet die Tiere! ("Rescue Animals!") – became bestsellers. Michael’s column "A Question of Humanity" has appeared for years in the weekend edition of the Munich newspaper "tz" as well as his full-page AKTE Tier! ("Animal File") every Wednesday which also appears in the same newspaper.
Michael Aufhauser teaches values that are in danger of being forgotten today.
Michael Aufhauser has created off-leash exercise parks for dogs and made a substantial contribution to ensuring that animals in the province of Salzburg have a constitutional status. He has made it possible for animals and humans to come together – for the disabled, patients in hospices and the elderly, the contact with our animals makes their difficult situations a little brighter and friendlier.