[Ed. Note: When VINE Sanctuary learned that Green Mountain College was planning to retire Bill and Lou, their two "working oxen," the sanctuary offered to give the two a wonderful retirement for as long as they lived. After many weeks of media attention to save them, unfortunately Lou was "euthanized" in the dead of night. As of November 25, Bill is still alive...alone without his lifelong partner.
From VINE Sanctuary
Lou: Who never knew how it feels to be free
Each of the five of us here at VINE Sanctuary had our own reaction to the death of Lou. Sad, mad, numb—each of us felt each of these and other feelings, in different proportions and accompanied by different thoughts.
Today, on the two-week anniversary of Lou’s death, we decided to share our personal thoughts and feelings here, knowing that many of Lou’s supporters around the world may still be experiencing their own emotional reactions. Each of us has written something different, in our own voices.
Aram writes, “For Lou–an excerpt from a Dylan Thomas poem I resonate with... read more from Aram.
Cheryl and Kathy write, “From the first day that we saw you, we were struck by your quiet peace…read more from Cheryl and Kathy.
Miriam writes “Lou is dead now. I see his death in an endless loop in my head… read more from Miriam.
pattrice writes “Oh, Lou. Nobody knew you but Bill… read more from pattrice.
For Lou – an excerpt from "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas poem I resonate with:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do do not go gentle into that good night...
From the first day that we saw you, we were struck by your quiet peace. Contentedly grazing and enjoying the beautiful fall day both you and Bill were beautiful and majestic.
We remember thinking that you knew something was different. Perhaps it was the way that everyone related to you, or maybe it was just the general sense that you had, but all was not perfect in your world. Cheryl saw the swelling in your leg and wished for the chance to try to make it better, just so that you could be more comfortable. We was glad to watch Bill keep a protective eye on you.
That last time we were able to visit, we were thankful that you allowed us to share your space– to sit and talk, to hear you sigh as you laid down, and to feel your warm breath. The topic of conversation didn’t matter, it was just simply being there.
More than anything, we are glad that we had the chance the so many others did not: to kiss your nose and tell you goodbye. Farewell my friend, you were loved by so many.
Lou is dead now. I see his death in an endless loop in my head; I feel the fear and confusion he must have felt when he realized he was being murdered; I perceive the terror that was inserted into his body by those who killed him. It’s called empathy, and I have it for him as well as all of the other cows who are murdered for whatever baseless reason humans contrive. That kind of empathy leads to a kind of grief and anger that can be hard to handle. But certainly no harder than what the animals have to bear.
Personally, I do not believe Lou was euthanized. However, whether he was slaughtered or euthanized, he was still murdered – and his death is a direct result of human supremacy.
Other folks refer to this dynamic as speciesism or human exceptionalism, but the idea is pretty much the same regardless of the name you give it. This is the belief that humans are superior to all other forms of life on this planet, and, as such, are not just allowed, but virtually honor-bound, to do with others as we will.
While some of us recognize this destructive phenomenon for what it is, and seek to correct it, happy meat “farmers” deny they’re human supremacists. They like to say they honor and respect all of life while they trample upon it. Because they can’t bear to give up those tasty little morsels of flesh in their mouths – or because they can’t bear to find another job – these “farmers” talk a good talk about holding to a level of environmentalism that exceeds everyone else’s. They claim to love life on the one hand while they bring it to an end on the other. They profess that there exists such a thing as humane murder.
In short, they’re liars. They lie to themselves and they lie to everyone else.
In contrast, when we were located on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, we encountered factory “farmers” all the time. Perdue holds sway there – it was founded about 20 miles from where we had our sanctuary – and so chicken houses weigh heavy and numerous on the landscape. We learned a lot in our ten years down there, including one thing that, to me, is perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. Because most of these chicken “farmers” whole-heartedly believe in the supremacy of humans, they don’t have to play any mental tricks on themselves. They know it’s all right to “process” 20,000 or more chickens every six weeks, largely because it means a paycheck for them, and they will be happy to tell you that right to your face.
For them, it’s not about moral righteousness or seemingly deep ethical deliberations, because it doesn’t HAVE to be about these things. They’re honest enough to own their desires, and so they don’t have to create elaborate mental mazes to contain them. They want a paycheck – they want to grill something out in their backyards and it ain’t tofu – and they don’t give a shit about the environment or global climate change or sustainability.
They want what they want, and they’re honest about it.
I’m not excusing or justifying their actions. I’m simply pointing out the difference. Factory “farmers” tend to be more honest about their motivations for doing the things they do than happy meat “farmers,” even though they all do the same thing: use and murder animals.
Because they are lying to themselves, these small producers need to include you in that same lie. They need you to believe that you’re doing something good. You are righteous, you are smart, you are helping the environment. You are better than those (poor, unethical, working class) people who eat factory farmed flesh. You are actively helping the planet by eating flesh, eggs and milk from small-scale animal “production.”
They tell you these things and they need you to believe them. But they are lies.
Perhaps you have begun to confront this notion that humans must put tasty morsels of flesh in their mouths in order to survive. Perhaps you have begun to suspect that humans should not reign supreme on this planet after all. Perhaps we should actually share this planet with everyone else, you might be thinking. Perhaps we need to rethink our dominance, in every regard, and back off the numerous ways we tromp on others. Perhaps there is part of you who agrees that humans haven’t done such a bang-up job of things. Perhaps you wonder if other creatures might like to live their lives without undue influence from members of the human species.
Perhaps. If there is even a shred of a doubt in your mind telling you that you don’t deserve to live as if the whole planet exists for your own pleasure, then ethically, you need to think seriously about switching to a plant-based diet.
If you regard the struggle to save the lives of Bill and Lou from a NON human supremacist perspective, then what you see is a struggle to save the lives of two people. Not property. Not objects. People who don’t happen to be human. People who are two of billions of other people, all of whom are murdered every year to satisfy human desire. People who know it doesn’t matter if they’re murdered in an AWA-approved slaughterhouse or a regular-old killing factory, because dead is dead.
Bill and Lou are people who would prefer to live – and live unencumbered by human desires. Too bad one’s gone already. Can we save the other?
On the weekend Lou was killed, I was attending a conference at Wesleyan University entitled “Finding a Niche for ALL Animals.” Sponsored by Wesleyan Animal Studies; the College of the Environment; the Ethics in Society Project; the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; the Center for the Study of Public Life; and the Philosophy Department at Wesleyan University as well as the Animals & Society Institute and Feminists for Animal Rights, the conference brought together scholars and activists to honor and carry forward the ecofeminist ideas of friend-of-the-sanctuary Marti Kheel, who died last year.
I spoke on the “Feminist Ethics of Care” panel, and sanctuary Board of Directors member lauren Ornelas described the work of the Food Empowerment Project on the panel about “Contextual Moral Veganism.” Throughout the conference, discussion was lively and thoughtful. The mood was upbeat even though we were mourning Marti’s death and confronting emotionally wrenching topics.
Lou, all weekend, people kept asking me about you.
Lou, so many people tried so sincerely to stop those other people from killing you.
I arrived back at the Sanctuary on Sunday, enthused and energized by the experience. Seeing my face, Aram knew:
“You didn’t get the news?”
Oh, Lou. Nobody but Bill knew you.
Those people who said they loved you and then voted to slit your throat, they knew only what you–schooled by the whip never to express yourself too forcefully–allowed them to see.
Some of the same people who yoked and worked you also petted and cooed over you. I’m sure you did appreciate the scratches and treats. But you always knew: Step out of line and they might hit you. (They waved the whip regularly, just to remind you.)
And you always knew: What you wanted didn’t really matter to them—elsewise, why would they lock you into that contraption and make you walk along lines they drew, dragging heavy loads? Years of forced docility squashed your unique personality. I’d hoped you could come here to the sanctuary and that, over time, you would relax enough to be yourself, whoever that might have been.
Now nobody but Bill will ever know you.
No matter how much we wish they could, the dead can’t hear us singing their praises, saying how much we’ll miss them, or bemoaning the manner of their deaths. Memorials, then, are for the mourners.
So, let me address myself to the thousands who advocated for Lou and who may be feeling any number of emotions right now. Mother Jones (sadly, no relation) famously said, “don’t mourn—organize.” That’s pretty good advice except for the fact that suppressed feelings can get in the way of effective activism. So, I say, “mourn—and mobilize.” As we learned in the midst of the late 80s and early 90s, when people mourning friends or partners or their own likely-to-be-too-short lives poured their grief and rage into nonviolent direct action against AIDS, emotions can be extremely effective motors of activism if they are channeled rather than squelched.
So, let’s take whatever we feel about the death of Lou and use those emotions to motivate us to look out for all the Bills and all the Lous on all of the factory farms and family farms. And let’s look out for Bill himself, literally. We can’t ever know Lou, but we can be fairly sure that the one thing he would want us to do is make sure that nobody hurts his Bill.