Living my incredibly glamorous life here on Locket’s Meadow, I seldom get out and I spend minimal time online; life is just a busy blur of shoveling manure, losing muck boots to the spring mud, and carrying bales of hay far enough out into the paddocks to get past the aforementioned mud. However, since we intensified our involvement in rescuing bull calves, these past few months have been incredibly enlightening for me. Firstly, the good news: I have met some really lovely people who truly care about the animals. Secondly, and much to my dismay, I’ve realized that rescue and veganism are two completely separate animals, so to speak. Sure, many rescue people are vegetarian and vegan, but the very definition of veganism puts a crimp in our rescuing style. I know this because after years of being forcefully told I’m not a vegan because of my rescue operation, Locket’s Meadow, I actually looked up the definition today and learned there are rules to playing this game, and, to my surprise, these rules don’t support animal rescue.
What the hell?
Check out AnimalEquality.net, where I just learned I’m a crappy vegan (and damn, I really thought I had it all going on there – I mean, I make my own nut cheese!!!!) It all starts out fine: “Being vegan is about living a lifestyle that does not cause suffering, harm or death to animals.” I’m cool with this, for sure, as I’m one of those lunatics who stops to pick worms out of the street after a rain (ALL OF THEM!) but it goes on, “and allowing animals to be free to choose the way they want to live.”
What on Planet Earth does that mean? I did a little more reading and learned vegans believe that all animals deserve to live lives free of cruelty, preferably in their natural habitats. Which, in a perfect world, is a perfect philosophy. But in our current state of affairs, in which we have billions of domesticated animals who DO NOT HAVE A NATURAL HABITAT, well, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? So I read a little further into the manifesto and learned, “Vegans do not believe in the breeding of domesticated animals such as horses, dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, birds or fishes. Domestication is not in the animals’ best interests, as they are dependent on humans for everything that is important to them in their lives.” OK, I’m cool with that. That is, I am if reality is actually fantasy and we didn’t already have billions of domesticated animals in the world, most of them in jeopardy every day of their mostly miserable lives. The problem is, it’s too . . . damned . . . late. The animals are here. Even if we stopped slaughtering and eating them tomorrow, or even yesterday, THEY ARE STILL HERE! And this is where principles and compassion collide and land in a tangled heap on the floor of the vast jungle of animal welfare organizations and philosophies.
We can pretend these principles are sensible and humane, or we can deal in reality. Domesticated animals are amazing. I adore them, their diversity, their personalities, their capacity for love . . . I live surrounded by them and they make me smile all day long, even when they are making me crazy (dogs, in particular . . . ) and my job is to make them smile, as well. Would the planet be in a better place if we hadn’t messed with nature and created them? Hell yes. But here we are, so what are our options?
HaHaHaHaHa! You thought I actually had an answer, didn’t you!? Nope. I got nothin’. Well, maybe I have a few ideas . . . but we shall see . . .
According to the definition of veganism, “Vegans do rescue and adopt abandoned animals however, seeing them as refugees deserving of care while they are in this world, but they do not perpetuate the institution of ‘pet’ ownership.” That’s a little wishy-washy for me. It turns out that buying an animal is not a vegan thing to do, even if that purchase saves his or her life. For example, because we rescue farm animals from slaughter by outbidding the killer buyers, we are not a “vegan sanctuary.” Well, we recently brought home a bull calf who was purchased at auction for $15, saving him from the truly gruesome fate of being slaughtered for veal. Had we gotten him for free, because he was turned loose in the parking lot, fell off a truck or because we were able to persuade the auction owners into giving him to us, we would still be vegan. (I don’t know if stealing him would have been an option, as the rules are vague there . . . hmmm . . . more research required . . . ) But because I’d rather pay a few dollars and get the calf out of there as quickly as possible, my vegan badge gets publicly ripped off my vest and I’m court martialed from membership in the club. I make this sound like it bothers me, but I don’t care at all as labels have never been my thing. What bothers me is the fact that the principles of an organization/movement have become more important to those involved than the lives of the animals they care about. Keyboard warriors argue semantics all day long (literally) without ever considering the true welfare of their subject matter.
For example, I recently received a lamb from someone who managed to talk a farmer into giving her several who were on their way to slaughter. Kudos to her for her ability to schmooze! But people like me . . . ugh . . . I don’t ever ask for anything, never mind something for free. So, if I were to adhere to the rules, I would stand by helplessly while lambs ship to slaughter. But, my compassionate nature won’t allow that, so if someone wants money to save a lamb from death, I’ll gladly paid it, breaking the rules.
Does buying livestock, even to save their lives, perpetuate the travesty that is modern farming? Nope. Not the miniscule percentage saved by rescues, that’s for certain. So think about this . . . if that lamb is not saved, he becomes an assorted pile of meat cuts in plastic wrap, hanging around a refrigerated grocery store case. Principles didn’t bring animal suffering any closer to an end; if a vegan rescuer hadn’t been a good negotiator and gotten him for free, he’d be dead . . . on principle! Instead he’s currently asleep in my mudroom, dreaming of bananas and nose kisses.
Life is never black and white. It’s more like a haze of gray, and it’s hard to sort things out in a swirling cloud of way-more-than-50 shades. It’s easier to rely on principles, wielding them like weapons to sweep aside dissenting opinions. Principles take away all need for critical thinking and discernment, aside from deciding which principle will neatly fit into a situation.
Compassion, however, is so damned tricky. Sometimes there is more than one compassionate answer to a situation (so much gray!) and you must figure out the most compassionate response for everyone involved.
This is what separates a rescuer from a straight-up vegan; if faced with a decision as to whether or not I will save a lamb on its way to slaughter, I will look into his eyes, let him touch my heart, and say screw the rule book. I’ll pay the ransom (as I have hundreds of times before) grab the baby and get the hell out of Dodge.
I guess this then begs the question – why are vegans vegan? I’m sure there are as many different answers as there are vegans or domesticated animals. For most rescuers, we adhere to a vegan diet and lifestyle, to the best of our ability in this imperfect world, because we have looked into the eyes of compromised, endangered animals and seen their souls. We have gazed into the eyes of God, and from that moment on, rules-be-damned. We are forever changed, compassion becomes our one rule and only master, and we fall into the holy hell of the abyss that we call animal rescue.
We are no longer bound by any philosophy other than that of compassion.
We become Compassionists.
After that, everything else is inconsequential.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by Locket’s Meadow Animal Sanctuary in Bethany, CT, where they are enslaved by more than 140 rescued animals . . . but happily enslaved . . . because our resident animals think we are cute and patiently humor us all day long . . .