The Paradox of Domesticated Animals

or . . . Thinking outside the Happy Meal box

There are days when I kinda wish I couldn’t hear the animals. How simple life would be . . . so little responsibility . . . and then I head outside and spend some time with my “babies,” and I know why I was put here as the oddity that I am; I’m here to speak for the animals, who are desperately misunderstood. One group of humans believes animals should live in a separate universe, untouched by humans; another believes they are here for our use, either food or pleasure or something to gamble on . . . whatever . . . but these people exist completely free of any concern about how animals feel as they are here for our exploitation and somewhere in the Bible it says so (not!) And so on and so forth . . .

All animals are not created equal, and please don’t blow a gasket until I explain. Then . . . whatever . . . do what you must . . . (short break here to let a pig out the side door . . .)

OK, I’m back . . .

Wild animals are wild animals. Leave them alone. Give them enormous tracks of land (10 times what they have now, even though it means taking it away from the cattle!) and walk away. Their job is to keep their own balance and the balance of the planet and they’re damn good at it. If we gave them the opportunity and the space, they would save this planet from us, and then we should thank them by giving back even more land. OK, that rant is over.

Domesticated animals are an entirely different story. Humans created these animals and chose which qualities they should have. It’s interesting how we’ve bred animals to reflect the human qualities that we desire from them, such as courage, protectiveness, companionability.  In doing so, we removed most of their wild instincts (except, of course, for cats, who if they had opposable thumbs, would rule the world.) We intentionally left most of these animals without the ability to take care of themselves in the wild. In fact, they are almost completely vulnerable in the wild. We made them totally dependent upon us for food, protection, care . . . everything.

(BTW – someone recently told me that God’s plan for bull calves was that they do what bulls do, which is breed and then get slaughtered and eaten – it’s against His will to castrate, dehorn, or anything else aside from killing them and eating them. GOD HAS NO WILL AS FAR AS BULL CALVES ARE CONCERNED AS HE/SHE DIDN’T CREATE THEM – WE DID!!!!)

And so, if they are vulnerable and dependent upon adult humans for their survival (a cat just walked over and slapped me – again, cats are excluded) what should domesticated animals resemble to us?

How about . . . children? (I just heard your head explode all the way out here on the farm. . . sorry . . .) Let me ‘splain . . .

I have been told by a lot of extremist animal rights activists that farm animals should not be trained or even handled. They should be left to themselves to graze and romp and do what wild animals do. Nobody wants to hear about how they can’t– it’s dangerous to them and dangerous to humans. I even have an example for you! It is the venerable anomaly called THE PIG.

I love pigs – in fact, my favorite animal friend of all time was one named Ozzie Osboar. They are brilliant, beautiful, emotional, loyal and capable of tremendous love. However, if you go to the southern states, pigs that have escaped from farms have created their own huge herds. They grow to extreme sizes and therefore have no wild predators to keep their population in check. They raid properties and dumps for food and cause quite a bit of damage, and they have been known to attack and kill humans. They do so to feed and nurture their families, whom they love with a vengeance. Oh, and that old adage “strong as a bull” should be “strong as a pig.” Because of this, there are people who spend their days down south hunting and killing pigs. Why? Because they are a domesticated animal gone wild. And worse, they thrive in the wild to the detriment of native populations and suburban neighborhoods.

Are pigs dangerous? Well, no. If a pig is raised from a baby and taught manners and respect, he or she is an upstanding citizen and a loyal friend. Our pigs are taught to be gentle, they learn to sit before we give them their food buckets so no one gets slimed or accidentally injured. They come when they are called and they allow us to handle them when they need medication or treatment. They are domesticated animals and they must be taught the rules of behavior, just like children, if you are a decent parent. And then it’s our responsibility to take care of them for the rest of their lives (unlike human children, who, if you are worth your salt as a parent, will go off and do their own thing.)

Now, if pigs are too far off your radar screen, think about dogs. They are domesticated animals who, if they aren’t trained and are allowed to run wild, will gather into dangerous packs. Dogs must be trained, restrained, fenced, and constantly attended to (as well as loved, cuddled and spoiled!) An untrained dog is a dangerous dog, and far too many are destroyed because some humans couldn’t be bothered to properly care for them.

I live in the world of reality, and it’s a harsh place. Despite being regularly told I’m wrong, I know firsthand from my animals what they want, and that’s what I’m going to work with. So far, no one has given me any viable alternatives. What to do with more than 100,000 horses that go to slaughter each year? If I’m not allowed to save and train a few of them them to keep them safe and happy, the only option is death. What about bull calves? Same thing. Nobody can give me a real alternative that works in the reality that is THIS WORLD TODAY which is saturated with the billions of animals we have bred to the detriment of our planet, our health and frankly, our very Spirit, which has become immune to the suffering we have created. HOW IS SLAUGHTER THE ONLY VIABLE ALTERNATIVE EVEN TO PEOPLE WHO SAY THEY LOVE ANIMALS? AAAAAAAAAAAGH! (Yes, folks, that was the sound of my head exploding . . .)

What’s the ultimate solution? Well, it’s to stop breeding domesticated animals and let that entire experiment in agriculture go away. (BOOM! BANG! POP! Heads exploding everywhere!) But really, people . . . reality check. That won’t happen. And if domesticated animals are here to stay, we need to be responsible about them. Which would require an entire book, and because I have to go out and shovel manure, I can’t write one today.

There is, however, a short moral to this story . . . we have to stop judging domesticated animals in black and white terms, all or nothing. Do they want to be kept in horrific conditions and then be slaughtered for food? Hell no. Do they want to be pushed aside and left to their own devices? Nope – we genetically manipulated them to thrive in a human/animal bond and partnership. THEY ARE HAPPY WITH THAT! I have a pack of dogs at my feet that would be devastated if I sent them outside and told them to go back to nature; it’s just not their scene.

It’s time to forge new ground in the human/animal relationship. We have to start from scratch, consult with our animal friends to understand their needs and desires, and take it from there. It’s a brave, new world, but it’s not as difficult as it may seem . . . I mean, we’ve been doing it on Locket’s Meadow for 19 years.

It’s long past time to start thinking outside of the Happy Meal box and come up with solutions for the real world, to save the planet and to save our souls.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, Poor David, are owned by the critters of Locket’s Meadow where they talk to the animals all day long, and the animals talk back. If you want to know more about Kathleen’s love affair with Ozzie Osboar, read “Ozzie’s Promise”, the third book in the Locket’s Meadow series. You, too, will fall madly in love with a pig.



A Tale of Saints, Sinners and Adorable Baby Cows

I am not a hero. I am not a saint. I’m really just another slightly dumpy, aging Meemaw who is still alive today because I was lucky enough to have the love of a good dog when I was a child. Gretchen, a shepherd mix, came to us when I was almost 11, after about a year of praying daily for a dog of my own so I wouldn’t be lonely anymore. She’d jumped out of the dog warden’s truck when he went to load another dog at the corner of our street, and she raced right to our yard and hid under our camper.
“I finally found you!” she announced when we met. 

I was the outsider, odd-duck in my family and the outcast in my class, bullied every day of my life. I was also unable to speak to most people outside of my family or neighborhood, and my shyness was debilitating. So, when Gretchen chose to sleep on my bed and follow me everywhere, I suddenly had reason to live; I suddenly had worth. When I thought about suicide (often,) my dog always sensed my pain and hunted me down. And then . . . A miracle . . . I’d suddenly feel much, much better. The love of a good dog saved my life. Who am I not to return the favor?

Locket’s Meadow, the animal sanctuary that owns my husband and me, is not about us. It’s about the animals who live here and give it their heart and soul. We are their humble servants, and we are honored to have the job. When we call them “our animals” it’s not out of any sense of ownership, but because they are our family – in the same way as we refer to our children as “ours.” When people come to the farm and meet them, they are amazed by how friendly and loving they are, from horses, to goats, to steers . . . and people always comment that they must be “special” animals.

Here’s the news flash – they aren’t. They are no more special than any other cow, hen, pig or donkey on this planet; the only difference between them and every other farm animal destined for a brutal death is that they were found, rescued and loved. Every other farm animal is just as deserving as every one of ours, and if we had all the money in the world, we would focus on finding a way to save as many of them from abuse, neglect and slaughter as we possibly could. Not because we are so special, but because every one of them is. Just as I was once saved by the love of a good dog, every one of them can be saved by the love of a good human.

This past Sunday we had a group of special needs individuals come to Locket’s Meadow, which we have done for more years than I can remember (I really am an aging Meemaw . . . My memory is toast!) We believe that animals are magical, and magic is meant to be shared. Visits are free, the same very reasonable price as magic and love!

Some of our guests wanted to ride horses, including a bubbly young lady named Christina. I knew she was nervous because she decided maybe, “we should have some of the boys ride first.” When it was Christina’s turn, we brought Sonora up to the mounting block. Sonora is an old pro who has been working with special needs people for more than 10 years. She knew Christina was nervous, and the pony stood stock-still while she tried to mount. Halfway on, Christina panicked. She froze, said she was going to fall and that she was afraid. Sonora planted her hooves and didn’t move a muscle. We explained that her horse was perfect, and she was very safe, but she began to cry and begged to get off. I took her foot from the stirrup and set it back on the platform, but she wasn’t quite close enough to feel secure, so Sonora (unprompted) very, very slowly and carefully shifted closer to the block so that her belly was pressed up against it and there was no gap for us to worry about. Then off Christina came, all was well, and 10 minutes later she asked to try again. This time she got on, but still wouldn’t let Sonora walk.

Poor Sonora hung her head. No horse had ever tried so hard to help a rider feel safe, and she had failed. We hugged our pony and told her she was perfect, and Christina and one of the other guests took her for a walk around the indoor arena and she perked up again.

I think, if Christina comes for another visit, Sonora may yet convince her to be her riding buddy. Actually, I’m sure of it.

The more love you give, to animals and people, the more love they give back, and the more love you then have to give again. It’s the most beautiful “vicious circle” I’ve ever witnessed.

A little later, our guests wandered over to visit with the calves, Francis, Patrick and Valentine. Everyone falls in love with calves. They are the sweetest, gentlest, loveliest animals on the planet and they pass out hugs and kisses like Shriners tossing candy at a parade. I swear, love love love is their mantra. Are all calves as lovely as ours? Yes . . . That is, if all calves were loved as ours are, they would be as lovely.

The moment I wait for is the one when someone is fawning over Francis or Val, then gazes into a pair of soulful eyes and realizes that, holy crap, if not for having been found and rescued, this angelic being would have been a slab of veal on their dinner plate. And they would much rather be snuggling Francis than eating him.

I don’t say a word . . . I just watch and smile. The animals do their advocacy far more effectively than I ever could.

One of the chaperones on Sunday looked up from cuddling Francis, and with the sappiest, happiest little-boy smile on his face, pronounced, “I’m sold!” Then went right back to loving on his new bestie.

I know a grown man we fell asleep that night with that same little boy smile on his face . . .

Locket’s Meadow is far more than a sanctuary for animals. It’s a sanctuary for people who have lost faith in love, life and humanity. Unlike other rescues, we encourage interaction with our babies (supervised, of course, for the safety of our animals!) and we are awed by all the humans our animals can rescue in a fraction of the time it would take a therapist.

So no, I’m not a hero. Or a saint. I’m a caretaker and a mama and a Meemaw, trying to repay a debt that can’t ever be repaid. I’m madly in love with all my babies, and best of all, they are madly in love with me. And the truth is . . . Every last one of them is a hero, just as every other farm animal would be if they were loved and cared for, and given the same opportunity to interact.

When we have open houses or visiting hours, I hope you visit Locket’s Meadow with an open heart and open mind and prepare yourself to be amazed. Be prepared to be loved, and also be prepared to have our animals love you right back, as well. For free.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by Locket’s Meadow Rescue and Sanctuary where they are happily enslaved by somewhere in the area of 140 animals. It’s messy, but it’s worth it. 

A Tale of Smart Homo Sapiens and Dumb, Dead Neanderthals

Just because something has always been done the same way, doesn’t mean we should keep doing it. For example, there is evidence that Neanderthals ate the brains of their dead comrades. Well, more than the brains, but the brains are where we will focus for now . . . because there are prions in the brain that can cause the human equivalent of mad cow disease, which is always fatal. There are experts who propose that brain-eating contributed to the fall of the Neanderthal race, but even if you told a Neanderthal to knock it off because it wasn’t good for him/her, what are the chances they would give a flying fart? Because, you know . . . tradition!!!! Neanderthals have always eaten brains! Thank heavens we are so much smarter nowadays and learn from our mistakes. You know, the big boo-boos like WWII, fossil fuels and religious wars . . . things we will make sure never, ever happen again! Phew . . .

Of course, there are the very, very few humans (really, just a small handful, hardly worth mentioning, but what the hell, I have the computer open and I’m typing anyways . . .) who refuse to learn from mistakes, especially those made by their immediate ancestors. There are studies that suggest people who beat their children do so because they were beaten by their own parents, and if they opt to NOT beat their children, it might intimate that Mom and Dad were wrong in their approach to childrearing, and, well, that would be far worse than ensuring healthy human beings emerge from the nest and go forth into the world. I mean, who couldn’t understand that? Hitler is a prime example of a child who was beaten and humiliated by a dictatorial father who then went out into the world and made something of himself despite his early abuse, and the fact that he only had one testicle. No, this is true . . . Google it!!! There’s even a really catchy song about it!

Sometimes people do change and it totally freaks everyone out. I remember when my friend Loretta came home from her first year of college and announced she was a vegetarian. She handed out brochures about how to cook with tofu like a Jehova’s Witness presses Watchtowers into the hands of passing infidels. As with the scads of Watchtowers I’d been handed, I dropped the tofu primer into the circular file cabinet, laughed with my mother about how weird some people are, and moved on. I probably stopped to roll a slice of ham up in a piece of Swiss cheese and eat it standing in front of the open fridge door. Tradition!!! Nothing wrong with it, dammit!

Except two years later, in 1982, I watched my father-in-law grind chunks of beef in his electric grinder and saw the blood pouring out alongside the meat and I never ate meat again. For just a moment, I allowed myself to absorb the fact that hamburger came from a living, breathing, feeling animal. An animal whom I would have climbed a wire fence to hug and pet despite impending risk of electrocution or goring. And when I made the announcement, much later and only after much questioning about why I wasn’t eating the roast beef or turkey, and muttered the word “vegetarian” under my breath as I ran for the nearest exit . . . my husband, parents, siblings and extended family were truly sympathetic and understanding. Not one of them called me weird, none of them snuck ground beef into the “special” veggie meal they made for me, and not one of them walked out of my wedding to my second husband because the food was vegetarian (actually, two walked out and a third threatened to, but a cousin kept buying him drinks thereby holding him hostage at the bar.) Tradition, dammit! It’s so much more important than love, empathy, sympathy, or even reason and common sense!

But when I became a vegetarian was a long, long time ago and I’m old now. In 2019, humanity has learned that meat and dairy cause more fatal diseases than cigarette smoking, alcohol and maybe even Coca Cola and Pepsi combined (but don’t quote me on that last one.) We also know that factory farming is responsible for polluting millions of acres of land and endless water sources. We’ve learned that billions of cattle and other overbred livestock roaming the earth emit more greenhouse gases and contribute more to global warming than all of the combined cars on the planet! Even Al Gore finally gave up steak, despite it being damned inconvenient for him. (Thank you, Al!)

And because we are not at all like the stupid Neanderthals who couldn’t break their brain-eating habit (and also, because we are so smart there are absolutely no people left who think Hitler was too cool for school,) we’ve stopped all of that silliness in order to save the planet and be kinder, gentler and way, way SMARTER AND MORE PROACTIVE than our dim-witted ancestors.

Phew! Thank goodness! Because if we hadn’t dramatically changed our ways and stopped all that nonsense, scientists (remember them and when they were held in high esteem? Seems like only a few short years ago . . .) predicted we were staring at the end of life on our planet within a matter of DECADES! Like, my grandchildren would likely not finish out a normal lifespan if we didn’t get our acts together!

Yep, thank goodness those Neanderthals died out and we homo sapiens are so much smarter and more advanced than those dumb, dead brain-eaters.

Because otherwise, you know, we’d be doomed . . .

Kathleen Schurman is owned by Locket’s Animal Rescue and Sanctuary and spends her days shoveling more kinds of manure than can be listed in this brief space. She’s generally far too busy to stay current with current events, so please excuse any gaps in her knowledge of what’s happening in the world today.



Realistically Speaking . . . or . . . let’s talk horse sense

I’m a realist. Maybe it’s the Capricorn in me, perhaps it’s the farmer, or possibly it has to do with how much animal manure I shovel in a day, leaving me unable to deal with “bullshit” of the theoretical kind. For whatever reason, I find myself asking, “What’s the point?” way too often, then cutting directly to the chase, so to speak. Other people can debate merits, ethics, whatever they want, but in the real world of animal rescue, we generally have time to deal with one question – what’s the best thing that can be done for this animal? We take into account health (mental, emotional and physical,) happiness, and potential for their future. We also take into consideration what we need to do to be able to safely handle each animal, which for goats, sheep, and other smaller animals is not so worrisome. For larger animals, such as horses and bulls, well, it’s much more exciting.

We’ve had a lot of brouhaha about bull calves lately, for the oddest reason. A woman posted on the farm Facebook page that I am a “cruel bitch” for disbudding and banding (castrating) our bull calves. She said she had been thinking about donating to our sanctuary, but since we did this, we don’t qualify as vegan. Then she dropped a few F bombs and I wish I could say she then went on her merry way, but she clung to the thread for the rest of the day, making sure everyone knew how much she despises us . . . despite the fact (that I happen to know for a fact) that all sanctuaries debud and neuter their bull calves to increase the animals’ quality of life as well as to keep staff and visitors safe.

Which brings me to horses. Of course.

Because even if this particular variety of vegan (and I’m a vegan, I swear I am!) could wrap her arms around the fact that all sanctuaries take care of bull calves (and goats, sheep, etc.) the exact same way we do, they will never recover from how we treat horses (which is exactly how other strictly horse rescues treat them – and BTW, most farm animal sanctuaries don’t even attempt horse rescue because of the level of work, training and extreme expense that must go into them.)

But let’s back up before we cut to the chase. REALITY – there are 9.2 million horses in the USA, alone. An average of about 130,000 U.S. horses are sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico every single year. Many are horses that didn’t make the cut in the big breeding industries producing quarter horses and thoroughbreds. Some are from backyard breeding operations. Most make their way through the auctions and are collected in kill pens, awaiting the hauler who will drive them to their particularly gruesome deaths. However you look at it, reality is that humans breed way too many horses, and the percentage ending up in slaughterhouses is heartbreaking.

Here on Locket’s Meadow, we’ve been rescuing horses from slaughter for 17 years. Several hundred have made their way through our farm and on to adoptive homes, while many have stayed here. In the past two days I have been contacted and asked to take on two different horses as rescues. One is 15 and has leg problems so she can’t be ridden. The other is 22 and retired due to health issues, and the owners can’t afford to pay his board any more. (In many cases like the second one, they can’t afford the board because they already got a new horse that is rideable – few people can afford board for more than one horse.) If either of these horses ends up at auction (we are full and can’t take them,) they will definitely go to slaughter. People bid on sound, trained horses who are easy to handle, and that’s with good reason. An untrained horse is a deadly horse. And a horse that can’t be ridden is usually destined to be a dead horse, long before their natural time.

And so I cut to the chase. Most of the horses on our farm are trained to be ridden, even the dangerous Bad Boy Bobby. Probably half our horses are retired and hang around eating all day. Should anything happen to my husband or me, my equine vet, who also rescues horses, knows what to do. Those who are too old, special needs, or just plain too difficult (Bobby) to be adopted out will be humanely euthanized. Those who are trained to be ridden will be placed in carefully screened adoptive homes. My promise to my horses is that they will never experience the horror of filing through the slaughter pipeline.

In the real world, from which we rescue our babies, horses are sent to auction with little to no regard for the fact that most of them will become meat. The few who will survive the auctions ARE THE ONES CAPABLE OF HOLDING A JOB. If we don’t provide our horses with training, then keep them in shape in our small lesson program, their reality is that if they ever leave the fairy tale that is Locket’s Meadow, they will be shot in the head with a bolt gun (that may or may not stun them,) get hung by a hook through a hind foot, then sent down the slaughter line. After, of course, they’ve watched the same thing happen to the horses in line in front of them.

Our job is to rescue animals and keep them safe. If keeping a horse safe means we train them to be well-mannered and rideable, we will put in the very considerable time and expense to make that happen. Period. We don’t care who judges us or if they donate or not. We care about our babies and their futures, whether they are with us, or elsewhere.

This is the real world for horses, and it’s a horror show. Principles be damned, if we are going to rescue them, we commit to doing the best we can for them. Anything less is buying into a fantasy that doesn’t exist in this world, and turning a blind eye to that reality doesn’t help a save a single horse from a hellish life followed by a hellish death.

Are we ever going to be a “vegan” sanctuary? Nope. Not if we actually care about horses, we won’t. We are realists.

And for that, we make NO apologies.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband, David, are owned by Locket’s Meadow, a farm animal sanctuary, where they literally never have time to ride because they are far too busy keeping up with the volume of manure being produced by their brood of more than 140 animals.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg . . . no wait . . . I meant compassion or principles :/ …

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, 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 . . .