Cassie the cow didn’t jump over the moon for your entertainment. She jumped a six foot fence at a slaughterhouse in a desperate attempt to save herself. And compared to most cows, she got lucky. In her case being lucky has involved post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-depressants and sedatives, agoraphobia (fear of going outside) as well as fear of people and being with other cows (slaughterhouse memories). Attempts to socialize her have mostly failed but she has become comfortable being in her own stall with an open window with other cows on the outside. Though her history was detailed on a sign, I’ve recalled it from a few notes and memory so may be off on some details.
After another sanctuary couldn’t handle her needs, Cassie now lives at Maple Farm Sanctuary, formerly a dairy farm for three generations, which is located about ten miles from my father’s house and run by a constantly busy couple of approximate age 60 with the help of never enough volunteers. Their MySpace page includes a newsletter and the heartbreaking/warming story of the life journey which led to beginning the sanctuary. The 150 beautiful rolling acres are home to llamas, cows, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, horses, a miniature pony, and two piglets.
I attended a benefit to raise funds to build a better home for Cassie at the sanctuary a few weeks ago. Peter Young, who served two years in prison for releasing fur farm minks, spoke about how actually seeing chickens being slaughtered was what changed him into someone who had to act directly. He said he’d heard all the Starbucks jokes; I wrote one myself in an old column: “After years living undercover, Young was caught shoplifting CDs from Starbucks and I certainly can’t condone that. Everyone knows you shouldn’t go to Starbucks.” Seriously, I completely agree with the goal of putting furriers, fur “farmers”, and trappers out of business. But I don’t support releasing thousands of mink into the wild to kill native animals and where almost all the mink quickly die themselves. If a habitat were capable of supporting thousands of native mink, they’d already be there. This is just an alternate version of humans acting as if they have the right to do whatever they please with the natural world. There weren’t any questions following the speech so I approached Young later to discuss this but he was deep in conversation with a couple adoring fans, and since I was from 1000 miles away and thus the stranger (i.e. the FBI guy) to everyone there, I let it go and walked away.
I’ve always been the stranger: an only child who started school early, then skipped a grade. Academically, the school wanted me to skip two years; socially, my father decided one was enough. Maybe I might have been an oceanographer or another worthless millionaire if I hadn’t absorbed the values of the 60s, but at age 11 I was first published, a letter in Newsweek supporting the American athletes who raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the national anthem. Growing up, I hiked through nearby woods beginning my love of nature and explored an old graveyard where the inscription “Died from wounds received at the hands of her husband” led to my first attempt at fiction.
In my mid-twenties, I joined Mensa for a year. My partner at the time berated me for being an elitist. It’s true that I am somewhat of an elitist in dealing with people, but hey, at least I don’t think my species is better than all the other species on the planet. No, that’s all the supposed non-elitists who think that. In any case, I didn’t join Mensa because I wanted to feel superior; I joined because I was looking for community I didn’t find in the everyday world. Nor did I find it in the group; I remember some good games of Trivial Pursuit and a rainy hiking weekend in the mountains of New Hampshire where I gave myself a mild case of hypothermia (what a genius!) but I found the same mix of beliefs and values and attitudes that existed everywhere else.
I deeply believe this is a contemptible culture, not only because of how we treat other species, but because of how we treat other humans and ourselves. When someone asks what you do, they’re not wondering if you meditate, read the classics, walk in the woods observing phenology, or volunteer at a homeless shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center; they want to know how you earn money. Tell someone you’re going to college to learn or follow your passion for art or history and you’ll get a strange look because you should be training to make more money. It’s the obsession with money which assigns a cost to other species and steals their true value.
I’ve marched with tens of thousands against wars and for abortion, been to stadium sized sports events and concerts, but always knew we had just an issue or song in common. The only time in my life I’ve been in a crowd of hundreds and known we all shared basic core values was at Maple Farm Sanctuary. That was a powerful day, and that unusual feeling of peace lasted through the two quiet weeks I spent at my father’s...in the past it hasn’t taken two days before we got into an argument.
The feeling came without any big dramatic moments with people or other animals at the farm. I did some small talk, ate some processed veggie food, mostly ignored the music being played, got a cookbook at the silent auction. There were a few goats and cows in an area where they could come over to a fence for human touch if they wanted (and at least one of them usually did), a mix of llamas, goats, and turkeys in one less accessible fenced in area, and five more cows to watch at pasture far beyond a temporary fence to keep the humans out. More animals were in a barn which could only be visited on a tour...I went on one of the early tours and then again on the last tour of the day. This is where Cassie could be found in her area at the end of the barn. Among other animals along the way were a llama who removed my hat to smell my hair and two piglets who, before arriving at the sanctuary, had already had their tails docked and bore blue dye to indicate to the dockers which pigs still needed to be mutilated. The feel of their snouts against my hands was the most interesting sensation of the day because I’d had no previous experience with pigs. Throughout the day, I know many people were sharing my desire to spend more time touching the animals and it was hard to remind ourselves that this was not a petting zoo but a rare place where these animals were fortunate to find life.
If living in