Animal Rights Zone

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Bill and Lou: Two Oxen at a College

There is an extraordinary story developing about a global effort to save two 11 year-old oxen from slaughter, whose bodies will serve the appetites of students at Green Mountain College (GMC), a small institution in Poultney, Vermont. Bill and Lou, affectionately named, have labored at GMC as part of the college’s Food & Farm Project for over a decade—their tasks included plowing fields and even generating electricity. According to the official college statement, Bill and Lou are “draft animals,” rescued from neglect and malnutrition to “do important work which would otherwise be performed by equipment that consumes diesel fuel.” Now their ability to do that “important work” has ended: this past July, after stepping into a woodchuck hole, Lou reinjured his left rear leg which rendered him incapable of working, and his friend Bill, while uninjured, will not likely accept a new teammate. So what to do with a pair of unworkable, elderly oxen, GMC residents who have become de facto mascots? Eat them, of course—which was the decision reached in “an open community forum” participated by both students and faculty.

Bill and Lou are still alive, for now. Although originally scheduled for slaughter by the end of October, immense public pressures – particularly on local slaughterhouses – forced a postponement. Still, GMC remains unwavering in their decision: “Eventually the animals will be processed as planned.” This in spite of a standing offer by VINE Sanctuary, and now also Farm Sanctuary, to provide permanent homes for Bill and Lou at no cost to the college, in addition to offers of tens of thousands of dollars to purchase them from GMC.

GMC’s decision to slaughter and consume two farmed animals is nothing new, since nameless millions are killed every day in factory farms—and yet the public outcry has been astonishing, overwhelming for many at GMC. Several prominent animal advocates have loudly and persistently voiced their opposition, including Bruce Friedrich, Steve Wise (check his fb for updates), Marc Bekoff, James McWilliams, as well as others. The situation is unusual in at least one respect: GMC, an institution of higher learning, and a few faculty members, have publically articulated various justifications (and non-justifications) for their decision which are transparently weak. GMC considered the decision as touching upon “complex ethical matters,” one that was “many months in the making, with members of our community carefully weighing alternatives.”


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Comment by Kath Worsfold on November 11, 2012 at 20:39

Well, they can be thought of this way, Carolyn. They are a symbol, representing the 99%. It's sort of like a microcosm, that if the general public can show them compassion and mercy - can CARE enough to bring enough pressure to save them - then maybe there's hope that their eyes could be opened to the plight of the 99%, and they could be led to a more compassionate life. It's one theory, anyway. 

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on November 11, 2012 at 16:15

I've not followed this story much at all, but it's interesting to hear you refer to Bill and Lou as a symbol, Kath. 

I've been confused with what I've heard of this story. I haven't been able to understand why so many vegans have seemed so outraged with the plight of these oxen. One of the statements I read early on in this story from a representative of the college was that either Bill and Lou would be slaughtered and eaten by the college, or two faceless and nameless cows would be slaughtered and eaten by the college in their place. What confuses me, from a vegan perspective, is why it's so important to save Bill and Lou at the expense of two cows who will take their place. Why are the lives of the faceless and nameless cows not equally important and valuable to other vegans? 

I suspect that if Bill and Lou were to be spared and sent to sanctuary this would be regarded as a monumental "victory" by so many people - including many vegans. I don't see it that way. 

As I said though, I've really not kept up to date with this story, simply because I haven't had the time to catch up on it yet, but I'm very interested to hear the opinions of others on this, perhaps I'm missing some important points. 

Comment by Kath Worsfold on November 11, 2012 at 13:05

I'm following the story closely, and am rooting for the boys. Realistically, unless someone takes things into their own hands, the outlook doesn't look good.

They are a symbol, standing for all the millions of their kind who are killed every day. Because of this, lots of vegans have joined the fight to save them. But, the "powers that be" at Green Mountain College are very aware of this, and won't back down. They've been offered many thousands of dollars for the pair - much more than their monetary value to the College. The money could be put to very good use by the College, but that matters not to them. They also see Bill and Lou as a symbol. A symbol that they will not EVER back down from a stance, once taken.

I think they have underestimated public opinion, and I think they will regret their decision very much in the future, if they show no mercy to Bill and Lou.


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