“He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man.” (Isaiah 66:3)
“It is not the will of my Father…that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matt. 18:14)
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40)
“There is not an animal who lives on the earth, nor a being who flies on wings, but they form communities like you.” (Quran 6:38)
Back in March and on holiday for a week in Cape Cornwall, I met the lovely Hamish and Dougal, two young Highland steers, (named on the spot, to give them their dignity, beyond those awful, yellow DEFRA tags). Socialized from their daily contact with locals, tourists and walkers, they were very quickly licking my hands, letting me scratch their faces, nudging for more affection etc; the miracle of inter-species connection, and Isaian protocol at its best. In other words, they were so completely trusting of humans, (having somehow by-passed that very understandable “fear and dread,”) that it would have been a terrible betrayal to “send them to slaughter.” (The case with all our animal kin, of course.)
In that moment I knew I had to do something; to find a way to somehow change their man-made ‘destiny’ – even if the odds were stacked against me. Hamish and Dougal might only be two in that terrified crowd of 60 billion who annually lose their lives to our meat industry, but they mattered – and they had personally crossed my path.
After a bit of leg work I managed to track the farmer down, (they were grazing a National Trust field at the time) and I made the first, tentative call. If I managed to raise what he wanted for them, would he be willing to sell them to me? Against the odds the farmer was in favour of them being spared: “I heard in the village you’d been admiring them,” he said. “I can see why you want to do it. They are lovely lads.” Amazing. I had expected derision, ridicule for my vegan ‘sentimentality’- hostility even.
He wanted up to £2000 for them (depending on how they weighed in at the end of the summer.) I had to find them a permanent home. (My means are pretty humble and I don’t have any land.) And by September at the latest – when they would otherwise be ‘sent.’ There would be transport costs to pay, of course. This was going to be a challenging task potentially.
But the forces of Good were definitely on our side and within a few short months all the problems had, incredibly, been solved. It really taught me the power of collaboration; what can be achieved when there’s a common goal and everyone pitches in – heart and soul. How important it is to ask people too, that we’re not at all powerless – and that the worst thing that can happen is that someone says “no.”
Bristol-based animal charity, VIVA! kindly agreed to run an appeal, the wonderful Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk offered the boys a permanent home (at their West Runton site, where – if all went to plan – Hamish and Dougal would join a resident Highland herd.) VIVA! artist, Jason Liosatos, painted them both and offered to donate his auction proceeds; Totnes artist, Kristina Bieganski, offered three originals her father had collected; dance teacher, Alexandra Williams organised a Latin-American Zumbathon; friends at Compassionate Dorset designed “Save Hamish and Dougal!” t-shirts to sell; a generous couple bought my only piece of valuable furniture, and my local paper ran their story.
By August the funds were in place and on Monday 20th, after they’d cleared their DEFRA TB checks, Hamish and Dougal finally made their long journey, in a deluxe horse-box, (442 miles, from coast to coast, in 9 steady hours through the dark of night,) to freedom.
But there was a bitter-sweet postscript to their rescue…
To make Hamish and Dougal’s loading easier, the farmer had moved them from their field into a barn four days before I went down to Cornwall to collect them. What no-one had told me was that they would temporarily be reunited with their big ‘brother,’ William, the farmer’s prize Limousin bull. They hadn’t seen him for two years, since they were all calves together, (the three grew up as brothers and were completely inseparable apparently) and their recognition was instant. Not many farmers will credit their animals with having complex emotions or memory, but he reported to me that they were overjoyed to see William again; that they were leaping about, “gambolling” (and William’s a big boy, weighing over a tonne,) licking each other, calling out etc. (Consciousness if speciesist humans ever needed proof of it!)
The only heart-wrenching part of that whole trip was seeing William’s distress at the boys being loaded, and Hamish’s determination not to be split up from him. He tried to jump the bars that separated them, in fact. (Dougal was quieter, and more resigned.) The farmer’s words “He’s not coming with you lads,” have haunted my sleep all summer. I called the farmer as soon as I got back from Norfolk, but he had already sold him on! (Just two days later at ‘market,’ to a Bodmin farmer, who – to make matters worse – has a reputation for not feeding his animals properly.) The first farmer had no contact details for the second. William’s ‘cattle movement,’ which should have been on record with British Cattle Movement Services from August 22nd (when he was taken to ‘market’) hadn’t, for some reason, appeared yet. (Something our poor badgers are paying the price for!) It was a needle in a haystack nightmare.
Then a little miracle occurred…I wrote to British Cattle Movement Services, detailing everything and begged them for their help to try and track William down. I had to reunite those boys somehow! They agreed to co-operate and after a couple of weeks found the new farmer. They contacted him on my behalf (they couldn’t give his details out) and have reported back that he would be “willing to sell the animal “William” in a couple of months time.” Hillside Animal Sanctuary has offered him a home. My local newspaper in Devon has agreed to run his story. (They have already made bovine ‘stars’ of Hamish and Dougal, and have brought quite a few meat-eaters into the fold too!) The first farmer sold William to the second for £2020.00. Money will be needed for transport again – possibly up to £1000 as William’s size and weight could prove too much for a horse box. A £3000 target – but where there’s a will, there’s a way…and every life is precious, after all.
I know these are only three individuals and that the whole rotten system needs to end, but Hamish and Dougal have already become ambassadors for the animal kingdom, connecting people to them as conscious, sentient, relational beings who deserve a lot better. (It’s all too easy to gloss over that abstract reality of 60 billion anonymous victims, unfortunately.) If William is given a chance, I know he will play his own important role.
It would be wonderful if fellow Friends could help to give this story a happy ending.
Please see http://viva.org.uk
Many thanks for listening. Heidi Stephenson.
Dougal, left, and Hamish, right.
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