Article by Heidi Stephenson
It’s all too easy to gloss over that abstract figure of 60 billion+ animal victims (excluding fish), who die each year because of human meat-addiction, unfortunately. Very few people go on to make that empathic link with the suffering sentient individual inside our hellish, anonymous system. But as we HappyCow-ers know, every life matters – and every death is an extinction.
Back in March and on holiday in 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 tags). They were completely socialized from their contact with locals and tourists and within seconds were sucking my fingers, letting me scratch their faces and nudging boisterously for more affection. It was a moment of inter-species protocol at its best – and I knew I had to do something. They were so trusting of humans, I had terrible visions of them licking the hands of their killers in the slaughterhouse! (Which happens, of course, especially with baby animals who have just been separated from their mothers.)
I had to find a way to change their man-made ‘destiny’ – even if the odds were stacked against me. Hamish and Dougal might only be two in that terrified crowd, but they mattered – and they had – very personally – crossed my path.
I managed to track the farmer down and made the first, tentative call. If I raised what he wanted for them, would he be willing to sell them to me? Incredibly the farmer was in favor 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 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; and by September – when they would otherwise be ‘sent.’ There would be transport costs to pay. This was going to be challenging.
But the forces of Good were definitely on our side and within a couple of months all the problems had been solved. VIVA! agreed to run an appeal, Hillside Animal Sanctuary offered the boys a home and AR friends all over South West England pulled the stops out to help them. An artist painted their portraits and offered his proceeds; Newton Abbot caught Zumbathon fever; “Save Hamish and Dougal!” t-shirts were designed to sell – and my local paper ran their story.
By August the funds were in place and on Monday 20th, after they’d cleared their 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 their loading easier, the farmer had moved them from their field into a barn. 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 calves together, (the three grew up as brothers and were inseparable apparently) and their recognition was instant. Not many farmers will credit their animals with having complex emotions or memory, but he reported that they were overjoyed to see William again, they were leaping about, “gambolling” – and William’s a big boy, weighing over a tonne – licking each other and calling out for four happy days. (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 more resigned.) The farmer’s words “He’s not coming with you lads,” haunted my sleep all summer. I called the farmer as soon as I got back, 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.) 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 hadn’t appeared yet. It was a needle in a haystack nightmare.
Then a miracle occurred…I wrote to British Cattle Movement Services, detailing everything and begged 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 will run his story. (They have already made bovine ‘stars’ of Hamish and Dougal, and have brought quite a few meat-eaters into the fold!) 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…
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. If William is given a chance, I know he will play his own role too.
Could HappyCow supporters help give this story a happy ending?
Please visit: www.viva.org.uk/william