A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Bill Lives, Lou Dies, School Stumbles on

lou-ox-111312With animal protection groups raising holy hell over Green Mountain College’s (GMC) plan to kill their two old working oxen and serve them up in the dining hall, Bill and Lou quickly became poster boys for questions of ethics and morality all across the country.

School authorities, clinging to their plan on the basis that the college teaches and practices “sustainable farming”, finally ran into a problem they hadn’t anticipated: They couldn’t find a slaughterhouse that was willing to brave the glare of the media spotlight.

So GMC has ended up having Lou humanely euthanized and keeping Bill alive.

The two oxen, befriended and beloved by many of the students and faculty, had been retired from their work tilling the fields earlier this year after Lou injured one of his legs. According to GMC, the injury could not be healed, and Lou was in some discomfort. The school also explained that the two animals had been yoked together all their lives, and that Bill would be very unhappy separated from Lou. So they would both be sent to slaughter in the name of sustainable farming.

As the plan became known, protests erupted across the nation and around the world. Attorney Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project was among the thousands of people who wrote to GMC:

I strongly urge — I beg — the College to keep them alive, to show mercy, and move them to a sanctuary. Green Mountain College is getting a glimpse of the worldwide fury their deaths will provoke (or will continue to provoke). I suspect the Green Mountain College community may simply dismiss the furor or chalk it up to crazy animal rights fanatics. Either would be a serious error.

Looking for a way out without abandoning their “sustainable farming” principles, and seeing that slaughterhouses were getting nervous at the prospect of being seen as the executioners of two beloved animals, GMC found what it hoped would quell the anger.

“The slaughterhouses were barraged by threats from the animal rights activists and refused the animals, so we were unable to carry through with our plan,” William Throop, the college provost, told The New York Times.

Instead, according to GMC, Lou was humanely euthanized. A statement from the college says:

The arrival of cold temperatures and icy conditions are certain to increase his suffering, and we have concurred with our veterinarians’ judgment that it was not humane for him to suffer further.

Bill will remain at the college and will receive “care consistent with appropriate livestock practices.”

Animal protection groups had pressed for Bill and Lou to go to a sanctuary together – in particular the nearby VINE sanctuary. GMC had declined to do this for various stated reasons, like the pair wouldn’t travel well and wouldn’t do well in new surroundings. (Frankly, they wouldn’t do well being killed, either!) The VINE sanctuary said they were “cautiously relieved” over GMC’s final decision. But there’s no guarantee that Bill won’t be quietly slaughtered in the future, except, perhaps, the fact that there would likely be nothing quiet about it.

Students and faculty members who saw Bill the day after Lou was put down said he seemed to be grieving, waiting by the stable gate for Lou, rather than going out to his pasture as the pair would usually do in the morning.

Today, Steve Wise posted this on his Facebook page:

Fear and Loathing in Poultney

Thank you to the thousands who made your position known, loud and clear, that the Green Mountain College’s plan to slaughter and eat their old friends, Bill and Lou was morally unacceptable.

You may have believed no one was listening. Oh, they were. Closely. Those who would slaughter and eat their friends are capable of anything. And so Green Mountain College President Paul J. Fonteyn (a cross between Machiavelli’s Prince and a Keystone Kop) sent an ugly email in which he tried to get one of you in trouble with your boss.

Into my mailbox it pinged, dated November 1, 2012. Alas, thin-skinned President Fonteyn zipped it to a business 900 miles and four states away from the brave e-mailer.

From: Paul Fonteyn [mailto:fonteynp@greenmtn.edu]
Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2012 11:03 AM
To: name deleted
Subject: Employee of your company

Dear Name Deleted
I am writing to you because I believe the individual sending these emails to Green Mountain College is an employee of your company. I have two questions: If she is, do these uncivil and hostile emails reflect well on your company? Would you embrace this level of activity by an agent if this was occurring in Cincinnati? Please note every email has been sent during the workday hours.

Please note that the Governor of VT and the Secretary of Agriculture have publically supported the position of the college that DELETED is so against.

Paul J. Fonteyn

I immediately warned President Fonteyn he should consult a lawyer before he sent emails to the employers of his critics. On Sunday, he finally took my advice. Well, part of it. He consulted a lawyer, who promptly warned me not to communicate with President Fonteyn again.

Steve Wise

P.S. How does a College President spell “publicly”?