Things we need to learn from non-human animals

I read this amazing story about Louise and her friends on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary’s blog. The story is written by Joanna Lucas, and you can read it here accompanied by pictures of the individuals in the story. I also chose to copy the whole text it into this blog since I know many of you are more likely to read it if it’s easily available here. Remember though that I don’t own any rights to this text, and please do visit the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary’s blog or website, for more amazing stories about the rescued animals that live there and information about what the sanctuary does and how you can help.

The story is quite long but don’t let it discourage you, it’s definitely worth reading!

Dreams of the Heart

She knew he was there, waiting in the dark outside her barn. She could smell the prairie on his skin, and all the tantalizing grasses of distant fields clinging to his hooves. At first light, when the earth turned its dark face toward the sun, he was still standing there, waiting for her—a prodigal presence, teeming with all the strength and splendor of summer. She scrambled to her feet and teetered out of the barn with an almost spring in her rusty step, as if she had never needed our help just to get up, just to stand, just to put foot before foot, and she rushed—as much as an elderly, arthritic ewe can rush—to greet her estranged boy. Frank. 

When he was rescued from a neighboring “family farm” the year before—a skinny, scared, motherless calf—he was almost catatonic. No one could touch him, no one could reach him. He avoided contact with everyone, of any species, acting as though he was, or wanted to be, invisible. And it was poignant that the only being he trusted and bonded with at first was someone who could not see him—Pierre, the blind calf, Pierre the outsider, Pierre the oddball to everyone except elderly Louise, Louise who embraced him, the way she had embraced every other orphaned soul—without hesitation, like the good mother she knew the child needed, and who, later, opened her heart and her barn to Pierre’s new and only friend, Frank.

But, if Pierre was still her adult child who adored her with all the passion of a vulnerable, lonely heart, and if, a year later, he was still leaving his cattle tribe every night to sleep next to his adoptive mother in the sheep barn, Frank had grown into an independent and confident young steer who loved to wander and whom Louise hardly saw any more. He stopped by her barn only long enough to collect Pierre and lead him on their daily treks, but she was too old and arthritic to follow them or to venture out of the yard at all any more. In the past few weeks, she was barely able to walk unsupported and, even with our support, and even with the best treatment received around the clock, she still wobbled and shuddered with every step, her feeble frame trembling with the effort, her arthritic joints aching in protest.

But today she almost strutted out of the barn. She walked into the yard with a bounce in her step, and a twinkle in her eye, and a flutter in her being: Her boy Frank was there, waiting for her, walking next to her, syncing his sturdy steps to her brittle ones, breathing the solace of his presence into her pores, licking the pain away from her sore shoulders, and carrying the promise of something wonderful, in gaze, voice, touch, and breath.

At first we worried that, in his heft and his youth, he might accidentally hurt her with one playful swing of his head. But he was so careful, so restrained, so clearly aware of her vulnerability, so deliberately gentle, and so precise in the way he ministered his tenderness, that we trusted she’d be safe with him. And Louise was so happy, almost giddy, that we wouldn’t have had the heart to separate them anyway.

Frank’s company enlivened her, it emboldened her to venture out of her yard for the first time in months, and they soon set off together, a frail old ewe, bent to the earth by time and illness, and a hulking young steer crackling with the endless summer of his youth. They were a site to behold, Louise, with her spindly legs and reed-thin neck and rheumy eyes, walking in slow, creaky motion, next to her giant adopted boy. She wheezed, stuttered and shuddered with every step, lifting her legs with exaggerated care, as if stepping over invisible obstacles, setting each foot down with a thud that sent a quiver in her fragile frame, but she kept walking, leaning against Frank’s ample side and trusting that he would get her to her destination. Because, we soon realized, she wasn’t just out strolling with her prodigal boy on a lush summer day, she had a specific destination in mind. Or several.

Her first port of call was Simon, her oldest friend, the gander she knew from the bad old days on the farm when he sought solace in her company after his life partner was butchered, when he crawled to her side, mute with grief, and she cradled him in the crook of her neck as if he was the child she had just lost in the name of “lamb roast”. They stuck together all those years of being used as “breeding stock”, and they helped each other bear the anguish and the despair of losing love, in the only way hopeless creatures can: not by hoping for an impossible release, but by helping each other endure.

Yet that impossible dream of a release did come true and, when, against their wildest hopes, they did find Sanctuary and, with it, the freedom to become, they evolved in ways that set them on separate paths. Louise, whose mobility was already restricted by complications following multiple pregnancies, births and bereavements, kept mostly to the sheep yard where she found joy and purpose in caring for a seemingly endless procession of orphans and outcasts and where, in the past year, she had been anchored not only by old age and arthritis but also by her love for a grown orphan who still needed the sustenance of mother love: Pierre, the blind calf. And, for his part, Simon had build his new life around his partners, Cheryl and Carol, whom he cherished and whose gifts and demands pulled him away from everyone and everything that was not them. He lived in his loves’ gravitational pull and could not bear to lose sight of them, much less be physically separated from them.

Today, Louise made it only halfway to Simon’s pad before her weary bones demanded a break. Exhausted, she lied down next to Frank and waited for her breath to settle and her step to steady before continuing on. At a seemingly impossible distance, her friend and his partners were enjoying their midmorning swim, splashing and thrashing with wild abandon. It might have taken Louise hours to get there but Simon caught sight of her and did something unprecedented in his life at the Sanctuary: he left his loves unattended and walked over to visit his old friend. Their new life paths may have diverged but their old bond, and its treasure of soul, had remained intact. Simon waddled over to the spot where Louise was resting, approaching in his usual way, too: honking, hooting and hollering, puffing his chest and craning his neck in a gesture of supreme supreme self-confidence. And Louise welcomed him in her usual way: smiling with her whole body, her chocolate curls brightening to amber, the rasp in her voice softening to silk. Simon swayed silently for a while, stepping in place as if waiting for a marching order, then he lowered his head and waved the wand of his neck along Louise’s spine, as if dowsing for water—the deep waters of her being, the deep river of her life that was now nearing the ocean. There was immense tenderness in his caress, there was also sadness, and worry, and something else, too, a reverence, a salute, a valediction.

When he left, summoned by his loves, called back to the fullness of his life and its seemingly endless future, he was uncharacteristically quiet. This gander whose every appearance was a pageant, whose every stroll was a parade, whose every utterance was an aria, walked away with small, quiet steps, a silent syrinx, a listening heart, and the glow of a new knowledge in his being.

At midday, when Louise acted eager to move on, we helped her to her feet and supported her as she teetered over to her next destination: Sven, the recluse gander who chased away everyone but Louise, the gander whose solitary fortress was closed to everyone but her. It was a lot quieter there, in Sven’s country, and a lot more secluded. No one was splashing in a nearby pool, no one was squabbling over treats in a nearby barn, no one was wrestling empty wheelbarrows for the sheer merriment of it. It was just Sven and Louise, with Frank at a respectful distance, sharing the gift of a late summer afternoon. Louise, resting in the grass, and Sven waddling slowly around her, preening the galaxies of alfalfa bits off her face and forehead, lingering on the tender spots around her eyes and ears, showering her with the balm of his goose kisses, the way he had done so many times before. And Louise closed her eyes with such blissful abandon, and entrusted her vulnerable being to him so completely, as if his offering was not a mere preening but a benediction. She stayed there until supper, resting with Sven in the middle of the ecstatically surrendering summer day, surrounded by the rapturous chirping of crickets and the symphonic rustling of grasses, absorbing the prodigal dreams of seeds waiting to become trees, and the stillness of roots dreaming in their underground shrouds of coming to bloom on the other side.

It was almost dusk when she signaled that she was ready to go home. We helped her get up and supported her all the way back, stopping every so often to let her catch her breath. Back in her yard, Louise drank deeply and ate heartily before savoring her nightly “dessert” of treat-wrapped medicines. Then she headed back to her barn where Pierre was already waiting for her. The light was dimming, the earth was slowly turning its face away from the sun. She was tired to the core, but she was glowing. She had seen all of her boys that day: Simon, once a sobbing mess who sought solace in her presence, was now passionately involved in the work of living and loving. Sven, lovely Sven, who understood loneliness (and loveliness) better than anyone else, who opened his home and his heart only to her, and who changed in her presence “the way a house that a guest has entered changes”. Frank, her beautiful boy, her prodigal boy, who grew so robustly independent, changing from the frightened young calf who clung to her and refused to leave the sheep yard because she could not, to the vibrant youngster who advanced so boldly toward his future. And Pierre, vulnerable Pierre, who needed her still, who left his tribe every night to sleep next to her, to absorb the sustenance of her love, and to wake up every morning to the reassurance that he still had a mother. Pierre was the reason she was still around despite her growing burdens of age and illness. Pierre, who was now waiting for her to join him before he could sleep. He was her heart and her worry. 

She teetered into the barn and cuddled him as she had done so many nights before, drawing the substance of his fears into her being, and exhaling the substance of her hope into his. She kissed his sleepy eyes, rested her chin on his head, slowed her breath to steady his, stilled her heart to quiet his, and breathed all her love into his worried soul: that it may make him stronger, that it may sustain him on his long, lonely journey ahead, that it may turn the dark heart of the world toward the sun. And then she closed her eyes to dream with him one last time.

Joanna Lucas
© 2013 Joanna Lucas”

This story just reminds me about all the things we should learn about, and from, non-human animals. The animals in this story are of several different species, but it doesn’t stop them from connecting with each other and showing love for each other. We on the other hand see ourselves as more than other animals, we think of ourselves as better and more intelligent, and we give ourselves the right to do whatever we want to other living beings.

We need to learn to accept beings that are not exactly like us, and to give them the respect they deserve. We need to learn how to show love and understanding towards non-human animals as well as towards each other. The non-human animals we exploit for food know how to do these things, their ability to love isn’t limited by the species of the other. Why is ours?

Who said vegans need to be weak and skinny?

So the news about Patrik Baboumian,  the vegan strongman who lifted the record-breaking 550 kg at Toronto’s Vegetarian Food Festival last weekend, has been all over the place recently. I always get happy when people break stereotypes about veganism, such as the one that vegans are always weak and skinny, and that you need to eat meat to be big and muscular. It’s simply not true, and Patrik Baboumian is the latest one to show us that. You can be big and strong and at the same time compassionate, they don’t contradict each other.

Baboumian said about his awakening to what we do towards animals: “One day, I just thought, if you see a bird with a broken leg, you really have the urge to do something about it and help the bird. Then, at the same time, you go to a restaurant and eat a chicken or something. It doesn’t make any sense.

Four years vegan

Today is World Vegan day.

It also happens to be my fourth year as a vegan. I didn’t know about the World Vegan Day back in 2008, so the choice of date was a complete coincidence (but an interesting one). I had already eaten mainly vegan food for some time before the 1st of November; in school I had changed my diet to a completely vegan one and at home I had exchanged products containing dairy and eggs into vegan alternatives. On October 31, however, there was a school party to which you had to order your meals long time before, which in my case was a lacto-ovo-vegeterian one. It didn’t feel great to eat that meal after mainly eating only vegan, but I made a decision: That would be my last meal containing dairy and eggs, the day after I would go vegan – all the way.

How I became a vegan

My road to becoming a vegan started in 2004. I was 14 years old and had started to learn about how the animals we eat end up on our plates. I felt disgusted by the fact that what was on my plate once had been a living being, and I decided never to eat animals again. I did not take it up for discussion with my parents at that point, I was just too scared to tell them, straight to their face: “I’m going to become a vegetarian”, so I just stopped eating meat until they got the point and we started buying vegetarian alternatives for me instead. It was never a problem with them, they never told me I couldn’t become a vegetarian, they just accepted that it was my decision and supported me in that, helping me find and cook new types of food. I love them for that.

I didn’t go completely vegetarian at first though, for a while I still ate fish. It took me some time to realize that fish are able to feel the pain inflicted to them just as any other living being, that the only difference is that we can not hear them scream. Eating them would be just as wrong as eating pigs or chickens. It took maybe a year before I also took out the fish out of my diet.

I stopped using animal products also in my clothing at the same time I stopped eating meat, it just felt like a natural thing to do. Why should I continue wearing someone elses skin if I was opposed to eating their flesh? I also started to look for non-animal tested cosmetics at this time.

I remember that at some point told my brother that I will never go vegan, that I don’t understand why you would do that because “you don’t need to kill anyone to get milk or eggs”. I didn’t realize then that it was about more than just the actual killing, that animals in any production suffer a great deal. I didn’t realize, like so many others, that cows need to give birth to calves to be able to give milk, and things similar to that.

With time I also learned more about the living conditions of all type of farmed animals; I watched documentaries, read books and magazines, read discussions in different forums, and I became more and more convinced that veganism was the right way to go. In fact, it was the only way to go. After this realization it still took me some time before I actually stopped eating eggs and dairy products completely. I changed my diet in school into a completely vegan one, and at home I ate more vegan food than before, but I planned to not become completely vegan before I moved away from home.

I couldn’t wait that long though. It didn’t feel right to keep on eating something I knew was wrong and unethical. So I became a vegan in october 2008, and around the same time I discovered the local animal rights group, and joined them. I haven’t even once felt regret, taking that step, going on this journey, is probably the best thing I have ever done. It has given me so much, I have explored to many new flavors, met so many amazing people, become more compassionate in other parts of my life and developed a much stronger personality, and I would not have achieved those things if I wouldn’t have taken that step eight years ago.