A couple of years ago at one of my more painfully boring office jobs, I had a picture of a rescued calf as a screen saver on my computer. It’s the same picture I keep on this blog, under the “About” page. I’m with a young calf named Fawn, whom I met when Julian and I went to visit a Farm Sanctuary in 2014.
One day while at my desk, my boss came over and saw the photo and asked me about the bandages on Fawn’s legs. I explained that this was due to her falling into a concrete pit at birth and breaking one of her legs. Fawn’s mother, a dairy cow, had been forced to give birth while standing in a milking stall and could do nothing to save her since she was confined herself.
The response from my boss was, “Why didn’t they just put her down?”
That’s exactly what would have happened. The manager of the farm knew Fawn was injured and now considered useless to the industry but he at least called a local woman who came to collect the injured baby cow. The woman looked after Fawn for a year but since her leg never healed properly, she couldn’t walk. A vet suggested, “having a neighbour come to shoot the calf.” It was then that the woman contacted Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in New York and Fawn’s been safely recovering there ever since.
But his reaction…”just put her down.” I’d like to believe this reaction came from a compassionate place but mostly, I think that’s the relationship we’ve established with injured animals that aren’t pets: just destroy them. In fact, disguising it as compassion by calling it mercy has become another ingrained response that serves to make us feel good rather than what might be best for the animal. And as soon as we humans can feel good about something, we generally cease to examine our choices any further.
Now I am NOT saying there is never a situation where killing is a mercy – not at all. Sometimes euthanization is the most humane choice to make under circumstances of immense and irreversible suffering. My issue with “just put her down” is when it’s the first response, the first reaction, the first idea. Because for us – and certainly the animal – it’s also the last one, conveniently destroying any further discussion along with it.
Think of horses: what were you always taught happens if one of their legs is broken? Somebody shoots them. It was years – well into adulthood – before I found out a horse can actually recover from a broken leg.
What about “nuisance” animals, like bears, coyotes, fox, geese, raccoons, even zebra mussels? Let’s conduct a mass culling! As soon as an animal is deemed a problem or threat for humans, especially if that animal is not one we identify with as a member of the family, killing is often considered an option, if not the first one.
But let’s examine the reason for some of these responses: horses with broken legs are shot because if they’re racing horses they, like Fawn, are now “useless” to humans within that industry. They go from profitable commodities to worthless obstacles. This is very often the case with wildlife as well: as soon as they start invading the very land we’ve pushed them out of or interrupting our particular way of life, eradicating them seems to be top of mind, the one and only – forgive the expression – final solution.
Once again, we treat the symptom and not the problem. The problem being that if humans caused the injury or suffering to the animal in the first place by forcing them to be born on corporate dairy farms or hoarding land which depletes their food and shelter resources, why shouldn’t we be the ones to fix and heal them? Why does the animal always have to pay with their life just because we can’t be bothered to adjust ours?