Changing Her Tune: From Cattle Rancher’s Wife to Vegan Animal Sanctuary Owner (Published in www.care2.com on Feb 24, 2015)
This is an epic love story. This is also a story about Renee King-Sonnen extending that love to the animals that she — as a cattle rancher’s wife — was indirectly responsible for slaughtering and exploiting.
“Mammas Were Running After the Trailer” With Their Calves Inside
Like any good love story, we need to know how Renee King-Sonnen and her husband, Tommy Sonnen, met. Six years ago, Renee’s career as a singer and songwriter put her and Tommy in the same nightclub, says My Vegan Heart Blog. Needless to say, Renee was music to Tommy’s ears. Their romance soon blossomed and Renee ditched the nightclub scene for new pastures: a 96-acre cattle ranch in Angleton, Texas, as it turned out the man she had fallen in love with was a fourth generation cattle rancher.
Renee admits on Public News Service that she was wary of the cattle at first, but she started to change her tune the more that she got to know them and their unique personalities. She would sing to them, dance around them and go as far as naming them, says My Vegan Heart Blog. Renee had fallen in love again.
It really was an idyllic situation. But the arrival of the first red trailer-truck to pick up the calves changed everything. As a consumer of animal products herself, the event still surprised Renee. As she explains in Public News Service, “Mammas were running after the trailer. It just blew my mind. And then they cried for, like, a week or more, all these cows, and I was in a very, very bad state.” Renee had a serious inner conflict, but her compassion and empathy had kicked in. Then, when another red trailer-truck came in, she couldn’t let it take the babies.
But now what she going to do with the cows?
With her husband’s blessings, the idea of turning the family cattle ranch into Rowdy Girl Sanctuary– a nonprofit animal animal sanctuary — was born. On her Indiegogo fundraising campaign page for the first phase of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, Renee plans on saving over 29 of Tommy’s animals; he agreed to sell them to her for $30,000. And she estimates that she’ll need $5,000 for expenses. She’s currently raised $13,143 of her $35,000 goal.
Apart from the birth of the farm sanctuary, Renee’s also had a personal revolution: she’s decided to go vegan. Her firsthand experience of a mother cow’s grief coupled with documentaries helped her make the change. As she said in Public News Service: “I mean, I had to see it, I had to witness it. I had to realize that I couldn’t be petting my dog and my cat and eating my chicken, I mean, being vegan has changed my soul.” She says that she now sees them as individuals who ”I share this planet with.”
Someone, not something.
And it sounds like her husband Tommy is going through a similar revolution. On a February 22, 2015, post on the Vegan Journal of a Rancher’s Wife Facebook page, moved by the image of two cows comforting each other moments before slaughter, Renee writes:
This just brought me to a deep sob. I just cant stand it! So glad me and my husband no longer participate in this horrible industry. So glad I’ve gone vegan and he is vegetarian now and more and more going towards a pure vegan diet. Bless his heart. I love his heart for being so willing to change, to walk this path with me – I could never be a part of this industry ever ever again!
I told you this was an epic love story.
3 More Former Farmers Cultivate Compassion
But romantic love isn’t necessary for compassion, kindness and empathy to fill the soul. Fortunately, we’re seeing quite a few farmers making similar changes.
Howard Lyman, another fourth generation cattle rancher from Montana, now speaks out against the industry on various platforms, including an interview in the Cowspiracy documentary. He is the ultimate Mad Cowboy who doesn’t eat meat.
Don Webb, a former pig factory farm owner, explains that he got out of the hog business because he “just couldn’t do another person that way, to make them smell that [pig feces and urine].” Maybe Webb wasn’t moved by the animals, but he knew that exposing his neighbors to toxic waste that smelled bad and made them sick was wrong, showing us how animal rights is also a social justice issue.
Bob Cumis, another pig farm owner, also struggled with exploiting his 500 pigs. Cumis is unique in that we really got to go inside of a pig farmer’s mind in this post and this post. He was very honest, brave and vulnerable for sharing his truths. He also phased his way out of raising pigs to growing vegetables, and has now become a vegetarian.
In one of his honest posts from The Dodo, Cumis writes,”When I began my life with pigs, I was a living, breathing disaster, a train wreck of depression and anxiety. Living with pigs, getting to know them so well that I now speak pig, healed me.” And he also writes, “Should I absolve myself in some small way by honoring their deaths? No. I deserve no absolution for what I have done, nor for what I will continue to do for one more year.”
A Personal Account—Dr. Nandita Shah
“It was a truly amazing experience to be amongst about 500 farm animals, which had been rescued in cruelty cases all over the US and all the wonderful people at Farm Sanctuary.”
I arrived at Farm Sanctuary’s California shelter at Orland (CA, USA) at the end of a personal era. I had just graduated from college, and was going to begin a masters’ degree in social work the following August. A week prior, at my University’s commencement ceremonies, I received my diploma surrounded by friends and family, master of my environment after four years of working to make it my home, and feeling completely confident in myself and what I stood for.
A week later, completely alone and waiting at a deserted bus station in Chico, CA, waiting for the intern coordinator to pick me up, I was terrified.
From the very beginning—as early as the application process—my experience with Farm Sanctuary forced me to examine myself and the way I lived my life. It required that I make decisions about the person I was, and the person I wanted to be. And perhaps the reason embarking on a two-month long farm adventure scared me the most, it forced me to let parts of myself, my life, and my consciousness go in order to make way for a more whole way of being. I felt the cycles of death and rebirth almost daily throughout the sweltering summer months in Orland, and have learned more and become more resilient from them than I ever thought possible.
I was not even vegetarian when I applied for the internship (Farm Sanctuary requires that all interns be vegan for the duration of their internship), but was blessed to live with four fellow interns with varying experience with vegan cooking. I’ve lived alone for years and so I must admit I had apprehensions not just about sharing a house, but also about sharing a bedroom with two other people for a month. I was pleasantly surprised; it was a great experience! These young people were lively, enthusiastic, and most importantly, good cooks—which resulted in our constant eating. They taught me that one can make wonderful French toast, pancakes, cakes, pies and cookies while adhering to vegan standards. I anticipated a vegan lifestyle to be at least somewhat of a sacrifice, but was surprised to find that I felt more fulfilled—and much less sick after eating—with this newfound diet. As the habits that I had developed and staunchly maintained for two decades died (with a minimum of mourning, I might add), I found new joy and variety in eating. I suddenly relished meals, preparing them for myself, and the sense of community in eating that developed with my vegan companions. The experience of re-learning something I thought was non-negotiable gave me permission to rework my concept of the world.
At the farm we had chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigs, cows, goats, sheep and rabbits. All the animals had their own names and as we worked, we saw that they had individual personalities as well. I never learnt the names of all the chickens – I suspect there were at least 50 – 60 of them at the farm – but the caretakers could recognize each one, and could often tell you something about their history and personality. Many of them had been rescued from a large Ohio factory farm, which had been hit by a tornado. As the buildings collapsed, millions of birds, locked in their cages, were left to die without access to food and water. Farm Sanctuary representatives went there and rescued as many as they could, prying open the cages.
My personal favourite was a rooster named Mayfly. He came there as the result of a classroom experiment where eggs were incubated and broken open, one each day, to show the children how the chick develops in the egg. At one point the teacher could not bring herself to kill any more chick embryos and allowed the last egg to hatch. Mayfly was the result. Whenever I would pass his barn, I’d call his name and he would come running and start talking. I could never resist picking him up and giving him a hug–he loved that!
Again and again, it was the animals that taught us lessons. The goats—who had endured abuse at the hands of a neglectful owner—embodied unconditional love and affection. They clearly enjoyed our attention. My favourite was Simon, a friendly potbellied pygmy goat, who loved to eat. Another favourite was Juniper – who was rescued in winter from a barn where he was left to die without food and warmth. Due to frostbite, he lost a limb, but he is now bravely walking with the help of his prosthesis. There is not a big market for sheep and goats in the US, so most of them are shipped to the Middle East or other countries. However, some are killed locally in Halal markets. Dawn, a surrogate mother for two orphaned calves and a rather sickly old steer, was a living testament to selflessness and protection. The pigs, who ultimately collapsed immobile under their unnatural weight as they aged, still shone with a fiery passion for life (and food). In spite of the horrific treatment that humans put each and every one of them through, each and every animal exuded the very best things about being alive—love, energy, and a pure sense of gratitude for the very small comforts we provided them.
Like most people, I was surprised at the size of the pigs at the farm. The pigs grow to weigh 600 – 800 lbs. I had never seen pigs this size in India, but in the West, they are bred to grow bigger and faster. They are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs! Again, these animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer extremely painful arthritis and deformities in their limbs.
As a result, they spend a lot of time lying in the hay. They love to pick up the hay and make their own beds. They never excrete in their sleeping area – they are extremely clean, friendly and have the IQ of a six-year-old child! They know their names and have their own best friends who they hang out with regularly. We had fun feeding the pigs treats – carrots, apples, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. They would grunt in gratitude. Pigs need to roll in mud, because they do not perspire and so it is their only way to cool off. One day, when it was really hot, we gave the pigs the option of showers. The only hitch was they had to walk to the hose. Most of them didn’t bother to get up but those who did had a ball!
The ducks and geese were a crazy lot – loud and busy, but beautiful. Geese mate for life and so there were all kinds of love stories in their barns. Samson and Delilah were an inseparable pair of geese. Samson would fight with any goose that came close to Delilah so they had to be separated and had a private pool instead of the big pond to prevent too much drama. Another famous pair was a duck that was in love with a goose. These star-crossed lovers also had to be given their own private place. These birds are sometimes raised to produce foie gras, which literally means ‘enlarged liver’ in French. They are force fed two to three times their body weights daily by placing a tube in their stomachs, which causes their livers to enlarge.
By far, the highlight of the internship for me was Harold, a baby Jersey calf. He was rescued from a stockyard when he was just 2 days old by one of the Farm Sanctuary staff at the beginning of my second week. He was lying covered in his diarrhea and was being given electric shocks to try to make him stand. He was a ‘downer’ – an industry term used for those animals that cannot stand up. Since the BSE scare, these animals are exempted from being used for meat. He had been left to die a slow death from starvation or dehydration when he was rescued. He was thin and unwell when he came, so the staff decided to keep him in quarantine. I felt so sorry for him that I would sit and talk with him in my free time, just to give him company. With the help of medicines and a lot of love, he recovered and became a beautiful and lively young calf. I had the luck of spending a lot of time with him for his first three weeks and it was fascinating to see his little milestones – his first soft moo, his first attempt at eating grain, his first run, and his first introduction to the other calves who accepted him so lovingly even though he was a bit timid. I was happy to see him run with joy when he was finally united with the other calves on the last day of my stay. I would feed him with a bottle and he would always crave for more – he could never have enough! I still miss Harold a lot. He looked like a little deer. He would often look out for me, and come running as I approached the barn. When I would leave he would keep staring quietly at me as if to say “can’t you stay?”
The most profound lessons came from the situations that challenged us the most. We visited an agricultural school at a local university. While intended to be a place of growth and learning for the future farmers of America, the acres of desolate “farmland” (mostly concrete paddocks and wire-mesh cages) reeked of death and dismemberment. The experience culminated as we watched, horrified, as a blood-stained butcher nonchalantly slaughtered a sheep. For the remainder of the visit, we witnessed the other animals, walking corpses, exist—and nothing more, just exist–in their cramped lifestyles as the eerie scent of death loomed throughout the entire farm. Actually seeing creatures die and anxiously wait for their deaths brought the issue into clear focus and stark life. This was no longer a philosophical argument or a lively discussion for the dinner table only to be abandoned when a tasty veal dish was available; this was tangible suffering and murder we were dealing with, right down to a look of sheer terror and desperation in the eye of an animal about to die. That day gave me a sense of urgency about social change—vegan and otherwise—that I don’t think I had really possessed before.
As difficult as watching the deaths of anonymous animals was, the passing of animals we had cultivated relationships with was the most challenging part of farm life. Summer on the farm is one of the hardest on the animals, due to the extreme California heat (every day I was there was at least 105 degrees, up to 120 one day) coupled with their biological fragility (a characteristic inadvertently bred by the farming industry). The passing of one animal was particularly hard to take. Vonnie, an eight year old Yorkshire pig, passed after a long, intense struggle with a mysterious illness. Her mother, Bridget, also lived on the farm, and was purported to be the world’s oldest pig at 14 years. Vonnie held on to life longer than any vet thought she would—she held on weeks past her last food or drink. She fought, and we fought with her too—I remember spending several hours trying to get her to drink Gatorade to help insulate her against the heat, to no avail. We brought her fruit, veggies, anything we could think of to try to entice her to eat, also to no avail. But even as her bodily systems shut down, we could still see the personality, the vigor, that had made her so special to us in the first place. We were exhausted and devastated when we finally did lose her—and the other pigs definitely recognized that one of their clan was missing. But our efforts did not feel futile; to fight with an animal until—and only succumb to life’s will when she was ready—was more empowering than I could have imagined. I had never worked in such close partnership with human or animal to provide as comfortable, humane treatment as we gave to Vonnie in her last weeks. I learned very important lessons from both Vonnie’s fight and her acceptance when the time came, and I find myself thinking back to her when I struggle to control that which is out of my grasp.
But much more important than any personal growth that I was lucky enough to experience during my two months at Farm Sanctuary was the fact that the animal agriculture industry had lost another customer. Eric Marcus, in his book Meat Market, estimates that a person who shuns animal products will save 2,000 animals over the course of the subsequent fifty years. My personal transformation, while of course important to me, is more meaningful when taken in the context of the suffering that the world endures. Because of a summer internship—an experience where some people my age file and make copies—I have embarked down a path to spare thousands of animals from cruel lives and even crueler deaths. I have seen firsthand exactly why “even dairy” (a common misunderstanding for people who haven’t been educated about the dairy industry) is a major problem, and can speak eloquently on behalf of the voiceless. I can now tell people who are on the cusp of making humane eating choices: I did it, and I know you can too. My every act in every day is now a living testament to my experience that cruelty-free living is fulfilling and powerful. The animals and people I was lucky enough to grow with for two months in 2004 made it every clear that there is a better way to live, and gave birth to the notion that I could–truly, actively– be a part of changing the world for the better.
A Deeply Moving Confession Of A Slovenian Ex – Butcher, Peter Razpet— Interview By Damjan Likar
Most people would soon stop eating meat, if they visited a slaughter house
The life story of Peter Razpet – Petko from Kamnik is so interesting, that it could hardly be written by the best film producers in the world. After 25 years of shedding blood in slaughter houses some day he experienced an intensive spiritual change, which made him put down his butcher’s knife forever. Ever since he hasn’t thought about taking a breath of life not even from a fly. Nowadays, after almost five years of living a new life, he is happy, because he had recognized the love of God. But he doesn’t regret the way, he had to pass. Petko says: ”All things, which seem negative to us, have their positive side in a wider spiritual perspective. Every man has to experience darkness before he can recognize brightness and love!”
How do you remember your childhood and youth?
Ever since I was little I have been incredibly fond of animals. I used to bring home puppy dogs, only a few days old, rejected by other people. I liked feeding rabbits, pigeons and squirrels. Later at school I had little success, because I felt, I didn’t need such education. So when I was in the sixth class I already applied for a job in some local company. At that time we had a bull. My father once beat him up. That is why the bull started to hate him, so my father did not dare to come close to him anymore. I used to talk to the bull a lot and caress him. But every time my father came into the stable, the animal started to fret and fume, so he finally decided to sell him. Therefore we took him to the cattle market in Cerkno. The butchers from Idrija bought him, but couldn’t get him on their truck. He obeyed only me. However, I can still see tears in his eyes, when I tied him to the truck and said good bye. When the butchers saw how the bull followed me without any resistance, they offered me a job in the slaughterhouse. I actually don’t know, why I had accepted their offer. Next week I started to work there. I shall never forget my first day in the slaughterhouse. They cut off the heads of twenty fully conscious calves right there in front of me. I felt like throwing up and could not imagine me having to do it. A young cleaner noticed my disgust and said: ”It’s nothing to it boy. If I can kill an animal as a woman, it will be much easier for you as a man!” Then she took an axe and hit a living cow with it. Something broke inside of me and I said to myself: ”Well, O.K then, I’ll be a butcher.”
How do you explain your decision for a butcher’s job?
I am sure there are no coincidences in life. Obviously I had to pass such a bloody way. The bull with tears in his eyes surely wanted to warn me, but I simply did not understand the message at the time. As a teenager I simply did not understand, that God created people, animals and plants in this world to learn from each other. And I really still do not quite understand, why I had killed the animals, which I liked the most for so many years. However, it seems a bigger mistake to me, if you are aware of doing something wrong. In this case spiritual law of sowing and harvesting is even more inexorable. I really wasn’t aware, that slaughtering animals was wrong up to that moment.
Do you regret your decision?
No, not at all. All things, that seem negative to us, have their positive side in a wider spiritual perspective. Every man has to experience darkness, before he can recognize brightness and love. Therefore we mustn’t judge anyone. My opinion is, that Jesus and Hitler had a similar role. Jesus wanted to teach is how to love, forgive and be kind. I am sure, that Hitler on the other side wanted to teach us something we shouldn’t do. In my younger days I caused quite a lot of troubles, so my father often spanked me in an old farmer way. I couldn’t understand, why I liked him so much, even though he beat me up once in a while. Only when I had my own kids and once wanted to spank my daughter, I remembered in a flash, how my father’s strokes hurt me. I became grateful to him only then, because I suddenly realized what he had tried to teach me: Do not beat the one you love! Every man becomes aware, why he is sent to this world and starts to live a completely different life. When I was a butcher, I simply didn’t notice the beauties and wonders of nature, God and all the universe.
But you must have slaughtered very unwillingly all those years?
I think, that unwilling slaughters are mostly butchers, who had been forced into this professions by their fathers. Every man has free will and I don’t see, how some parents can force their kids to do certain jobs. Although my father was a village butcher all his life, he never expressed a wish for me to do the same job too. I think I always made reconciliation with an animal before killing it. I did not kill with hatred. Father and I used to slaughter pigs in villages and killing – days with pork and sausages were always a kind of holidays for village people. But I repeat, at that time I never thought of a pig as a victim of our enjoyment and revelry. On the contrary, it was pig’s death itself, which joined us. I could agree with older village people, who once claimed: No matter how bad their relations were, birth or death always brought them together.
What does a slaughter house look like?
I’ll say this: Slovenian societies for animal rights should organize visits to slaughterhouses, so many people could see, how their steaks get on their plates. I am sure most of them would soon stop eating meat. Most meat eaters would resist in disgust, if they were told their puppies would be slaughtered. But most of them really don’t care, what goes on behind the walls of slaughter houses. However, there are much worse things. A few years ago I travelled a lot in Bosnia and met some people, who were involved in the war at the end of previous century. They told me, they had learned how to murder people in slaughterhouses. But in slaughter houses I never saw cutting of bellies of pregnant cows, like they did to pregnant women. Those people prayed to God, while they were cutting human necks. I kept wondering, what kind of God allows killing among brothers and sisters made to his image. God gave free will to man and does not interfere. Therefore, the biggest human mistake is, that people believe God, no matter how he is called, takes the side of those who kill everything he had created with love. When you hear such things, you recall the words of Leonardo da Vinci, who said, that it was only a small step from killing an animal to killing a man.
How do animals behave before their cruel death?
Thank God, I wasn’t aware of it at that time. Nowadays, whenever I think of what I have been through, I remember many things. How the animals resisted me just like our bull had resisted those butchers, when he didn’t want to get on the truck. I could write a book of memories. I remember tears in the eyes of the calves, I had slaughtered. But I tell you once again, thank God, I did not always see it, let alone understand it. I am sure of one thing: If nowadays I asked a cow or a bull, if I could kill him, he would give me some kind of a sign not to do it. Killing or taking someone’s life to appease hunger or thirst is not a sin, but it is a mistake, which will have to be rectified by individuals as well as by humanity. I am lucky, I don’t have to make similar mistakes anymore.
The well known psychotherapist Borut Pogačnik said, that many butchers had problems with alcohol. Is it true?
In slaughter house in Idrija there was a habit: If a farmer had not brought two liters of wine or a domestic brandy to the butchers, he had to wait a little longer for his bull to be slaughtered. Many butchers became addicted to alcohol in this way. My father was a village butcher and he always came home a little drunk. I think he tried to make his work easier with alcohol. Personally I never depended on liquor and I don’t attribute my actions to drinking, but to my destiny and alcohol would be no excuse for them.
I read in a German magazine, that some butchers even drink bull’s blood and eat raw bull’s stamens as a symbol of manhood. Is this true too?
It is true all right. I never tried it myself, but I had seen old butchers drink blood with my own eyes. They believed, it gave them strength and power.
What do butchers do with slaughter waste?
Once we used to bury all slaughter waste, horns, intestines, eyes and bones into a special hole. Nowadays they use all that for the production of feeding stuff, which is the main disaster. This also causes many terrible diseases. Besides that, they add many chemicals to meat in order to preserve durability. Some of the chemicals cause cancer. Some pieces of meat, which should be wasted, are remade to salami or hot dog.
What happened? What made you quit the job of a butcher?
One day four years ago a relative of mine suggested, that I should visit a fortune teller in Zasavje, because she wondered, if she would guess certain things concerning my life too. I went to her, but just for fun. I introduced my relative as my wife, but the fortune teller said, it wasn’t true, because my wife had black hair and we had two kids. I felt she might know something, because everything she said about me, was true. Then she threw cards on the table and found out, I knew many people, but the job I was doing, was completely wrong. I told her not to talk rubbish and bid farewell. I was busy buying a slaughter house at the time. I had a lot of money and was quite sure of my success, so her words didn’t make sense to me. At parting she was sure I would visit her again and added, I would cut myself and have a car accident in the near future. I thought to myself, she didn’t know what she was saying. But on the way home someone crashed into me and three days later I cut myself. So I decided to go back to the fortune teller and ask her to tell me more about my future. She predicted, that if I carried on with my job, I would fail completely in three years, I would have troubles with police and judges and many people would start to hate me. I refused to believe her, for I was sure that opening my own slaughter house would be an excellent investment. I already had the building, the business plan was made and the documentation was ready.
What happened then?
Troubles in my business really soon began. Many business partners didn’t pay me, so I soon ran into debts myself. Besides, my home folks turned their backs on me too. In great distress I took refuge in praying to God. Then I started visiting Brezje regularly. Once, when I was really desperate, I prayed to Mary Mother of God and begged her to give me power of forgiving. Instead I heard a clear voice: Do not kill! I thought, it referred to people only, because I had many debtors, whom I sometimes said in despair, I would kill them, if they didn’t pay me my money. But on my way back from Brezje in the tunnel before Kranj, I felt, it also referred to animals! Soon I noticed a wet stain on my trousers and realized it was from tears. When I came home, I told my wife I would not kill animals and eat meat from that day on. She said, I was not quite O.K., there was definitely something wrong with me. Anyway, from that moment on I kept to my promise. A few days later, at the end of the year, I was on a birthday party with my friends. I was the only one not eating meat, ignoring their remarks, what kind of a butcher would I be, if I didn’t eat meat.
How did you stop slaughtering animals?
Already before my spiritual change I promised my aunt to slaughter her pig immediately after new year. I was embarrassed, what to do, because I liked keeping my promises. I decided to go to my aunt and lie to her, that I had a very high fever. When I got to her door, the biggest miracle in my life happened. Before I tried to tell her, I was sick, she said: ”Unfortunately we won’t be able to slaughter, because I have a fever.” Unbelievable! It was my luckiest day. From that day on I didn’t even think of slaughtering an animal, no matter how much money I would be offered.
What was happening to you in the next few days?
As I wanted to get to the bottom of the matter, I was solving problems with certain people and even with the church and some politicians in a way, that is understandable today. The latter sent me to the psychiatric hospital, because of my actions. Under sedatives I began praying to Mary to save me from all those nightmares and help me, because people didn’t understand my new way. I know, many people didn’t get my point then, so after my hospitalization I went to Father Leopold in Brezje, who is initiated in Mary’s miracles. In a conversation, which lasted more than an hour I confidentially described to him all the events, that had recently happened to me. He assured me, that after all humiliation and suffering my decision not to kill animals brought me God’s grace, although he didn’t quite understand how. But he warned me to keep my experiences to myself as much as it is possible, because people would not understand me and I might have troubles again. He added, that miracles happened every day, we just didn’t notice them anymore in our heartless, materialistic world. My wife didn’t understand all the events. She was sure, I was sick. That is why I remembered Jesus saying: If you really believe and trust in me and God, just stand up and leave. I often asked myself where, but there was no answer. I found the answer in me only when I really did it. I got a divorce, left home leaving everything to my wife and kids.
How did you feel physically?
After the change many people said, I would get sick not eating meat because of certain vitamins deficiency. Passing on to vegetarian food I became lighter, more active and had much more life energy. I could say, my sub consciousness and consciousness began to act completely differently. Many people thought I was sick, but in fact I had never felt better in my life. I gave up all medicines prescribed to me in hospital. When I told that to my doctors after a year and a half asking them for explanation, they remained speechless. If people knew how much poison they take with every medicine, they would reconsider carefully before taking it. I wonder why people don’t ask themselves, how our predecessors managed to live to be very old not knowing any medicines accept the natural ones. It is interesting, how I used to despise vegetarians. Once in my ”butcher times” me and my business partners were visiting a farm in Dolenjska, where only bio food was produced. All the people there were vegetarians. I whispered to my colleague to go somewhere else, because I cannot watch ”the skeletons” anymore. It made my mouth water, when I saw domestic lambs on the spit in front of a nearby tavern. Later we ate them with great appetite.
Did you notice any more positive changes after quitting the bloody job?
I haven’t hated a living being ever since I decided to start a new life. Above all I remember my puppy dog Pika. She was so glad, because I had changed, that from that day on we have never parted. When we were strolling along the countryside, I noticed gratefulness in her eyes, which many people couldn’t understand. She often comforted me, when I was in distress and clung to me, when I was down.
Do you ever feel tempted to slaughter an animal?
No, not at all. Nowadays I cannot even kill a fly, because it also has the right to live. As I said, I like all the creation. My evening prayer is: I send my love to all people, my brothers and sisters and to all the creation, given to us by God, who said: Love each other.
The Church is still saying, that God’s Commandment: You shall not kill! refers to people only. How do you comment that?
I know an ex priest and religious historian, who was in service in Rome for a few years. He told me, he ate more meat there, than in his whole life. The Church doesn’t really care for its own commandment: You shall not kill! The bloodiest wars, humanity has ever known, raged and are still raging in the world in the name of religion or because of it. How can we expect this commandment to refer to animals, if it doesn’t refer to people? If the commandment was respected by everyone, the world wouldn’t need neither priests nor state or religious leaders, because everything would go on according to natural laws, which are unfailing and eternal. As the Church and its leaders as well as the leaders of the world do not want to obey this commandment due to their benefits and manipulation with people, I can hardly believe that killing would soon be over. However, I do believe, that God’s and nature laws are strong enough and that there are people in this world, including priests, who are getting more aware every day. With their help we will slowly change the world to what it used to be from the very beginning. Evil was created by man, not God, therefore we will have to eliminate it by ourselves, for it was caused by us. Anyway, after the change I realized that people really didn’t need altars and churches, where priests often manipulate with people. A proverb says: God will not ask you, how many times you attended masses, he will be interested in your acts. Faith in God is not enough, it is necessary to be active. God himself will not do anything. We will have to uproot evil by ourselves.
What do you do nowadays?
I established a society to help people in distress. In many different ways I help people, who got into trouble. Having experienced many hard times, I can understand them and help them in different ways. I dedicated myself to nature and I live with it, so I also started to gather medicinal herbs. I heal with a help of bio-energy. In this way I treated many diseases, which couldn’t be healed by official medicine. I also work on my spiritual development and using my own experiences I help people, who were pushed into distress by a modern way of life and are searching for new ways. I am also active on the cultural field. But I am most thankful to God for sending me to this world right now to accomplish all these things. I experienced a lot of beautiful, unforgettable moments. I accepted all the tests as my destiny, fought them and won. Help yourself and God will help you, is one of the most truthful proverbs. I enjoy very much in various handicraft skills too. I like making all kinds of products, chapels among other things. I especially cherish the Christmas time. Every year I make a big crib in memory of my new way. Together with God and Mary I can experience the birth of Jesus, whom we can see in every living being and nature, if we wish so.
Tolstoy said, that people would kill each other as long as there were slaughterhouses. How do you comment his statement?
I will say a little differently: Blood will be shed until man becomes aware, that God created animals to be his friends. Not only animal blood, but man’s as well. First we have to raise the spiritual consciousness, then slaughterhouses will automatically disappear from the Earth. People will not eat meat anymore, therefore it will not be necessary to kill animals and destroy nature as well as everything, that was given to us by God as a present.
Animal Rights Weigh One Pound—By Neal D. Barnard (Published in the China Daily on May 30, 2008)
My first lesson in animal rights was taught to me by a small white rat that I took home from the college psychology lab. The introductory course in psychology used rats who were deprived of water for three days and then put in a cage that delivers a few drops of water when a bar is pressed by the thirsty animal inside.
The point of the lab was to show how learning occurs if an animal is rewarded for an action such as pressing a bar, the animal will probably repeat the action. At the end of the course, the rats are put together in a trash can, chloroform is poured over them, and the lid is closed
One day, I took a rat home from the lab. Ratsky lived for some months in a cage in my bedroom. And in her cage, she behaved the way I assumed rats behave. But when I started leaving the cage door open so she could walk around, I began to see things I hadn’t anticipated. After several days of cautious sniffing about at the cage door, she began to investigate the world outside. As she explored my apartment (under my watchful eye), she took an interest in my friends and me.
She gradually became more and more friendly. If I was lying on my back reading, she would come and stand on my chest. She would wait to be petted, and if I didn’t pay her enough attention, she would lightly nip my nose and run away. I knew her sharp teeth could have gone right through my skin, but she was always playfully careful.
Like a cat, Ratsky spent hours grooming herself. Given food, water, and warmth, I found that rats are friendly, fun, and meticulously clean. If I left a glass of ice water on the floor for her, she would painstakingly take out each ice cube and carry it inch by inch in her teeth away from the glass until all the ice had been ‘cleaned’ out.
One day, I noticed a lump in her skin. With time it grew, and after a long search, I found a vet who specialized in laboratory animals to take the lump out. It turned out to be a tumor. After the surgery, she painfully tottered a few steps trembling. Despite the surgery, her condition worsened and her suffering was very apparent. At night I would sleep with her in the palm of my hand so I would wake up if she needed my help. Before long, it became clear that Ratsky’s health was failing and that she was in great distress. Finally, she had to be euthanized.
I carry with me the vivid image of this tiny animal tottering in pain, of her in my palm trying to pull out the sutures that were a constant irritation to her. In the months that followed, I began to think about all the other animals whose suffering I had taken so dispassionately, and I realized each one was an individual who suffered just as acutely as the little rat I had held in my hand. And that suffering was just as real whether the animal was a dog, a monkey, a rat, or a mouse.
Now, as a practicing physician, I continue to be puzzled by the resistance to compassion that I see so commonly in others and that I, too, experienced for so long. Cruelty to animals is diagnosed as a psychiatric symptom predictive of antisocial personality. Yet, we often fail to recognize the cruelties perpetrated so casually in laboratories.
(The author is a nutrition researcher and adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine)
How Could You?—Jim Willis from Grand Rapids, Michigan paid US$7,000 for a full-page ad in the paper to tell this story. (Source: The Alternative Sanctuary)
When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was bad, you’d shake your finger at me and ask How could you? But then you’d relent and roll me over for a belly rub. My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be anymore perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because ice cream is bad for dogs, you said) and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.
Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and then you fell in love. She, now your wife, is not a dog person, still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy.
Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a prisoner of love. As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch because your touch was now so infrequent, and I would defend them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me.
These past few years, you just answered yes and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to just a dog, and you resented every expenditure on my behalf. Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your family, but there was a time when I was your only family.
I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said I know you will find a good home for her. They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with papers. You had to prise your son’s fingers loose from my collar as he screamed No Daddy! Please don’t let them take my dog! And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and lead with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked, How could you? They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow.
They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you, that you had changed your mind that this was all a bad dream. Or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me.
When I realised I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully, quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden, which she bears, weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago.
She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured How could you? Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said I’m so sorry. She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I couldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or to have to fend for myself, a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my How could you? was not directed at her. It was directed at you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of you. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your Life continue to show you so much loyalty.
A note from the Author: If “How Could You?” brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in American, Canadian and British animal shelters. Anyone is welcome to distribute this essay for a non-commercial purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the copyright. Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility. Please use it to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, or animal shelters and vet notice boards. All life is precious so please pass this on to everyone; it could save, maybe, even one unwanted pet. Remember – they love UNCONDITIONALLY, if you give them LOVE.
Giving Back to the Monkeys—By Amy M. Kerwin, Published on Thursday, October 11, 2007 by www.thedailypage.com
In the summer of 2004, the American Society of Primatology held its annual conference in Madison. At the time, I was working at the Harlow Primate Lab, one of two major primates laboratories at the UW-Madison that together house nearly 2,000 monkeys. I put in a request to attend the conference. One of my bosses, the lab manager, asked if I planned to visit the animal rights counter-conference that was going on at the same time. The question surprised me and sounded like an accusation. I said I hadn’t planned to do so, but if I saw protesters who were peaceful, I would have no problem talking with them, since my salary was paid by taxpayers.
The lab manager’s response: “What, are you going to turn into an animal rights person now?” I replied defensively, “No, of course not!” Later that week, I overheard the lab manager telling other people in the building what I’d said. It wasn’t long before most everyone thought I was turning into an animal rights activist. Given that I had been trained to believe that animal rights people were ignorant, manipulative and violent, I was offended by this divisive labeling.
The principal investigator, my top supervisor, came to see me. “Look, Amy,” the investigator said, “I just want to explain this animal rights issue to you. I know if you spoke with someone, they could manipulate your words and put it in Isthmus and you would feel very, very bad if you read about our lab in a bad manner.”
I said, “I know, I will not speak about our research.” Shortly afterward, the lab manager apprised me that I could no longer come in on weekends or work after hours — anytime I might be alone. These new constraints, on top of the discomfort I already felt about my work in the primate lab, made my job unbearable. Three months later, I resigned.
It was probably inevitable that I came to this end. During my five years at the Harlow Primate Lab, I had come to question the validity of the research and what I had come to believe was a callous attitude among many of the researchers. My efforts to introduce changes to reduce the stress of animals in our care were met with resistance. But, perhaps most traumatic of all was watching what happened to a 5-year-old rhesus monkey I’ll call “Sam.” Of all I things I saw in the primate lab, that’s still the saddest story.
My father was a scientist and primate researcher. I used to visit his office and stare at the jars containing deformed human and animal fetuses (his specialty was teratology, the study of birth defects). His love of science and biology inspired my decision to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine.
A job at one of the UW-Madison’s primate laboratories looks good on an application to veterinary or medical school; competition for these jobs among undergrads is high. I considered myself lucky when I was hired to work at the Harlow Primate Lab in 1999. After graduation, my supervisors encouraged me to stay on at the lab. The stable salary was appealing, so I decided to forgo applying for veterinary school and accepted a full-time position as a research specialist. I assisted with caring for and collecting data from 97 rhesus monkeys involved in three studies — two of which were federally funded by the National Institutes of Health. Most of the monkeys were the offspring of mothers who were given moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, and I assisted in collecting their behavioral and cognitive data.
It was while I was working full-time with the monkeys that I first began to think about a sanctuary — a way for them to live out the end of their lives in peace after years of use. I attended night school to obtain an MBA to learn the things I’d need to know, such as creating and effectively managing an organization. Aside from the sanctuary idea, I became interested in refining procedures at the lab to reduce stress in the monkeys. I began to implement changes based on what I had learned from various articles. The refinement I found most successful was positive-reinforcement training — getting animals to comply by using treat rewards.
After-hours and on weekends, I worked to train monkeys to cooperate in transport removal so we wouldn’t have to use long metal poles, nets or leather gloves to scare them into entering a transport cage.
Many lab procedures were (and still are) classified as “noninvasive,” considered to not cause more than momentary pain or distress. One example of a noninvasive procedure is the timed blood draw. This is a standard data-collection practice to collect blood within a set period of time. A researcher measuring levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) in blood doesn’t want the cortisol from the stressful procedure to interfere with the cortisol being measured as part of an experiment. And so, within two minutes of the procedure, lab assistants had to walk briskly in the room with a pole and a net, separate the cage mates with a solid panel, coerce the monkey to enter the transport and transfer him or her into a “squeeze cage” (a type of restraining apparatus), position the monkey’s leg, swab the site with alcohol, and draw blood.
For a while, I took pride in being able to perform these tasks in under two minutes. I could handle a monkey forcefully, which made me look good to my peers. Yet I often wondered how the stress we were inducing affected the behavioral and brain chemistry data we were collecting. During blood draws, some monkeys would resist and try to scratch and bite the researchers. Some would shake and fear-grimace, while others did their best to remain calm and cooperate. Were these wide variations in temperament undermining the validity of the research?
In an effort to standardize reactionary behavior among the monkeys, I compiled the current literature explaining how a researcher could train monkeys to present their limbs for a blood draw rather than be restrained. The lab manager and principal investigator argued that changes couldn’t be made in the middle of a study and that this training would take too much time away from research.
A more time-consuming and invasive procedure is the positron emission tomography (PET) scan. It involves sedating a monkey and threading a narrow tube filled with sterile saline through an IV catheter until it reaches the heart.
As it happened, however, the monkeys received multiple PET scans and IV lines over the course of their years at the lab, and some scans went better than others. One incident I documented took place on May 26, 2004, and involved a male rhesus monkey. After we intubated the sedated monkey, one of the lab’s limited-term employees, as part of his training, attempted to insert the IV but there was a blockage in the vein. The lab manager took over.
The first attempt showed a blockage as well, so the lab manager pulled the catheter out while I put pressure on the right saphenous vein to stop the bleeding. The lab manager moved to the left leg and tried again but ran into a blockage again up by the hip. The IV line was pulled out again, and blood dripped from the leg. When the tubing was inserted again, higher up, we all saw the same blockage. It took numerous additional attempts — not just on the monkey’s legs but also his arms — before the IV was successfully inserted. Later, I told the principal investigator (who had not been present) that I thought we should have canceled the procedure and given the monkey pain medication. The investigator asked, “The monkey was knocked out, wasn’t it?” I said, “Yes, but what about when he woke up? I would think the multiple injection sites would’ve made his leg sore.”
The investigator’s response: “I think your problem is that you are thinking of these monkeys like they are human.” This person explained that monkeys had a “different pain system” and a “higher pain tolerance,” so I shouldn’t be worried. It was my perception that was at fault, not the methodologies used in the lab.
When I trained incoming students, I said we had to do the best we could despite the constraints imposed by the lab environment. I was referring to things like small cage sizes. Most singly-housed rhesus monkeys occupy cages that are approximately two and a half feet in every dimension; monkeys living in pairs have two cages to share. The monkeys assigned to my former lab’s studies were fed once per day, received a treat in the afternoon (1/4 piece of fruit, peanuts or ice with dried fruit) and had a chew toy that was rotated for a different toy every two weeks. They got a water tub once per month and got to watch an hour cartoon played from the TV/VCR rolled in front of their cages once a week.
It was and is a stressful life. There were fights among cage mates, diseases, stress-inducing procedures, and injuries — especially when monkeys escaped. I have chased monkeys down and put them back in their cages. Every time was different, and I usually had a good story to tell.
A room full of 40 monkeys — with one on the loose — is a dangerous place. A loose monkey will land on other monkeys’ cages and they will bite at each other. Even pair-housed monkeys will fight with each other if a monkey is being chased around the room. Afterward, we would check for injuries and usually find tongue and finger lacerations in a few of the monkeys.
During my time at the laboratory, four monkeys assigned to two of the laboratory’s research projects died. Two were found dead in their cages, while the other two were euthanized. The monkeys died from various ailments including chronic diarrhea, incurable infection and bloat (eating too fast).
Sam, a five-year-old rhesus monkey, had chronic debilitating diarrhea for about a year and a half. We treated him for shigella, parasites and irritable bowel; finally, the vet determined he had a gluten allergy. We tried to get him to eat natural, wheat-free foods, so I baked for him at home and brought in various types of food for him to try. When I walked in the room, Sam typically sat up on his perch and walked to the front of the cage to see what I had. Sometimes, he would take the food, smell it, and then toss it to the cage floor — most of it fell through to the drop pan. Then I would have to prepare something else.
If he wouldn’t eat or drink, we would remove him and give him subcutaneous fluids in the squeeze cage. This happened day in and day out — always trying to make him better. When I mentioned his debilitated state to the principal investigator, the response was, “He is a valuable research subject — we need to keep him alive and get him better!” Later, I learned that keeping him alive had more to do with concern for research grant funding than concern for Sam.
In the end, we realized that Sam would not get better and had to euthanize him. When he died, I cried. This was used, along with the animal rights labeling, to regard me as an emotionally reactive person, and helped the supervisors discredit the concerns I was raising about primate-handling practices.
When the principal investigator told me I was thinking of the monkeys as humans (anthropomorphizing), it was meant as an insult — an example of how I had let my emotions taint my perceptions, contrary to the interests of science. But I now realize that primate researchers are anthropomorphizing by inducing human-like illnesses or conditions in monkeys. The researchers believe an imitation human-like disease is a human disease. In their grant applications, they argue that monkeys make good research subjects because they are so closely related to humans. That’s serious anthropomorphism.
I started the idea of Primates Inc. in 2003, while still at the lab, because I believed in giving back to the monkeys who are used in research. The plan is to create a sanctuary near the lab so the monkeys have a place to go and will not endure extensive transportation. When I was well-liked and trusted by my peers and supervisors, the idea drew a mostly positive response.
Later, the idea of a sanctuary seemed to get more controversial. One research veterinarian told me it was too “animal rightsy” for her tastes. A couple of out-of-state research veterinarians I spoke with worried the sanctuary might fuel anti-research sentiment. One student, a year after my resignation, said the lab had a meeting about me, and students were told they could not be involved in any “animal rights” organizations, including Primates Inc. Now, three years after Primates Inc. was officially established as a nonprofit, I have heard all the criticisms and been told many reasons I shouldn’t pursue this vision. Primate Center Director Joe Kemnitz, when asked about the sanctuary by a Wisconsin State Journal reporter last year, said the university “likely wouldn’t be a client” of ours.
The idea of a primate sanctuary has also drawn criticism from animal rights activists. They fear Primates Inc. would serve as a dumping ground and just clear the cages in the labs for more monkeys. They feel their energy and money should go instead to resources that focus on the ethics of primate research.
But monkeys are already being rejected from retirement. I recently visited a sanctuary whose director had to turn away 20 singly-housed former research monkeys because she did not have the money or time to socialize them.
One of our goals at Primates Inc., while raising funds to construct an indoor/outdoor primate sanctuary, is to create an endowment to assist in retiring monkeys to our sanctuary or other sanctuaries that provide quality, lifetime care. I have been volunteering my time to get this project going, and have been amazed at the work of other volunteers. Many great people in the Madison community are willing to help.
I know there are UW researchers who care about the monkeys and would like to retire their primates. Many of them enjoy talking and teaching about monkeys in the wild; they exchange monkey-related gifts and display monkey artwork and statues. It must hurt them to know these intelligent creatures, who would otherwise be part of large social families, spend their entire lives in small cages, without any reprieve except death. It isn’t the monkeys’ fault we humans can’t get enough money together to retire them — or that the idea of retiring them is deemed too controversial. Regardless of our feeling about primate research, I think most of us agree we should be providing these monkeys with a better life whenever possible.