A Note on #CowAppreciationDay

One of the most haunting statements I’ve heard about race-based oppression was uttered by Randall Robinson, repeated by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary: “The worst thing you can do to a people is to rob them of the memory of themselves.”

It bears restatement: Human liberation movements and animal liberation involve different oppressions, and the way to unravel them involves different social mechanisms. Yet there is, it seems to me, something in Robinson’s message that can inform the theory of animal liberation.

Humans have robbed our domesticated animals of their ancestors’ evolution. The free-living ancestors of today’s cows are the aurochs, now extinct. Aurochs were not particularly friendly to our ancestors; but then, they had no such interest or obligation. A group of aurochs could trample a village. We, ever the clever primates, figured out how to trap them and breed smaller, more docile animals from them, so that instead of preparing hunting parties to stalk them, we could make them accessible and push them around.

To this day, cows trample a few dozen humans to death each year—I’ve found myself chased by cows in Wales; I’ll never forget my surprise and panic—but they’ve lost their ancestral stature and relationships forever. The vegan principle does not challenge us to integrate them into pleasant scenery or human friendships; it challenges us to stop breeding them into a dependent existence. To liberate our advocacy, we need to foster in ourselves an awareness, a recognition, that other animals are not our babies, not our housemates or helpmates; that domesticated or trained animals are limited, not perfected; that the freedom of living beings in habitat, without any need to seek human rescue or shelter or companionship, is a healthy thing to want; and that the lack of it is not.

Domestication, captivity, and caregiving are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of living world. We can only hope to correct (or at least stop perpetuating) what we can perceive as domination. Images of animals doing things that impress or amuse us in controlled circumstances should, instead of being classified as cute, jar our senses. They should remind us of the evolution and history they could have had, had we let them be.


Adapted from On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century. Artwork released into the public domain by its author Pearson Scott Foresman
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5 thoughts on “A Note on #CowAppreciationDay

  1. Wow, such an interesting article, Lee! It reminded me of a debate you and I had with a “pedigree” goat owner who insisted that goats were the perfect symbiotic relationship since they eat/trim the grass and humans provide them with care and a place to live. This, btw, was a so-called AR discussion group — almost predictably, the discussion devolved as other goat fanciers joined. OY!

    You also sparked a memory of a scary lesson in domestication. Many years ago when we lived in Iowa, we were relaxing and playing at a friend’s farm pond when we looked uphill to see a herd of cows begin running toward us (thirsty cows). As we gathered up the kids and ran up the opposite hill, I thought of how domesticated animals can revert to self-preservation — a reminder that we don’t own all the recesses of the brains of domesticates — perhaps that adds to their suffering…

  2. Thank you for this post. VegFests in Canada in the past year have been hosting speeches by someone who says domesticated animals should have “citizenship” status which includes “work.” The operators of horsedrawn carriages and the circus “trainers” say the same thing, that their animals have “jobs” and love to “work.” The animals want to be left the heck alone.

    • Domestication mentality is at the root of everything. Manipulating and using other animals is especially reinforced by the recent upsurge in “service” animals for any and all human emotions –the warm and fuzzy “medication.” I believe time can be better spent focusing on the root of the problem, domestication itself. Sometimes it seems we are stuck in an unending circle of use-compassion-regulation-use…

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