by Cory Mac a’Ghobhainn
I couldn’t get the words out. I stood there, and every time I tried to form the sentence, I chocked. Those around me, listening and waiting, grew sad and quiet. They guessed what was coming, what I was trying to say. I was in a class that Art for Animals Sake offers as part of an enrichment program at Skid Row Housing Trust, an organization which “provides permanent supportive housing so that people who have experienced homelessness, prolonged extreme poverty, poor health, disabilities, mental illness and/or addiction can lead safe, stable lives in wellness.” Every week we give residents an opportunity to discuss their own experiences living in a world shared by other animals, to talk about some of the challenges we all – other species included – face in the modern world and, at the same time, to create art that reflects these connections. On this day, I was holding up a recent photo and telling the story of a little calf a mere few days old. Finally I was able to say it, “He’s dead now.” Brutal words with a bottomless amount of suffering behind them.
It started on a beautiful day in November: the sun was out, and I was at an animal sanctuary in Lake Elsinore where the furred and feathered residents were reveling in cool crisp weather after a brutal summer in the parched landscape of inland SoCal. All I could think of was, “No more triple-digit temps!” The chickens were happily sand bathing, the pigs were rooting in the dirt of their yard, Rocko the llama was surveying the perimeter for invaders (he takes his job seriously!), the ratties and bunnies were pleased as punch, Angelina the pony was accepting apple treats, the mini cows were accepting head scratches, and Ellie the tripod dog was just loving everything and everyone. Meanwhile a bunch of humans were busy raking dirt, painting ceilings, scrubbing walls, moving sheds and cleaning up poop; all part of another Progress for Science Helping Paws Volunteer Day at New Life Animal Sanctuary. Founded by Gina Lynn, former unstoppable animal rights activist and present-day tenacious rescuer and mom to dozens of happy lives, she and her crew, headed by Jill and Jennifer and a dedicated collection of helpers, concentrate on giving animals used and abused in vivisection research facilities a Life After Labs. On the day in question, everyone was feeling more excited than usual as we were also waiting to welcome new residents, a couple of baby cows. Coming in by car after a 7-hour journey from another state, these calves had been rescued from certain death and now had the possibility of a life of love.
Everyone who knows anything about cows knows that they have the most beautiful long-lashed eyes one can imagine, especially when they are babies. And so it was with the two that arrived that afternoon. Immediately monikered Zeus – to give him strength – and Hayden after Gina’s dear friend the late AR activist David Hayden, the two boys had the same liquid, heart-melting eyes. We gathered around the car – instantly smitten – to welcome them as Hayden tottered out and Zeus, who was too weak to walk, was carried in.
Everyone who knows anything about cows also knows that when they are born the baby and mother form an instant emotional bond with each other. If they are separated from one another for whatever reason their cries are clear evidence of their panic and agony. This is one of the cruelest heartbreaks of the dairy industry where female cows are forcibly impregnated and made to give birth in order to start the lactation process. The resultant babies are usually taken immediately from their mothers or soon after and are either discarded, sometimes literally by being thrown in trash bins, or given over to the “veal” industry where they suffer a very short lonely life of confinement in a very small space. But Hayden and Zeus didn’t come from a factory farm, they came from a pharmaceutical laboratory.
Bovine serum, which is derived from cow’s blood, is used as a cell culture in the research and manufacture of vaccines and drugs. Often taken from fetuses literally ripped out of their mothers’ bellies in the slaughterhouse, the serum is also harvested from new-born calves. In this case, the babies’ hearts are punctured and blood is drained from them, they are given no mother’s milk so have no chance to build any immunity or get essential nutrients, and they are tossed aside after a few days – spent and dying, property that is now deemed of no further value. It is from just such a nightmare that little Zeus and Hayden had been rescued along with others and taken to various places of safety.
When the two arrived, Zeus could not walk and would not drink the bottle offered him. An emergency vet was summoned and for the next couple of days he, fighting for life with all his weak little body could muster, rallied and crashed, rallied and crashed and then finally succumbed and passed away at only 6 days old. Hayden always seemed the stronger of the two, able to walk on his own from the start and alert to what was happening around him, even able to return Ellie the tripod dog’s welcoming greeting. But as the days progressed and with his vets doing all they could, despite around the clock attention from Gina and others at the sanctuary, and also in spite of the cuddly ministrations of many of the sanctuary kitties, Hayden finally joined Zeus on November 21, not yet three weeks old. On November 23 the sad news was posted on Facebook:
Several hours after our last update on Hayden, he lost his fight. We are so incredibly heartbroken, it is difficult to find words. His life may not have mattered to those who stole him, used him and discarded him, but to us he was beyond precious, and he stole the hearts of everyone around him. We did everything we could for him and the only solace is that he knew some love and kindness in this world that millions never get to experience.
Little Hayden and Zeus will always be vivid reminders that the animal experimentation and testing industry is cruel beyond words, sociopathic in its degree of heartlessness and must be fought to the end. May Hayden and Zeus inspire us further in fighting all injustices towards animals.
Rest in perfect peace sweet Hayden. Your legacy will live forever.
November was when the calves were brought to the sanctuary bringing heartbreak in their wake, but November was also a very strange and scary month for this country as we saw the election of a man who epitomizes the greed, intolerance and ignorance that have long simmered just below the surface, erupting more and more frequently, of our society. A man who believes in the open rule of the elite, not just the hidden string pulling that has long – always – been embedded in what we call our democracy. Suddenly it has been thrust into the consciousness of a great many hitherto unconcerned people that something is very wrong – something that the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land, people of color, people who challenge mainstream concepts of gender, folks who, in whatever way, read as “other” to people of privilege have known all along.
The month of November 2016 may well come to be recognized as the beginning of a great awakening as, immediately after the election, cities around the country erupted in marches and rallies declaring “Not my president!”; as the indigenous-led #NoDAPL struggle to stop a pipeline finally broke through to public consciousness after months of purposeful neglect by the media; as citizens and noncitizen residents realized that health care, education, LGBT gains, the environment, wages, women’s rights to control over their own bodies and destinies, and the very right to be a resident in this country at all were in even more danger; as the long-fallow Left realized they needed to come up with a plan, a strategy, an alternative, meetings and strategy sessions were called across the country. It is a time of upheaval with battles looming on many fronts. Many in the animal rights movement have been very aware that our struggle for our fellow creatures is inseparably bound to the fight against Big Money – Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Banks, etc. But many are not choosing to pursue avenues that are disengaged from intersecting struggles such as workers’ and immigrants’ rights
Just as hundreds of Indigenous tribes, many of whom have long-term disputes with one another and some as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand, have come together to take a stand with the Sioux Nation against Big Oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline, just as Black Lives Matter, the Zapatistas and Palestinian activists have sent messages of solidarity and physical bodies to the front lines at Standing Rock, just as military veterans who came to North Dakota will next move on to stand up for the people of Flint, Michigan in their own water wars, just as people of all movements must now lend their support to one another against the larger threat embodied by the incoming regime, so must the animal rights movement join the broader struggle.
For this reason Progress for Science, both as a group and as individual organizers, has expanded our area of concern from a primary focus on vivisection at UCLA to also include political prisoner support and letter writing sessions ─ both for animal-rights inmates and for those jailed from other social justice movements─ and joining as participants and sponsors with fellow marchers for change. Next up, we will be having a vegan animal-rights contingent at the upcoming Women’s March on January 21 in LA and Minneapolis, mirroring the main event in DC the day after the inauguration. Sure we will be marching alongside a great many people who don’t consider animals as being worthy of rights or who haven’t even given it any thought, who have no idea that to be vegan is, as Angela Davis says, “a part of a revolutionary perspective”, but if we as animal advocates don’t represent in a larger setting their coming to that awareness will be a lot longer delayed. It is also time for vegans to see how our cause fits in with the revolutionary whole, that fighting for a human society of caring and compassion and mutual aid will come round back for the animals as well. This is something that the non white-centric vegan movement has long known. It’s time we in AR expand our vision of what the world that we want to see looks like in its entirety, it’s time we join up with the rest of the resisting earth and fight shoulder to shoulder. It’s time we stop being the shunned step sister of the Left, it’s time we learned to play with others because if not we are likely to have a long, cold and lonely time as we wait for everyone else to go vegan before we join in.
Back full circle: in the art class that day at Skid Row Housing as we talked about little Zeus and Hayden we also talked about all the challenges facing both themselves and animals in the here and now and in the future, as we have done many times before. These folks know, as they know the sun rises and sets each day, that greed drives the world as it now is. They have been the victims of the worship of Mammon the God of Money many times over. Barbara, one of the most regular of the art class attendees, came to LA from Phoenix where she had spent 20 years, many of them homeless due to unfortunate circumstances and bad luck. Finally, due to that city’s policy of criminalizing and fining those without homes, she moved to California, winding up eventually at Skid Row Housing. In Barbara’s estimate, “People treat people and animals badly just for money. It’s all about money.”As a black, formerly homeless woman living with few financial resources she stands at all kinds of intersections of disadvantage. Barbara knows all the wicked entanglements of power and oppression that have kept her and others down. She is now living a more secure life thanks to the Skid Row Housing Trust, she and the other folks in our class being representative of what happens when groups act to help one another, not to hoard resources for themselves. As the Year of Our Dread begins, as reports of the rise of white supremacists, Nazism and hate multiply, as refugees flee broken lands, as bombs pound lives into the dust, as burning crosses ignite, as pipelines slither across prairies and under rivers, as animals die by the billions so Tyson et al stockholders can buy more stuff, as people who challenge the status quo are handcuffed, as stories such as the calves and Barbara’s are heard, one thing becomes clearer and clearer – we need to get serious about coming together and changing this to the Year of Our Unity.