What We All Share

Regardless of species, love is a universal need. An essay from Kathy Stevens, the founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary.

Lena (left) and her daughter Seneca at Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, NY. Photographed by Sammantha Fisher for LAIKA

by Kathy Stevens
Friday, December 13, 2019

Lena was living in deplorable conditions at the largest farmed animal abuse case in the Northeast in Westport, MA. You could smell the site long before you saw it. Dead animals lay on the ground in many spots on the property, and those who were alive were in a horrifying state. Far too young to be pregnant, Lena nonetheless was, and gave birth some months after her arrival at Catskill. The morning she was born, Seneca wanted to lie down but Lena kept pawing at her to nurse, so her maternal instinct kicked in despite her extreme youth. Lena would freak out if she couldn’t see Seneca. She would call nervously for her, and once Seneca answered, Lena would be at ease.

They are more like best friends than mom and daughter. Lena is the young mom whose attitude is, “We’re sisters! Isn’t this fun!” They leave their barn at 8 a.m. and run out into the world to graze, explore and make new friends. As part of our Underfoot Family, they get to free-range and are in total control of how they spend the daylight hours. Sometimes they come back in the middle of the day to cool off in the shade of the barn, but then it’s out again for the afternoon’s adventure. Lena still acts like a lamb — childlike, playful and silly. She comes up and pushes her head against us to pet her. Seneca is extremely secure and confident. When everyone rushes to the breakfast dishes, she casually hangs back and chooses which one she wants. While the rest of her flock is a bit food obsessed, she seems to trust that food will always be available. Maybe it’s because Lena was the least traumatized of the rescued moms, so she didn’t transfer any anxiety to her daughter.

Had Seneca been born to the wool industry, her life would have been one misery after another. Sheep are bred to produce far more wool than they do in the wild; a portion of their backsides are cruelly sliced off in an attempt to prevent maggot infestation; and shearers race through their work for maximum profit, which encourages horrible mutilation. But perhaps the most unconscionable practice of all is that after years of service to humans, sheep are sent to slaughter the moment their wool production declines, enduring brutal overseas journeys and a horrific death in countries with no regulations to offer even the smallest act of mercy.

Lena and Seneca. Photo by Sammantha Fisher

Our sanctuary’s mantra is “In the ways that truly matter, we are all the same.” What that means is regardless of species, we all want to have rich emotional lives, to form relationships. We experience pain and terror identically — these things feel no different to a sheep or a chicken than they do to me. We all desire joy and freedom, and seek to avoid suffering.

Social justice activists do their work because they have good hearts and a driving desire for all to be happy, for all to have opportunity to thrive. Asking them to include animals in their world view is the most natural request imaginable. What makes the animal rights movement more unique on some levels is that it’s not enough to advocate for animals — one has to also change their behavior. One has to say, “OK. I get it. I will not participate in the cruelty.” The choice to go vegan takes guts. But from a purely ethical stance, I don’t see how social justice champions have a choice.

Like so many folks, I went vegan after watching the powerful short film Meet Your Meat. Once I saw what I was participating in, I was done. When a pig lies down in the straw with you for a cuddle and a belly rub, when a cow crosses a 5-acre pasture to say hello when you’ve called his name, and when a sheep buries her head into you – these are the reminders that we really are all the same. We all want love.