By JESS BIDGOOD
A working ox named Lou, who in recent weeks became arguably his species’ most prominent representative, died on Sunday in pastoral Vermont, euthanized after his impending slaughter stirred a face-off between sustainable farmers in the state and animal rights advocates from around the world.
For Green Mountain College, where Lou tilled the fields with his teammate, a second ox named Bill, this was never the plan. After about 10 years at the college, Lou sustained an injury to his right rear hock over the summer. The college decided to slaughter both animals and serve them in the dining hall, viewing the action as an execution of the college’s sustainable-farming mission.
But criticism from animal rights advocates left the college with a problem: it could not find a slaughterhouse that would take Bill and Lou.
“The slaughterhouses were barraged by threats from the animal rights activists and refused the animals, so we were unable to carry through with our plan,” said William Throop, the college provost who also specializes in environmental ethics.
That gave the oxen a temporary reprieve. But Lou’s quality of life continued to diminish, and, with slaughter now out of the question, the college elected euthanization.
“The arrival of cold temperatures and icy conditions are certain to increase his suffering, and we have concurred with our veterinarians’ judgment that it was not humane for him to suffer further,” read a statement released by the college on Sunday.
Many on the campus in Poultney, Vt., viewed Lou’s demise as a wasteful and unnecessary end to a frustrating public relations battle.
“It’s really sad to me, wasting 2,000 pounds of meat and putting it into the ground to decompose,” said Baylee Drown, an assistant farm manager at Green Mountain College. “And still having the end result being having the oxen being dead.”
Pattrice Jones, of the VINE animal sanctuary, which had offered to take the oxen to avert their slaughter, expressed cautious relief over the modified fate of the animals. “If this really was euthanasia — mandated and performed by a veterinarian for humane reasons and by humane methods — and they really have decided not to kill Bill, then that would represent a compassionate decision in line with what tens of thousands of people have been imploring Green Mountain College to do,” Ms. Jones said.
The fervor of protesters — who expressed their opposition by putting thousands of signatures on online petitions, posting angry comments on the college’s Facebook page, and mounting a small protest — frustrated administrators and students, who said they, too, cared about the welfare of the animals.
“Our critics,” Dr. Throop said, “are people who do not believe in animal agriculture because they do not believe it’s acceptable to eat meat. They’re basically trying to use us as a pawn in their war to eliminate animal agriculture.”
Bill will remain at Green Mountain College, which said in its statement that he will “receive care consistent with appropriate livestock practices.”
“That leaves it open,” Ms. Drown said of his fate. “We’ve been talking about a lot of the possibilities. He does work as a single animal, but it’s not really as efficient to work a single animal than to work a team.”
The pair were twins as well as colleagues, and Ms. Drown said Bill was initially distressed when, on Sunday, he found himself on his own.
“Sunday morning, when the students got there, Bill was a little distraught,” she said. “When they put him outside he just waited by the gate for a while — normally he’d just go into his pasture and start eating.”