The Trouble with Vegans

a year ago

Last week, a van parked at the end of our rural road and a pack of men in jackets and ties and women in high-collared, long sleeve dresses and sensible shoes, all of them carrying small black, leather satchels, poured out and began a door-to-door campaign of our neighborhood. By the time they reached the first few front doors, the phone brigade had begun . . . pull down your shades, don’t answer your door . . . the Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the ‘hood clutching their Watchtower magazines with pictures of children surrounded by peaceful lions and lambs. Did they reach a single person with their proselytizing? Nope. Not one. Nobody talks to Jehovah’s Witnesses. As nice as they may be, their message falls on deaf ears. But they walk away from your locked door thinking about how God loves you despite your inability to understand His words. Such nice people, as brainwashed as they are, we think . . .

Now, imagine a similar van arriving in your own ‘hood. We’re going to go all stereotypical here, just for fun, but this time, the people pouring out are wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “Meat is Murder,” green cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. They carry canvas messenger bags stuffed with trifold, color brochures decorated with pictures of lambs going to slaughter and pregnant sows bulging out of gestation crates. The phone brigade begins . . .

Now, in my neighborhood, I would guess 50 percent of the residents would lock their doors, and the other 50 percent would walk to the end of their driveway, open up a folding lawn chair, set themselves down and wait with a shotgun lying across their laps. The Vegans are in the ‘hood, and nobody, but nobody, likes an intolerant proselytizing Vegan. Will they reach a single person with their message? Not a prayer. In fact, many people will race to the Super Wal-Mart over in Naugatuck and buy themselves a stack of bloody Styrofoam packages packed with beef just to make a statement. Because word on the street is that Vegans, it turns out, are NOT NICE. Ask anyone . . . (anyone but a Vegan . . . of course . . .)

I remember the day I mentioned to a woman in town that I was vegan. Her response was, “Huh! Vegans have no sense of humor,” and she turned and walked away from me. I was crushed. I mean, I happen to think I’m pretty funny, and on top of that, I enjoy a good joke and a hearty laugh. I have been known to be an out-of-control giggler. How could anyone assume I have no sense of humor because I eat a plant-based diet?

Clearly, I do NOT get off our little rescue and farm animal sanctuary enough, because despite giving up all meat in 1982, I have no clue what’s happening out in the animal rights community.

Yesterday I was told I am not a real vegan. This went on for hours on a friend’s Facebook page, where people assumed from an accidentally incorrect event post that we were having an open house on our farm so people could meet the 140 or so animals we rescued from slaughterhouses and kill pens and, while they’re at it, eat themselves a bowl of pulled pork or whatever it is people eat at BBQs. They tossed around phrases like “cognitive dissonance” and accused us of raising money on the backs of dead animals and . . . my favorite part . . . enslaved ponies, who would be forced to perform tricks and give rides to raise money to support us (and presumably help pay our meat bills at the grocery store). Talk about no sense of humor!

First, there was no BBQ and I don’t know where that even came from. Second, our ponies are not exactly “enslaved” or forced to do “slave labor.” And if they entertain the crowd with tricks, it’s because if I don’t let them perform what they know, they will break a gate to get out and start shaking hands, counting and dancing, just for fun. Third, the event is less about raising money than getting people out to the farm to meet our rescued animals and learn that they are, indeed, sentient, cognizant, emotional beings who deserve to live long healthy lives far from the clutches of factory “farms,” kill pens, feed lots and slaughter houses. My husband and I support the entire operation ourselves with every nickel we earn at our regular jobs, to the tune of between $250,000 to $300,000 each year, depending on the vet bills and special needs issues. Any funds raised are a drop in an ocean, but still very much appreciated. 

So by now, you may be thinking the problem with Vegans is Intolerance. If that were the only problem, it would be so much simpler. But here’s the thing – note that I capitalize the work “Vegan.” I do this because it has become a religion, complete with dogma, rules, regulations and cardinal and venial sins. If you don’t follow all the Vegan rules to the letter (and if someone would PLEASE get me that list I would appreciate it!) you are NOT A VEGAN. You are a HYPOCRITE!  A FRAUD! A big, fat loser. Well, maybe not fat . . . you know how skinny, pale and unhealthy we Vegans are . . . not to mention anemic . . . but I digress . . . Because it turns out if I ride horses I am not allowed to be Vegan, in the same way Catholics who use birth control are not allowed to call themselves Catholic, or Republicans who believe in reproductive rights are not allowed to call themselves Republicans . . . you know the list . . .

It turns out that riding horses is enslavement. Pony rides for $5 . . . horror of horrors . . . is abusive. Raising money on, literally, the backs of horses is a Cardinal Sin for which you will be stripped of all rights to call yourself a Vegan, and worse than that, your farm animal sanctuary is NO LONGER ALLOWED TO BE CALLED AN “ACTUAL” SANCTUARY. Welcome to Veganism in 2014.

Well, guess what Militant “Catholic” Vegans? It’s time for the Reformation, and as much as I hate to throw myself out there, or even leave the farm for the most part, if I have to play Martin Luther for the sake of the animals to whom I have dedicated my life (and sadly, my poor husband’s life,) I’m willing to take the heat. Because you are wrong and you are doing more damage than you can imagine. Here is why . . . or at least one of the big reasons why . . .

Every vegetarian or Vegan is happy to tell you that animals have feelings, too. They will rail on about how a pig can hear the pigs ahead of them in line at the slaughterhouse screaming in fear, how they know a terrible and painful death is just around the corner. They will tell you animals have rights and are every bit as important as humans. They use words like “cognizant” and “sentient.” And then . . . they assume that all animals want the exact same thing as each other. You know, exactly how all humans want to live the exact same kind of life. House in the suburbs, two cars, attached garage and a job with a nice, secure accounting firm . . . just like you, right? However, animals are not like humans in that way, and that makes Vegans WRONG. JUST PLAIN WRONG.

Take, for example, horses. Horses are domesticated animals. Over thousands of years we have bred them to do certain jobs, to LOVE doing these jobs. Whether a Vegan wants a horse to run around a track or not, the horse we created now LOVES to run around a track. The horse bred to pull a wagon LOVES to pull a wagon because we made her that way. We have created a whole lot of animals who enjoy their jobs (if they are not abused while they do their work, of course) and now, Vegans have decided that they should not be allowed to do them. So, what do we do with all the horses? Turn them all loose out West? Google a few pages about BLM mustangs and see how welcome they are out there . . . The point is, unless everyone stops breeding horses (they won’t . . . we’ve tried . . . and they won’t stop breeding cats and dogs, either . . . surprise!) we have to do something with them. We made them the way they are, is it fair to deny them doing a job they enjoy?

Most of the horses on our farm are retired and hang out in their paddocks all day eating hay. Others are trained as riding horses. We are gentle and careful and our horses love their jobs. The day they decide they don’t want to be a riding horse anymore is the day they retire. How do we know they are ready? Well, they make it known by their actions. And if that isn’t clear enough, I simply ask them – I am an animal communicator by trade.

A Vegan will tell you this is unacceptable. You know, like pony rides at an open house. BUT. Here’s the thing . . . if you REALLY KNOW AND COMMUNICATE WITH ANIMALS . . . not just PRETEND you know what’s best for them by guessing how you would feel in their situation, you know they are far more amazing than most Vegans believe they are. On our farm, we work side-by-side with our animals as family members. They are contributing members of a team, and that’s exactly what they want to be. They do NOT see themselves as slaves, they see themselves as members of a united herd, each of whom has a job. To assume, because you want it to be so, that a horse does not want to be ridden is a fantasy. To assume that they don’t understand they are making a contribution to our farm IS SELLING THEM SHORT! Our ponies absolutely understand the work they do is important and they do it with love, for us and for their home. To assume, because your dogma tells you to, (come on . . . DOGma . . . there’s humor in there somewhere . . .) that animals are so limited in that cognitive ability you keep harping about that they don’t understand the concept of family is an enormous disservice to those you believe you are protecting.

Are animals sentient beings? Of course they are. They have feelings and are brutally aware of pain and abuse, whether humans want to admit it or not.

Do they have cognitive abilities? If you don’t believe that, watch my dog Ragano open the bathroom door every time I try to take a pee in private . . . there is no handle or knob that can escape his ridiculous cognitive skills . . .

Do they understand Spirit? Better than you or I, and without all the stupid dogma that goes with it; animals have a direct line to Spirit and don’t need rules or books to explain it to them.

Can they understand “complicated” concepts like reincarnation? Oh, I have some stories to tell you . . .

The point is, Vegans, in their new religious order, have confined all “animals” to one box, one set of rules, one modality of treatment. They have made them completely separate from the human race (forgetting that we are animals, as well!) slightly apart, and yet . . . not quite as cognizant or sentient or even as involved . . . but the “cognizant dissonance” that was tossed so casually at me can be tossed right back because these beings we share the planet with are so much more amazing and involved than the Militant Vegan will understand or admit . . .

If we are going to convince the world that animals are deserving of equal treatment, equal consideration, and equal rights, we have to accept them for all that they are, not what we want them to be. I’m not saying your average garden worm wants to be a part of a working family unit, despite all that wonderful aeration he or she is doing in your veggie garden . . . I’m saying that most animals, in particular domesticated animals, have spiritual awareness and the ability to not only love their human family, but want to HELP and work side-by-side and be an active part of their human family.

Yes, I open a can of worms here. How many people are able to have involved conversations with their family pets to find out exactly what they want from life? (I offer workshops to help you learn how – I have no interest in cornering the market on animal communication and most people can learn how to do their own.)

How many moronic people will then say things like, “That rooster wanted me to turn him into chicken Parmesan – really! He told me so!” Plenty, because a lot of people are mean jerks, and Vegans haven’t yet cornered that market.

But until people realize and accept the extent of the cognizant and sentient abilities of animals to their fullest degree, let them out of the boxes we have ignorantly created for them and accept them for all they are, we vegans will never make any progress.

That, my friends, is the problem with Vegans nowadays . . . as I see it . . . Oh, yes, and their brutal lack of tolerance for people who aren’t as “evolved” as they are . . . lightening up on that would go a long ways, as well . . . along with just a tad of a sense of humor . . .

Addendum: (24 hours later . . .) I was going to save this for a separate blog, and I may yet do that, but I do want to post this before our open house on Saturday and I may not have time to write another full blog this week. Vegans must learn to live in the real world. Would it be nice if all animals could roam freely and live as nature originally intended? Hell, yes! But the truth is, if my husband and I died in a fiery crash and our kids didn’t want anything to do with the rescue (they don’t – feel free to ask them – they like having lives that include vacations and savings accounts) and the bank swooped in on the property and sent all the horses to auction, which ones will stand a chance in this real, non-vegan operated world? Old Candy, a former PMU mare who looks like the swayback horse from the Little Rascals, only more saggy in the belly? Or Benny, everyone’s favorite bombproof lesson pony who can do a little of everything under saddle? The truth is, our sweet Candy, with no skills, would be swinging by a back leg from a hook in a Mexican slaughterhouse in a heartbeat. Benny would be snapped up by, well, pretty much anyone and have a shot at a long, happy life. An “actual” sanctuary that does not train horses to be capable of holding a job is doing them a horrible, possibly fatal, disservice. Until we live in the fantasy world on the cover of the Watchtower Magazine, we HAVE TO WORK WITHIN THE REALM OF REALITY. And for us, that means paying a trainer, out of our own pockets, to make sure all of our rescues that are capable of working have the skills to do so. It also means maintaining a therapeutic riding program, and a very small regular lesson program, so that our horses can practice their skills and have a shot at surviving in case disaster strikes. Anything else is irresponsible and hazardous for the horses, whatever any Vegan has to say about it.

Kathleen Schurman and her husband own a farm animal rescue and sanctuary in Connecticut where they care for a huge variety of farm animals rescued from slaughter and abuse, and, horror or horrors, give pony rides, especially to their grandchildren.

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