Gene Baur, author and activist:
As a founder of the farm sanctuary movement, I urge the Canadian government to take this historic opportunity to establish farm sanctuaries as part of a restored prison farm program. For thirty years I have witnessed the healing and rehabilitation that sanctuary represents, both for animals and caregivers.
I co-founded Farm Sanctuary in 1986. It began with a visit to a stockyard. It was there that I realized that people look at animals very differently when they see them as commodities. I looked into animals’ faces, saw their expressions, and recognized that they were afraid. But the handlers were not looking into the animals’ faces. They were looking at cuts of meat, at body conformation, at meat on the hoof to be sold by the pound. This kind of relationship with animals would be the opposite of rehabilitation.
When animals are seen as commodities, they are routinely mistreated. Most people are shocked to learn about what goes on in farms, stockyards and slaughterhouses. Farmed animals are genetically manipulated, artificially bred, confined, physically coerced and killed. How can this be considered rehabilitative?
I remember a calf who was sent to the stockyard in upstate New York on the day he was born. He was still wet from amniotic fluid and dying of hypothermia. I took him to a nearby vet. She said, “What are you wasting your time for? This calf has very low chance of survival. It makes no economic sense. It’s going to cost more than he’s worth to do this.” I said, “To me this calf is not an economic unit, he’s an individual. I want to do what I can to help him.” She gave him intravenous fluids and I took him back to the sanctuary. Opie recovered and lived to be 18 years old. His physical health improved, but he only started thriving when he joined the other animals. These animals, in addition to having physical needs, have emotional needs. They need to be in a positive environment, with social connections, in order to thrive. Just as people do.
When the animals first come to Farm Sanctuary, often they are very frightened. Many have only known cruelty at human hands. But as time goes by, they learn to trust us. They learn to enjoy life, play, and experience pleasure and joy. They also show companionship, friendship and unconditional love. At a sanctuary, where the focus is on caring and nurturing and kindness, the lives of animals and people are improved. It goes both ways. This is exactly the kind of rehabilitative model that would bring healing both to the animals and to those who have the extraordinary privilege of caring for them and loving them. It’s a beautiful thing.
I encourage the Canadian government to give sanctuary to the Pen Herd cows and any other animals brought onto Canada’s prison farms. This would go a long way towards transforming the hearts of people who know what it is to be wounded and discarded. In safeguarding the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable animals, prisoners would be healing themselves.
Gene Baur, BA (Sociology), MPS (Agricultural Economics)
Faculty member, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health