When we are preparing for the death of one of our sanctuary friends, we go through a period of anticipatory grief. However, painful this is to us, as their carers, it allows us to spend extra time with them, making them as comfortable as possible, giving them unlimited treats if they are able for them, preparing the most comfortable beds, and making sure their food and water are accessible. We spend time consulting with their veterinary carers, adjusting doses of medicines to alleviate discomfort, enhance mobility and buy time. It gives us the opportunity to plan the end of their life so that it is as timely and peaceful for them as possible, notwithstanding the fact that almost all their deaths are premature and caused by the effects of selective breeding.
We wish with all our hearts that their lives did not have to end. Every time they leave their house, as Pip did yesterday, to walk across the field and lie under a favourite tree to savour this frosty, sunny, wintry weather, and spend a little while grazing on the paddock he calls home, we celebrate knowing that it might be the last time they are able to do this.
I have always said that amidst the many challenges of running a sanctuary, the gruelling physical labour, the worry about resources, the effort to recruit good carers, the most challenging for all of us is the courage it takes to leave our hearts open to love and lose them. Our human emotions and our social relations with them are crucial to how we care for them. Wouldn’t you prefer to be cared for by a friend or family member who knew your unique individuality, preferences, and vulnerabilities, than by someone who, however proficient their care, doesn’t really know you or feel anything for you? Our human emotions are far from indulgent or irrelevant. We believe that they are crucial. Without these emotions there would be no friendship, no sense of kin, no love for those under our care at Eden. Without these emotions there would be no reciprocal relationship and no great empathy. It is the depth of our feeling for them that allows us to live in their shoes when they are ill, debilitated and old. It enables us to judge the best flooring and bedding for someone who is old and frail. It enables us to read their body language and know when they want to rest, when they would like assistance to move, when they would like a drink, and if it is time to lift the ‘treat’ restrictions and give them what they want to eat. It enables us to judge if they need to be alone, or if they would prefer to end their lives as normally as possible in the company of their friends.
It enables us to plan the end of their life because even though we feel sick at the thought of losing them, our bodies reverberating with the familiar symptoms of anticipatory grief that are so like fear, we want to time their end so that they do not live for one single day in which the pain of living outweighs their quality of life.
It is at times like this that we are faced with the memory of our pre-vegan selves. How easy it was to plan a dinner that contained animal products. How thoughtlessly we purchased that piece of flesh, packet of eggs, or luxuriously wrapped dairy product without knowing that the one who died for our taste, convenience, and tradition, was someone we would have respected, cared for, loved and grieved over if we had had access to information that is our right to know, and the opportunity to know them.
Vegan education would be merely academic without the animals who are rescued from human use and spend their lives on vegan sanctuaries, teaching us what the human world owes them. They enrich, inform, inspire, and motivate us as educators. When we tell their stories, or take a photograph or paint them in a way that captures who they are, how they feel, and what they know and want, we ensure that they are using their voices to speak for themselves in their own animal rights movement. This is how animals such as Pip have played the most significant role in the success of our Go Vegan World campaign.
For us at Eden, these are not pleasant times, but they are privileged times. We will do our best to make sure his final days are as filled with gentle care and fierce love as his first days when we carried his new born lamb’s body in our arms almost twelve years ago.
Photo of Pip in July 2020: Agatha Kisiel Photography