Protesters, students clash on oxen’s fate
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | October 27,2012
POULTNEY — Protesters gathered in front of Green Mountain College on Friday in a last-ditch effort to save oxen Bill and Lou from slaughter.
About 20 protesters from surrounding states converged with signs advocating for the safety and livelihood of the college’s 11-year-old oxen, who are set for slaughter at the end of the month. The protesters lined up along College Street with signs that read “Save Bill and Lou,” “Mascots not food” and “Respect existence or expect resistance.”
“We are here to save Bill and Lou,” said Jennifer Wolf, protest organizer with the New Hampshire Animal Rights League. “This is not a meat-eating issue or a vegetarian or vegan issue. This is about saving these animals and that they receive the retirement they deserve.”
Judith Romeo said she drove about two hours from Albany, N.Y., to Poultney specifically for the protest after hearing about the oxen through Facebook.
“I feel like many groups of animals have someone representing them (but) farm animals have nobody,” Romeo said. “They don’t have to die. I am here to show my support (for Bill and Lou).”
Green Mountain College has recently taken a lot of flak for its decision to slaughter the oxen after Lou sustained a recurring injury this year. Since the news broke several weeks ago, more than 45,000 people from around the world have signed online petitions in hopes of saving Bill and Lou, who have worked at the college for 10 years.
College spokesman Kevin Coburn said the college was very surprised about the outcry it has seen over the last couple of weeks and believes many groups and individuals are using Bill and Lou as a way to promote a “very extremist agenda” — no meat consumption at all.
“We run a small farm on campus that serves as a venue for education for our students,” Coburn said. “They are learning about the ethical choices farmers have to make while running a small family farm.”
“The plan from the beginning was that (the oxen) would be processed for their meat,” he added. “There is a difference of opinion on campus, but there was a consensus (to kill them).”
About two dozen students also gathered in front of the protesters to support the college’s decision.
Jena Stevens, a senior at the college, said her main reason to attend the protest was to support her college. She said that although she is a vegetarian, she completely supports GMC’s decision.
“Green Mountain is such a small community. We can come together to support each other,” Stevens said. “I am here because of the crazy backlash that we have gotten.”
She added that college officials have been very transparent about this decision, hosting several campus-wide forums and discussions before making the ultimate decision.
“We are trying to practice what we preach,” Stevens said.
While the majority of the students showed their support for the college’s decision, a couple of students stood with the protesters opposing the killing of Bill and Lou.
Junior Lilly Byers said the two oxen have been overworked and should be retired at a rescue or sanctuary.
“I think their minds were made up (early on),” she said about the college’s decision. “I want to give these animals a voice.”
The peaceful protest eventually became an opportunity for people on both sides of the issue to start a discussion after a handful of students approached the protesters.
Mieko Lunetta, a senior at the college, said that although it was a difficult decision for her to make, especially as a vegetarian, she supports what has been decided. She said one of the benefits many students see from all of this is that it has started a conversation on campus to look at ways to reduce the amount of meat served by the college’s dining services and to find humanely raised local meat to serve.
Michelle Sinnott, a protester from Vermont Law School, said that although she can appreciate the college’s decision, Bill and Lou can be more than just the next meal on a student’s plate.
“I respect the hell out of your farm and the work you do,” Sinnott told Lunetta and several other students. “You guys have the opportunity to be really radical … and Bill and Lou can be a part of that.”
Coburn said he appreciated the discussions that arose among the students and protesters, adding that they were much more productive than the college being inundated by messages.
“These are the sort of dialogues that we like to have and do have (on campus),” he said.