It was a dark night when Sophie came into our world, the circumstances those of a perfect storm. Delayed leaving the sanctuary for her rescue, with a tank low on fuel, a phone battery not fully charged, and a vehicle highlighting the simple yet challenging question, “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?”, we bravely ventured into dairy country to rescue a blind bobby calf.
Taking the story back a week or two, we were first alerted to this tiny albeit determined waif by an animal-loving veterinary nurse holidaying in Australia. Drawn by this love, Sophie found herself working on a dairy farm, tending the many calves. “Do you know what happens to the unwanted calves?” her voice trembled. Like Alice, she had stepped into the unknown, but unlike Alice, she had wound up on the other side of the curtain that shields the dairy industry.
Knowing as we do the stark fate of these calves born to this industry, it is hard to conceive that others do not, yet there was a time when we too lived in blissful ignorance, believing the impact of the dairy industry on the animals who make it possible was benign. With her heart breaking just that little bit more each day, but taking comfort believing the wee babies in her care would at least know some measure of kindness in their short time on this earth, this kind heart was touched beyond belief by a sweet little Jersey-cross calf who doggedly struggled to hold her own amongst her fully sighted brethren. Unaccepting of the fate that would normally befall such an animal, the race was on to find sanctuary for the calf we were to name Babe. The first picture we saw of Babe told of the fondness in which she was held—a single red heart was painted on her side. Such an image, such a plight and such a determination swung us into action.
As the clouds in the sky loomed dark and sad and seemed about to release a teary fury (perhaps they too were in mourning), and as the phone battery charge which governed our GPS and the fuel in our tank headed decidedly south, we inched closer to our quarry as we prayed both would hold out. And they did, but then, oh how our hearts sank. A small grassless yard held some forty beautiful sweet heifers; an adjacent yard held the bull calves. Devoid of shelter and hope, the coughing calves mingled amongst a debris of wire and excrement, their sole source of roughage a pile of blackened straw that had long ago shrugged off its golden façade; it doubled now as both a resting place and latrine. As Babe was gently ushered to her chariot and her promise, we looked back to the 39 sets of eyes that were now fixed upon us. Who would be the chosen one to help navigate Babe in her kinder world? Well, that was to be Sophie’s choice.
With her human namesake nearby, this gentle calf was soon leaving her bleak world behind, exchanging it for one filled with fresh clean straw, green pastures and a red collar and bell. Sophie Human hugged the tiny calf one last time and confessed another choice: “I had no idea, no idea—I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink dairy products again”.
Sophie’s compassionate choice, like so many we make, has great evolutionary value for our species. Each choice we make presents us with an opportunity to evolve to be the best we can possibly be, honouring our innate calling to be kind. These choices remind us that the roots of cruelty, suffering and indifference grow in our disconnect with others.
It is not that farmers are by nature cruel to animals, or that they set out to cause them pain and misery. It struck us greatly when we witnessed all the doe-eyed calves milling about in a world of little comfort, how easy it would have been to drop to our knees and weep for their pain. Yet we knew we needed to get in and out before the storm came; a job was at hand and for those moments we held our breath and did not feel, we acted—we did the job we had come to perform. Try as we might, we felt the tingles, we felt the pangs—“Couldn’t we take just another one or two, why not take them all?”—then reality set in: there was only room for two, which had been the plan all along. In the scheme of things, ours was but a brief moment in that bleak world. But is this what happens to those who work in these animal industries? A padding is built around the heart; one learns not to feel, for the pain will be too great; one learns to justify, for the pain will be too great; one just does, for otherwise the pain will be too great; with bills to pay and traditions to uphold, one learns not to feel.
Sophie’s choice too reminds us all of the perfect storm we have created, having placed animals daily under the siege of our inconsistent animal protection laws, our prejudice, our cognitive dissonance and our greed. Weathering these tumultuous times is not a story without hope, but it does require both compassion and courage. As ethical beings we are now equipped, thanks to science, with a fuller understanding of the minds, emotions, loves and lives of animals; our world is rounded out with more and more ways of living that do not involve causing them harm, as we are drawn to the irrevocable conclusion that it is the everyday choices that we make that are the key to a kinder world for all. And when we do, it will be more than just one tiny calf who will benefit, for, after the storm comes a brand new world, and yes, she is on her way. Thank you, Sophie, for reminding us of this, and bless your kind heart.