The story on our gentle fellow Earthling, The Goat comes in the wake of the declaration at the recent Francis Crick Memorial Conference entitled, Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals in Cambridge, UK. This declaration signed by the cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists present at the conference submits that:
“…. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” (The Cambridge Declaration)
To simplify, the declaration acknowledges that animals are conscious beings just like us, humans. What does “consciousness” mean or what does it mean to be “conscious”? Consciousness is defined as the state of being aware of one's surroundings. Without the faculty of consciousness, we will not have any experience at all. In being able to withdraw ourselves from painful stimuli, graduate towards stimuli that bring us joy, suffer physical pain, and such, both human and nonhuman animals are alike. However, human and nonhuman animals also differ in their ability for conscious experiences. For example, while animals cannot reason the way humans can, they have a superior sense of smell and the ability to hear sounds of very high or very low frequencies. We often refer to these abilities as the “sixth sense” of animals and human beings who are capable of them are often regarded as “intuitive”, “clairvoyant”, “psychic”, and so on. Perhaps because animals do not have the same equipment to bring about speech typical to humans and therefore cannot vie for their rights themselves, our species has accorded them property status and consequently made them objects of food, entertainment, and fashion. The fact that in our capacity to feel physical pain and fear, both humans and animals are the same, has been completely disregarded. In fact, violence towards animals is not considered “violence” at all.
Consciousness makes nonhuman animals just as “sentient” as us. If our choices bring them suffering, it certainly means that in the web of life governed by the supreme principle of cause and effect, we pay for making the cruel choices in some way, some time, whether we like to admit it or not. The above declaration from the scientific community spells things that most people working for and living with animals already know through experience, observations, and intuition; yet this declaration must be applauded because in the human-engineered suffering of animals in today’s society, it indicates a positive movement for animal rights advocacy.
The Goat: Perceiving them with a new lens
In our country, goats are mostly perceived as “food” animals from whom meat and milk is derived, and as animals used for ritualistic sacrifice. Several years ago, we had met a compassionate gentleman in the city of Dehradun who had opened his premises to goats rescued from ritualistic sacrifice. The goats reminded one a lot about dogs in their interaction with humans. They would wag their short little tails in glee, come darting when their names were called, lock horns with each other in playfulness. The goat kids were as cute, fluffy, and bouncy as puppies, and it was difficult to fathom that they would have been beheaded for the sake of superstitions had the gentleman not taken them in.
In his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historiæin (translated: “Natural History”, published circa A.D. 77 – 79), Pliny the Elder, the Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher wrote the following about the goat, based on eyewitness accounts:
“Mutianus relates an instance of the intelligence of this animal, of which he himself was an eye-witness. Two goats, coming from opposite directions, met on a very narrow bridge, which would not admit of either of them turning round, and in consequence of its great length, they could not safely go backwards, there being no sure footing on account of its narrowness, while at the same time an impetuous torrent was rapidly rushing beneath; accordingly, one of the animals lay down flat, while the other walked over it.” (source)
Remarkable, isn’t it?!
|Jackie and Freddie about to lock horns for a little fun! Who are they? Read on…. |
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary
A lot of modern-day data about goat intelligence, their personalities and rich emotional lives has come via stories from animal sanctuaries in the US and Europe, also known as “care farms”. Some of these sanctuaries have been specifically instituted for goats. These sanctuaries have presented a whole new paradigm of looking at the goat, doing justice to the kind, compassionate, and fair side of human nature. They are not only paradise for the goat residents but also for the humans who work in them. There is no victimization of the human soul by conditioning them to oppress animals and no exploitation of another species; only a heartfelt effort at reversing the great damage done to the human reputation. There is no judgment in terms how intelligent or how emotionally capable goats are in comparison to humans or other animals, but simply an appreciation of and honor for their unique abilities and the drive to help some of them, if not all, to come out of their traumatic pasts. Jackie and Freddie in the photograph above are residents of one such sanctuary called, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Both Jackie and Freddie were brought to the sanctuary when they were orphaned after hunters killed their respective mothers.
Data from sanctuaries
The goat residents in these sanctuaries have been rescued from the following places and conditions: slaughterhouses, auctions where they were to be sold for meat, dairies where they were no longer needed because of a decline in milk production, the petting zoo industry, breeders, hunters, research labs, and other abusive situations such as abandonment, neglect, starvation, terrible cruelty, and so on. The goats are brought to the sanctuaries wounded, ailing, emaciated, and traumatized.
Weeks of medical care and kindness provided to them in these sanctuaries help the goats bounce back to the creatures that Nature meant them to live as – in open pastures, each with their individual personalities and intelligence. Here, the rescued goats live out the rest of their lives in care and safety. Many of these sanctuaries also help rehabilitate goats into human families who love them and want them as companions. Many also offer a system of fostering. One remarkable thing we found is that whether adoption or foster case, all involved human families need to sign an “agreement” consenting to the conditions of care; especially the clause around “no breeding” of the does (female goats) is taken very seriously. It is a little risky to neuter the female goats; all sanctuaries ensure that the bucks (male goats) are neutered.
|Tommy giving goat kisses. He was rescued from the slaughterhouse.|
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue
Today one can read many heartfelt goat rescue stories on the Internet documented by these animal sanctuaries. Miracles happen here. The goats respond accordingly to the kind and caring environment around them. Here is one story with a happy ending from Leilani Farm Sanctuary of a dairy goat saved from slaughter:
“One February morning on the island of Maui, Bill, a friend of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, went for groceries at Foodland market, located just down the hill from a large dairy farm. As he walked across the parking lot, Bill heard crying coming from inside a car. In the back seat, he saw a goat hog tied and in extreme distress. The car doors were locked, so Bill frantically waited there, making eye contact with the goat until three men approached. The men explained that they had just purchased the goat from a dairy farm and planned to butcher him that weekend for a barbeque. Bill pleaded with the men to relinquish the goat, but they refused. Unable to walk away, knowing the fate that awaited the goat, Bill decided there was no acceptable option other than buying the goat from the men.
Leilani Farm Sanctuary
Bill named the goat Ned and brought him to Leilani Farm Sanctuary where he has been living for the past six years. Ned, a sweet and gentle soul, seems to have forgotten his ordeal. He and his goat friends spend their days lounging under fruit trees in an orchard, grazing on lush grass in the pasture, and interacting with humans who give them endless love.”
Please note: The dairy goat is treated similarly to the dairy cow in many ways, whether in organic or non-organic farms: Does are kept permanently pregnant and confined in pens with inadequate space. After she gives birth, her kids are taken away; the male kid is sold for meat, the milk is taken away for human consumption. In addition, all dairy goats are subject to painful, dangerous, and traumatic dehorning that involves severing her horns – all for the farmer’s ease because the absence of horns helps in milking her more conveniently. Following a drop in productivity, she is slaughtered. The female kid is placed into the goat-milk industry where she meets the same fate as her mother.
Goat and their relationships
A theme that runs common in all documentation on the goat is that each goat has a distinct personality and no two goats are alike. They build strong relationships with each other and are essentially “herd” animals, which is why most sanctuaries ensure that they are adopted in pairs or more than one. They are of every kind: big, small, friendly, quiet, smart, affectionate, mischievous, inquisitive, spunky, outgoing, mellow, gentle, and even pushy and bossy! However, with humans all are gentle and trusting by nature and make sweet, affectionate companions.
|From the slaughterhouse to a loving home: Sassy boards the car to her new home after a complete healing at the sanctuary.|
Photo courtesy of: Puget Sound Goat Rescue
Puget Sound Goat Rescue notes this sentiment in their website:
“Goats are wonderful and rewarding pets. They are intelligent, curious, fun, and easy to care for. They can provide you years of entertainment and affection. They can be so affectionate and playful. They love to be brushed and petted and will follow you around like dogs.”
This sentiment is further elaborated by Leilani Farm Sanctuary:
“Many people have experienced the love, companionship, and joy of sharing their home and lives with an animal such as a dog or cat. Those of us that have enjoyed the rich experience of spending time in the company of goats understand that these animals—
and all animals used for dairy and meat production—are just as sensitive, loving, and capable of suffering pain as our beloved companion animals.
They enjoy playing head-butting games with each other, jumping on rock piles, and reaching up for fruit tree branches on their hind legs. When visitors take walks around the farm, the goat herd follows along, every step of the way. The tamest goats like to cuddle and one young goat named Freddy even sits on laps.”
|Mary Kay held by Laurelee Blanchard, Director - Leilani Farm Sanctuary. |
Mary Kay was rescued after hunters killed her mother.
Photo courtesy of: Leilani Farm Sanctuary
It is estimated that there are more than a thousand farm sanctuaries or care farms in Europe while their numbers are growing in the US. That day will come when there will be more care farms than factory farms and backyard butchers combined. That day will also come when there will be no care farms on this Earth because there will be no factory farms and such. That will be the ultimate Victory Day.
We end this section with a quote from The Goat Sanctuary:
“At the end of the day, when the water buckets are filled and the racks stuffed with hay, the farm is filled with the sound of munching. But if you walk through the yard at 1am, the sound of overwhelming contentment fills the night. Peep over a stable door and you're met with the sight of a family curled up in a corner gently cuddling. Safe and secure.... looking forward to tomorrow.
The centuries have produced an animal that offers mankind unreserved trust, love and respect.... it's sad that mankind does not always return it or deserve it!”
Goat “sacrifice” in India
This essay is incomplete without mentioning the superstition that involves “sacrificing” goats in India. Goats are among the most used animals for sacrificial rituals. Perhaps because they are so trusting of humans. What is the logic behind animal sacrifice? There is definitely a linear logic – a simple, alarming logic that in one sweep strips human beings of all humanness. “I offer you the blood of this animal, bear me a child in return.” “I offer you the headless bodies of these many animals which I shall later give away in charity, in return wash away all the sins I have committed through the year.” “Bring me wealth, I satisfy you with the limbs of this animal.” All animal sacrifice is done to gain favors from or to appease God or a deity.
A great lot has been written on animal sacrifice – about its history and its psychology. Very interestingly, there is no proper documentation on the “benefits” of animal sacrifice say in the form of “testimonials”, for example!! “How did dragging the animal to the kill place—that animal who trusted you all these days—and beheading the animal at the altar of their Creator benefit you?” No, none, there is no testimonial. Rather, there are detailed sermons on how and why to prohibit children from witnessing the act or how to answer children’s queries on animal sacrifice or how to prohibit close contact of the children from the “sacrificial” animal lest the children develop a bond with the animal!
Children are known to be “pure” consciousness, if they find animals being “sacrificed” unsettling, then, there is something fundamentally wrong with the logic of the practice. Dr. Krishnaiyengar Varadarangan, in his essay, Veganism and Spirituality on this blog space aptly notes:
“Animal sacrifice in the name of God is one of the most heinous, disgusting, and absurd acts that one can ever imagine. Animal sacrifice amounts to murdering and then offering the corpse of the butchered animal to the creator Herself! What an irony! What gross ignorance! What shame! She is the creator, the mother, of every one of us, including the animals. How can we offer a butchered child to its own mother? What will the mother think of us? We call her mother, then kill her own baby and even worse, expect her to consume it!
Sacrifice means surrendering ourselves to the supreme force in all humility. We need to surrender our ego, selfishness, greed, hatred, and arrogance and not the lives of hapless animals over which we have absolutely no right of ownership. Cruelty to animals is indeed a grave crime. In what way is killing an animal different from the murder of a human being?”
To know in detail about animal sacrifice in India, how and what perpetrates the crime, you can read this report from the BWC, India archives. The hopeful news is that many organizations and individuals in India are working to stop animal sacrifice from taking place. With the complicity of vested interests, it is an uphill task; however, with the passing of each year, success stories are also pouring in.
Writing an afterword in an essay that profiles an animal is the most difficult part. How do you end it? What do you say? Without judging? Without sounding preachy? With all humbleness we want to help bring attention to the fact that many of us have seen goats wandering through cityscapes, contentedly picking at the grass beneath their feet…. imagine the day when they would be loaded inside trucks on their first and last journey on a vehicle to be “delivered” to butcher shops and slaughterhouses. These sights have become common in our cityscapes, haven’t they. If we pause the engine of our vehicles, we will hear cries from within these trucks, they may be cries of discomfort or maybe cries in mourning each other’s imminent death, whatever they are, these are feeble cries, yet too deafening to ignore, which the city’s traffic seems to consume most of the times…. of these gentle animals made by the same Creator who made you and me. Imagine headless corpses hanging upside down hooked to the front of butcher shops. These too have become part of our cityscapes. A single question arises in the mind, was all of this necessary for the biryani or kebab on our plates?
PS: The average life-expectancy of a goat is usually 15-18 years; however all goats raised for meat and are slaughtered between 3 months to 1 year of age and those for milk – until their bodies wear off and can no longer bear the forced pregnancies.
This blog is grateful to the following for permitting us to use content from their online resources:
- ~Laurelee Blanchard, Director, Leilani Farm Sanctuary. Laurelee received the Vegan of the Year – 2012 award by VegansAreCool.com.
- ~Barbara Jamison, Founder, Puget Sound Goat Rescue
- ~Cheryl, Founder, The Goat Sanctuary
You can also read an essay profiling the chicken in this blog post, The Chicken Story Retold.