Molly the cow had big dreams—and they didn’t involve buns or barbecue sauce.
With “barbecue season” officially here, Molly’s story is a gentle reminder that the animals on our plates were once inquisitive individuals who valued their lives, solved problems, formed friendships and experienced fear and pain—just as we do. And it’s also a good reason to skip the hamburger patties and grill up delicious veggie burgers instead.
Molly gained fame earlier this month when she broke through a fence at a slaughterhouse in Queens, N.Y., and made a bold dash for freedom. She led slaughterhouse workers and police on a mile-long chase through city streets before she was finally caught.
Her chutzpah paid off. Instead of being taken back to the slaughterhouse, Molly was turned over to local animal-care workers. Now Molly has a new home (a 60-acre organic farm on Long Island) and a new “boyfriend” (a steer on the farm named Wexley).
Most importantly, she no longer has to worry about ending up as somebody’s burger. Connie Farr, who owns the Long Island “Farrm” with her husband, Rex, told the New York Post, “I’m a vegetarian. No one will be food on my farm.”
One cow saved—only 40 million to go.
Cows are intelligent and curious animals who form social hierarchies, can recognize more than 100 members of their herd, have best friends and cliques and even hold grudges.
When they are separated from their families or friends, cows grieve deeply, especially mother cows for their calves. Author Oliver Sacks, M.D., wrote of a visit that he and cattle expert Dr. Temple Grandin made to a dairy farm. Earlier in the day, the calves had been taken away from their mothers. “We saw one cow outside the stockade, roaming, looking for her calf, and bellowing,” Sacks wrote. “She wants her baby,” Dr. Grandin told him. This sad scene is repeated regularly on dairy farms across the country.
Mother hens also care deeply for their babies. A mother hen will turn her eggs as many as five times an hour and cluck soothingly to her unborn chicks.
Kim Sturla, the cofounder of an animal sanctuary in California, recounts the story of Mary, an elderly hen who had been rescued from a city dump, and Notorious Boy, an elderly rooster: “They bonded, and they would roost on the picnic table. One stormy night with the rain really pelting down, I went to put them in the barn and I saw the rooster had his wing extended over the hen, protecting her.” Hens on factory farms are crammed together in wire cages where they don’t even have enough room to spread a single wing.
Pigs are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal and affectionate. They communicate constantly with one another, and more than 20 of their oinks, grunts and squeals have been identified as distinct communications that apply to different situations. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs “sing” to their young while nursing. On factory farms, piglets are taken away from their mothers when they are less than 1 month old, and they spend their entire lives in overcrowded pens on a tiny slab of filthy concrete.
Even fish—who are slaughtered by the billions with little regard for their suffering—are smart, complex animals with impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures. Scientists at Stanford University say that fish have the reasoning capacity of small children. Other researchers have found that fish feel fear when they are being chased and that they do feel pain, as all animals do.
Before firing up the grill at your next cookout, please give a thought to Molly the cow, Mary the hen and the many nameless animals who are killed for food every year without ever being known to us. It might make hamburgers and chicken legs a bit harder to swallow—but then, that’s the point.
Paula Moore is a research specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.