Vermont college euthanizes one of its oxen after controversial decision to slaughter them

A small liberal arts college in Vermont whose decision to slaughter a beloved pair of oxen sparked worldwide outrage euthanized one of the animals early this morning, according to college officials.

The euthanasia of one of the oxen, Lou, who was suffering from an injury, was performed by a large-animal veterinarian before dawn today, according to Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the farm and food project at Green Mountain College, near the border with New York State in Poultney.

“It was hard for him to get around,” Ackerman-Leist said, adding that with winter approaching things would only get worse. “We wouldn’t want to see him suffer anymore.”

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Ackerman-Leist said Lou was buried at an undisclosed location off campus.

An announcement about the 11-year-old oxen, who had become a symbol of the college’s farm program, was sent to students, faculty and staff at Green Mountain, said Kevin Coburn, its director of communications, in a statement today.

The other ox, Bill, would not be sent to a sanctuary but “will continue to stay at Cerridwen Farm and receive care consistent with appropriate livestock practices,” according to the college.

The college had previously said it planned to slaughter the oxen and serve their meat in the campus dining hall.

Today’s announcement was applauded by animal advocates.

Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which had posted an online alert about Bill and Lou, said, “That’s excellent,” when informed of the college’s decision today.

“I think that they will receive high marks from pretty much anyone who has a heart. If [Lou] was euthanized due to an injury, then that’s understandable. If the ox was in pain then that was the humane thing to do.”

Earlier this year, Lou sustained a recurring injury to his right rear hock and could no longer work. Consultations with veterinarians over the summer and fall “have consistently indicated that Lou’s condition would not improve and that his quality of life would only continue to diminish,” the college said.

After much discussion over the summer, the college said, the farm staff and crew recommended the two animals be slaughtered for their meat, which it said is standard practice at its Cerridwen Farm “and other small farming operations.”

The decision, the college said, was postponed until after the start of the fall semester so the full college community could have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

The decision to slaughter the oxen triggered a storm of protest that included e-mails to faculty and administrators and online alerts and petitions pleading for the animals to be sent to a sanctuary. Many messages were heated and some were threatening. Veganism is the Next Evolution, or VINE, Sanctuary in Vermont had offered to take them.

Green Mountain said the “original timetable to process Lou and Bill for meat in October was disrupted by outside organizations seeking to appropriate the images of the oxen for extremist agendas, including the abolition of animal agriculture in Vermont.”

The college added: “These groups also harassed and threatened local slaughterhouses, making it impossible for them to accept our animals and carry out our decision expeditiously. One of the few Animal Welfare Approved slaughterhouses in the area was forced to cancel our appointment as a result of these hostile threats.”

An online petition sponsored by the Green Mountain Animal Defenders had collected 50,000 signatures by today.

Among those who signed it, Brookline’s Joslin Murphy said today that she was heartbroken to hear the news about Lou but that it was “certainly better than the college’s original proposal.”

Murphy, an animal advocate and a member of the board of directors of The Greyhound Project, said, “I hope Lou’s injury was such that euthanasia was a sound decision. I’m very pleased to hear that the college has made this decision. I’m very grateful to the college for doing what they have done.”

However, she worried about Bill.

“I suspect that the surviving ox will suffer deeply from the loss of his partner,” she said. “Wouldn’t he be much better off in sanctuary, where he can form new bonds with more permanent residents?”

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