Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Two oxen, Lou, left, and Bill, stand in a pasture at Green Mountain College in Poultney on Wednesday. The 11-year-old oxen are retired from working on the college’s farm, and the school plans to serve their meat to students.
POUTLNEY — A petition to save two oxen from slaughter is reaching into the thousands across the country — and globally, as far away as Moldova, India and Poland.
Nearly 4,500 people have signed an online petition that would save Lou and Bill, two 11-year-old oxen who have worked at Green Mountain College’s farm for more than a decade. But the influx of support for them will probably not persuade the college to change its mind.
“We fully support the opinion of people outside our community, but this is a community decision that we made,” said Kevin Coburn, college spokesman, on Wednesday evening.
“We believe it to be a private decision that we are willing to discuss, but I believe we will not reconsider,” he said.
He said it was not an easy decision to make, and it came after a lot of soul-searching and research by the college community.
“The majority on campus believe it was the best (decision),” Coburn said. “It was not easy, but the best one.”
The oxen are being slaughtered after Lou injured a rear leg stepping into a woodchuck hole this year, said Ben Dube, a college alumnus and farm worker. He said the injury never truly healed even after several treatments and extensive rest.
“The students and the staff made the decision,” Dube said. “It’s important to know that the workers came to the consensus on Aug. 1 and the college delayed it to allow others to weigh in.”
Coburn said the decision was about supporting the college’s commitment to agricultural sustainability and in keeping with the farm’s past practices. He said students at the college, including those who are vegetarians, have supported the decision as they value meat of local origin.
“We have a working farm that enables students to confront the complexities of what happens in a farm,” he said. “About 70 percent of students do eat meat. They want to have meat that is processed locally.”
Coburn said they did consider sending the animals to a rescue center, but ultimately decided that taking them to an unknown location could be detrimental for Lou and Bill.
The college also considered matching the healthy Bill with another partner.
“They are really attached to each other,” Dube said. “Their well-being is important to us. We wanted them to die together. We are pretty certain that it would be detrimental (to separate them).”
VINE Sanctuary in Springfield has already offered to take them as rescues at no cost to the college.
Miriam Jones, co-founder of VINE, said she contacted the farm last week after the Green Mountain Animal Defenders asked to take Lou and Bill on as rescues. She said she was surprised by the college’s reaction and reasons for not accepting.
“I think the only reason to continue is they don’t want to go back on their decision or that the point they are trying to make works for them,” Jones said. “We respect that the college is coming from an ethical perspective. … We are asking them to step out of their comfort zone and to understand that (the animals) are two individuals who have given the college a lot.”
She said VINE’s request to the college came before the online petition began, adding that the response to the “call to action” to save the oxen has been overwhelmingly positive.
“(Bill and Lou) are mascots for that school. People know them,” Jones said. “This is really hitting people in that place.”
At the end of the month, Lou and Bill will be taken to a nearby New York slaughterhouse. The processed beef will be served by the college’s dining service — about a month’s worth of hamburgers. Two new oxen — Spook and Speck — were recently purchased.
“This is the circle of life,” Coburn said. “We feel that this is a decision of sustainability.”
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