Minnie The Cow
Imagine that you let a stranger or friend come into your farm and show them your cow, and you tell them you have raised that cow to feed your family, as cows have been doing for all of recorded time – they have never been pets, not in all of human history – and as you have been doing for years. This is how you plan to feed your family. Imagine your growing unease as the visitor demands that you give them your cow instead, and give up our values, or they will unleash the modern furies of the new mobs, righteousness and technology, and threaten your livelihood and life, and turn your farm into a bewildering hell. Imagine that the stranger is as good as her word.
This is not a fantasy or a fiction. This is the life of the Brenner family, small farmers for decades. This is a true story, I wrote the first part of this essay this morning. It is important. I pray you take the time to read it and think about where we are going with the animals we all love.
To understand how the animal rights movement has devolved, spiritually, financially and morally, consider the issues raised by Kimberly Sherriton of Cormack, Long Island and the two-year old Minnie, who belongs to the Benner family farm of East Setauket, Long Island, and is slated to feed them at some point in the future. To stay within their farm budget, the family grows and raises as much food as they can.
To be clear, no one has accused Bob or Jean Benner of abusing Minnie, who often greets children on school class trips and on birthday parties, which the farm hosts, of abusing Minnie. Or of animal cruelty. No one has suggested she is not watered and well fed, sheltered and given proper car. Or that the Brenners have broken any laws.
The life of the Benner Farm has been upended, they are the target of demonstrations, protests, death threats, threatening telephone calls and e-mails, hate mail, online petitions, special Facebook pages not because they have committed any crimes or broken any laws.
The farm is under siege because a woman named Kimberly Sherriton attended one of those birthday parties and liked Minnie, shown above. She asked what was going to happen to Minnie. Jean Benner was honest with Sherriton, as she always is when she educates visitors about farming, she said Minnie was not a pet, she was raised to feed the family, the Benners have four children.
Because Kimberly Sherriton thought Minnie was cute, she called up the Benners and demanded that they allow Sherriton to take her away from the family and be placed on a rescue preserve, so Minnie could live out her life peacefully. The Benners declined, the whole reason they raised Minnie – who has a very good life, by all accounts – was to help them feed their family in a healthy and inexpensive way.
Meat bought from stores would be so much more expensive, and the family has always lived on a budget.
Because Kimberly Sherriton does not know the difference between a pet dog and a meat cow, the Benner Farm is fighting for its life. Farmers will tell you it is very dangerous for a business that depends in part on class trips and kid's birthday parties and visitors to be accused of cruelty or the murder of animals.
It is very easy to accuse people of things, it is not so easy to wipe away the stain. Make no mistake about it, Kimberly Sherriton is out to destroy the Benner Farm because she thinks Minnie is a furbaby with horns. The life of the farm is on the line.
This could be any farmer any day. Imagine the impact on the world if farmers were suddenly denied the right to send their animals to slaughter. Would Kimberly be on hand to feed those hungry children and stock those empty shelves?
The animal rights movement has derailed itself, they have lost touch with the reality of people, food and the well-being of animals. They have created a climate of utter irrationality and Orwellian notions of right and wrong.
Many Americans no longer know the difference between a pet dog or cat and a farm animal. They expect to find the shelves in every food store fully stocked, they do not want to know a thing about where the food comes from or how it got there. Or about the lives of the people who feed us all.
Like the people who persecute elephant trainers and carriage horse drivers, they can no longer see past the idea of the animal as a piteous and abused creature, and they can no longer see past the idea of humans as abusers who need to be separated from animals.
They do not know that it is not humane for a domesticated elephant or draft horse or cow to be forced into animal ghettos with no purpose, nothing to do but eat hay and drop manure. With nothing to stimulate them, feed their instincts, attach them to humans. It is the new abuse, only it is legal, morally sanctioned and politically correct.
Sherriton was not satisfied with being told that Minnie was not a pet, she suggested that the family go shop at a trendy Whole Foods grocery store and buy anti-biotic free meat instead. She jeered at the idea of a family budget, calling it a "sob story." She then organized a nationwide campaign to threaten and intimidate the Benners into turning Minnie over. It is ugly and relentless, complete with hateful messages, raging e-mails, threats on the family.
Animal rights groups from all over country have piled on, organizing nasty phone chains, vicious e-mails, threatening messages.
So far, the Brenners have refused to give up Minnie, saying they would not be bludgeoned into giving up their values or being told what to eat and where to buy it.
I can testify that this is not a rare thing.
Farmers everywhere now live in fear of just such an invasion of their privacy and dignity, of the secret informers of the animal rights movement, of their lobbyists and hired veterinarians and unknowing police officers The police are routinely called when cows stand in the snow, barn cats run free, when dogs run free to herd sheep, when horses lie down in the pasture to nap, when water tanks freeze in – 27 weather, when people discover that barns are not heated.
On top of everything else, hysteria and ignorance and harassment are now, along with the weather and milk prices, one of their great fears and issues. Harassment is automatic, it comes with the dialogue, it is always the club held over frightened heads.
Americans used to live on or near farms, now 90 per cent of Americans live along the coasts and have lost touch with animals, farming and the natural world. They really don't know the difference between a cow and a puppy.
Increasingly, the animal rights movement has been careening out of control, moving far beyond the welfare of animals, or their rights and pushing farmers and animal lovers into accepting the loss of their civil liberties.
Like the carriage horse trade, the farmer Joshua Rockwood, and now, the Benners, the question for them is whether they can live their lives safely and freely in the face of relentless, cruel and often fundamentally dishonest attacks. These attacks can threaten the open nature of the farm, keep many children from seeing or knowing animals in a congested suburban area, or damage the ability of farmers to maintain their farm.
To me, the excesses and lack of accountability shown in recent years by a number of animal rights organizations threaten the civil rights of human beings while doing little or nothing to advance the lives of animals. In New York, animals rights organizations have taken millions of dollars meant to rescue and protect animals and spent it instead on political campaigns, lobbying and marketing operations against the carriage horses. The effort to ban the carriage horses has failed, and one can only imagine how many animals could have been aided or rescue if these millions had gone to them.
Many animal rights groups have become little more than politicized fund-raising millions. NYClass, the animal rights group that has spent millions of dollars trying to ban the carriage horses, cannot name one single animal they have rescued or saved with all of their millions. They have instead showered politicians, lobbyists and marketers with money.
Everyone who loves, lives with, or works with an animal is in danger of losing their civil rights. Think about it. Once they get the horses and the cows and the ponies and the elephants, they will come after you and your dogs and your cats and the horses in your pasture. They will tell you how they must live, how they must die, what they can and cannot do. They will take them away from you because they seem to hate humans as much as they claim to love animals.
To them, you have no rights.
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure the ability of citizens to participate in the civic and political life of society in peace and freedom. They ensure freedom of thought and conscience.
A mother and housewife comes to a birthday party held on a farm.
And why couldn't it be you or me?
Someone sees an animals she likes, and demands the farmer alter his freedom to make choices and live by his own values, and when he doesn't, she unleashed a storm of rage and fear and intimidation upon him and his family. This does nothing to advance the rights of animals, does not to support their well-being or welfare, ignores the needs of people who eat and people who give them food. It is also an attack on the very central American idea of democracy – the protection of freedom and property.
Mr. Benner has harmed no animal, cheated no people, broken no law. No one has the right to tell him what to do with his cow, or how best to feed his family and keep his farm operating.
Without it, there would be no cows at all, Minnie could just as easily have ended up in a Whole Foods freezer as on the Benner Farm. Kimberly Sherriton believes it is up to her what the Benners eat, and where their cow must go. Not them.
No lawful man ought ever be denied the right to the life he believes in. It is not for me to tell Mr. Benner what to do, anymore than it is the right of Kimberly Sherriton to tell him what to do with his cow and where to eat. But I hope he stands fast, and I hope the growing community of people who love both animals and freedom and respect for one another will come together behind him.
This new kind of social awakening saved Joshua Rockwood and his farm; saved the New York Carriage Trade. It can save the Benner's Farm. You can contact them here.
(Today, the Benner farm announced that Minnie had been moved off of the farm. "We will not be answering any addition questions about her," the farm said in an e-mail.)