Recently, six cattle escaped from a slaughterhouse in north St. Louis. Well-intentioned animal advocates succeeded in delivering the animals to a sanctuary, but only at the price of condemning other animals to slaughter in their place. In light of this unfortunate exchange, it’s important to discuss the ways in which we can apply strategic thinking to our efforts to help animals.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, a good Samaritan created a GoFundMe campaign to save the cows from their fate of slaughter. In just a few days, hundreds of compassionate people donated over $17,000 to that campaign—money which was to be set aside as a donation to a sanctuary that would take in these fortunate animals.
Not surprisingly, national rescue organization Farm Sanctuary was deemed a natural fit by many followers of the incident. However, they only agreed to take in the animals if the packing company voluntarily relinquished them into their care. In a Facebook post, Farm Sanctuary smartly recognized that “When you rescue an animal by buying her, you are paying for her replacement.” This makes sense; after all, the packer will simply use that money to buy more cows, and to continue on with their regular business.
Farm Sanctuary went even further in their discussion of effective advocacy by pointing out that the money that would be spent on saving these cows would go exponentially further if it were used to help smaller animals from farms, such as chickens and turkeys. In fact, they detailed that the $15,000 that would be spent potentially buying and rescuing just a few cows could have otherwise been spent buying and rescuing over 9,000 chickens.
Despite pleas from Farm Sanctuary not to purchase these cows—explaining not only the facts above, but how they simply can’t be in the business of buying additional animals to house at their already-full sanctuaries—the public persisted in their campaign to find homes for these six cows. Comment sections of both the campaign and of the Facebook post by Farm Sanctuary are full of well-intentioned, compassionate individuals, who sadly seem to be missing the point.
“Please: this is an extraordinary situation. Please: save them.”
“Isn’t saving the lives more important than sticking to [your] principle[s]?”
“I’d make an exception and pay for them if it spares their lives. The only alternative is death. I’ll gladly donate for their lives to be saved.”
Ultimately, advocates did pay for the cows, and another sanctuary called Gentle Barn accepted them into their care. Still, Farm Sanctuary should be commended for sticking to their principles in this situation. They are recognizing the importance of striking at the roots of the problem rather than hacking away at the branches. They do rescue animals at their sanctuaries, in specific instances. But they also conduct educational campaigns, give tours at their farms, and provide photos and inspiring stories that other advocacy groups can use in their work, activities that are able to affect a much larger number of animals than they would be able to help through direct animal care at their sanctuaries.
Some organizations go even further in their efforts to maximize their impact, leaving out expensive animal care and deciding to focus strongly on maximizing the number of animals that they can help. The $17,000 that was raised to help these six cows—which went almost entirely to their purchase, leaving little to support their care over the remainder of their lives—could have instead helped thousands of animals. Charities like Mercy For Animals, The Humane League, and The Good Food Institute all work on programs that address the root causes of animal suffering, and effectively maximize their impact through strategic programs.
Supporting these types of efforts may not elicit the same warm, fuzzy feeling that you get from knowing that you rescued an individual animal. But you can feel good knowing you’ve contributed to attacking the roots of the problem, sparing hundreds or even thousands of animals from a lifetime of misery on a factory farm—animals who, even when spoken of in numbers, are also individuals, and equally deserving of our consideration.