Appointment at the End of the World
An Animal Rights Article from


Valerie Macys, The Animals Voice
August 2009

We must steel ourselves in the face of such ugliness—taking ourselves all the way to the abattoirs and beyond—and think of ourselves as cameras, recording what occurs, to gather the evidence necessary to help the helpless.

I took a trip from Phoenix, Maryland, to Lewisburg, West Virginia, in the early fall because I had to do some research for an academic project. The documents I needed to inspect were in the study of a charming white farmhouse, located next door to a farm. A colleague had already visited the place, and he told me to anticipate pastoral serenity upon my arrival. He said that beautiful cows grazed peacefully in the fields nearby. Consequently, I was prepared for a relaxing visit. The reality, however, was not at all what had been predicted.

I arrived at the house on a late October afternoon. The fall leaves were in full blazing glory, and I noticed that the cows were even closer to the house than I had expected. I could actually hear them before I got out of my car. When I turned off the engine, I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. I witnessed a scene of chaos. Cows bellowed and stomped, staggering around the fields. They banged into each other and pushed against the fence, located approximately 20 feet from my car. Dozens of them stood wild-eyed, snuffing the air, shrieking horribly. Unfortunately, I knew all too well what their confusion and turmoil was about.

I have lived near a farm for the past four years. I was told by my veterinarian what those harsh October cries meant the first time I'd heard them. I had been alarmed by the cows' unusual moans and their evident distress one fall morning, so I called my vet to ask if there was something I should do, perhaps call the farmer or even a humane society. She told me to do nothing, that such action was normal for the time of the year.

I was therefore able to recognize what all the blustering on this day was about, although I had never had it smack me so wickedly in the face. I had never been so close before.

"They've taken your babies," I said sadly, looking directly into one cow's mournful eyes. They rolled back in her head as she bellowed anew. Feeling sick to the pit of my stomach, I entered the house and spoke to the curator, who also lives there. Her name is Mary.

"Those cows are frantic," I said. The wailing penetrated even inside. I had never heard anything like it. "How long will this go on?" I asked.

"Until tomorrow," she replied. "Then more slaughter trucks will come for them, and it will all be over."

I thought my heart would hit the floor. I recalled the intense moment when I had stared at the woeful mother cow, practically eyeball to eyeball.

I went to my room and quietly unpacked my bags. The grotesque rhythm of the cries outside never ceased. I left the house for a while and went into town to have dinner. It was dark when I returned, but the moaning and bellowing persisted. I got out of my car and shuddered, feeling the warm bodies of so many agitated mothers, pressing close to the fence. At one point, I heard wood splintering and feared they might break free. I half-hoped they would.

I went inside and sat down to plan my work for the following day. The howling was part of the atmosphere by now, and Mary told me that I would get used to it. I knew better, though. By the time I got ready for bed, I was so unnerved; predictably, sleep did not come. It could not come. The cacophony had infected every inch of space around me. It sounded the way I imagined the din at the end of the world, as if these cow s— like the elephants Karen Blixen had seen in Africa — had an appointment to keep, an appointment not of their own design, an appointment at the end of their world. There was grief in those incessant voices. There was confusion, pain, loss, and real agony. I could not discern a single ordinary moo. This was devastation and discord.

I finally got out of bed as the sun was rising. I slipped into my coat and walked outside, wanting to see the cows again. There they were, dozens of them lined up, one after the other, still pushing madly against the fence. Others paced despairingly in the fields below. I stood for a long moment and stared into many pairs of eyes. Even now, I cannot describe the look in some of them. Alice Walker tapped into the heart of this mysterious anguish. She had seen it in the eyes of an abused horse named Blue. She writes of the look in Blue's eyes: "It was a look so piercing, so full of grief, a look so human, I almost laughed (I felt too sad to cry) to think that there are people who do not know that animals suffer." Her words had never seemed more true or more tragic.

I went back inside, showered, dressed, and attempted to work. The mournful chorus went on and on. I even clapped my hands to my ears in a futile attempt to stifle the sounds. At last, I went downstairs and spoke to Mary. "I don't think I can stay here," I told her. "I know it was a long trip, and I am supposed to do this work, but I just can't listen to this anymore. I am completely sick."

She swiftly moved to reassure me. "Listen. I talked to the farmer this morning and he told me that those cows are not going to slaughter. They're being moved to a winter field."

The trucks eventually came to move the cows to the winter field. I could not watch the struggle that I know took place between man and beast as those otherwise gentle animals were herded and forced onto the mechanical monsters that would take them God-knows-where. I wasn't at all sure what awaited them on this day. I know that even if they are allowed to live a few more years, the vicious cycle of birth and separation and death will eventually come to them, too. And to many more of their offspring.

"All in the name of meat and leather," I thought to myself as I looked down at my own leather boots. I was suddenly, profoundly ashamed. I knew without question that Alice Walker had been right when she equated herself with the generally impervious public.

She called those who were unable to realize or believe that animals do, in fact, suffer, "[p]eople like me who have forgotten, and daily forget, all that animals try to tell us." The lesson that Walker learned after spending time with Blue was not unlike Chief Seattle's warning to the white race centuries ago. Walker writes, in an imaginary animal's voice: "Everything you do to us will happen to you; we are your teachers, as you are ours. We are one lesson." Yet, she clearly knows that "[t]here are those who have never once even considered animals' rights, those who have been taught that animals actually want to be used and abused by us, as small children 'love' to be frightened or women 'love' to be mutilated and raped." I had long thought that Walker's words resonated with a terrible truth, but I never felt her message as strongly as I did that day. It is a feeling that remains with me even now.

What happened to Blue in the end? For Walker, the most disturbing consequence of all. She writes that "in Blue's large brown eyes was a new look, more painful than the look of despair: the look of disgust with human beings, with life; the look of hatred. And it was odd what that look of hatred did. It gave him, for the first time, the look of a beast. And what that meant was that he had put up a barrier to protect himself from further violence." I saw in some of those West Virginian cow eyes haunting similarities to Walker's Blue. I could not blame any of them one bit.

I stopped eating meat after I returned from West Virginia. If ever the opportunity presents itself again, I want to look at those creatures in peace because I am no longer eating their flesh. I had been working toward that end for many years, but there was nothing like witnessing such full-blown horror to convince me that the time was at least upon me. I simply had no choice.

I now look at my leather goods and wonder if I should give them a proper burial, for they are indeed the remains of the butchered, the products of unimaginable suffering. Consider the fact that I had not even seen the slaughterhouse itself. I think I might have snapped if I had had to follow the horrible journey any farther. I wonder, though, if it is truly enough just to know that such places exist and operate at full capacity day after day after day. Millions of animals are brutally butchered for unnecessary human consumption. This fact should haunt us all. Far too many people remain blissfully unaware of such truths, seeing only the slick wrapped packages in supermarkets, never giving a thought to how they got there.

Nothing really moves me to action like bearing witness, as I did those days in West Virginia. Nothing is more traumatic for me either. Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, once told me to remember that we must steel ourselves in the face of such ugliness—taking ourselves all the way to the abattoirs and beyond—and think of ourselves as cameras, recording what occurs, to gather the evidence necessary to help the helpless. Hopefully, we can hold our emotions together long enough to be effective and make an eventual difference.

I now look outside at the cows in the fields about a half mile from my home and wonder just how long it will take before we really understand that our comfort and convenience and gluttony are not worth one moment of their agony. Not one. And I feel enormous guilt that I have played such a distinctive part in this misery.

Return to Animal Rights Articles
Read more at The Milk and Dairy Industries