Jilly – The Trust of a Blind Sheep
Many moons ago, I was a volunteer at a farmed animal sanctuary close to where I live. Due to some sad circumstances, the sanctuary had to close down, and the nonhuman residents were re-homed across the country at various other sanctuaries. I came to know, form attachments, and love the residents of the sanctuary during the years I was there. Every sheep, goat, horse, duck, goose, chicken, and rabbit was different. Every single one had their own story, their own idea of what it meant to be alive; their own individual take on what it meant to be a moral person.
Just like the hundreds of billions of nonhumans we unjustly exploit and kill every year, each individual was special. In every nonhuman person, you saw something within yourself reflecting back at you in their gaze. Traits that are so adamantly enforced upon you as a child to be uniquely human, cry out to you in a thousand different voices that aren’t your own. The delusion that humanity has some position of power in this universe, swept away with the familiar call of a baby to a mother, the bleating cry for a friend, or the joyous frolicking over hill and dune with hoofed feet.
No, there is nothing special about humanity. But there is something special about sentience, and what it means to be sentient.
Jilly had spent the majority of her life being used for breeding. Not only were her sons and daughters taken away from her to be slaughtered, she was forced to continue breeding even though completely blind. She would never even see her offspring before they were stolen from her. Despite her horrific background, by the time I met her at the sanctuary, she was one of the sweetest persons I’d ever met. I was immediately taken aback by how she was so trusting of her human companions, and after a relatively short period of time – me.
She enjoyed everything that all of the able-bodied sheep enjoyed doing – munching on hay in the barn, taking a walk out to the field to sit and relax with her friends. The only difference was she needed guidance. In the morning I would go and see her in her pen, and she would enjoy her breakfast before being taken out to the field. Standing by her side, you would make sure that she could feel your leg on her one side, and your hand on her other. Slowly you would begin to walk, and she would follow your movements, hugging closely to your leg. Once she was on the field, she would sit close by her friends so as to have some idea of where she was, and the same ritual would happen in the evening when it was bedtime.
I’m sure that each and every one of us has had the experience of seeing our own sentience within another; a connection that transcends any such Darwinian notion of shared “characteristics.” A pure moment of clarity where you are simply left with the knowledge of what it means to be a moral person; what it means to have inherent value; the vulnerability and preciousness of sentient life, equal regardless of species.
In Jilly I saw not only what it meant to trust unequivocally, but the lives of others just like hers that we betray when we are not vegan. I saw the personhood of a billion others denied in every step I took with her, who like her, needed a loving hand to trust. We all have our own Jilly, but they are all Jilly. We are all Jilly. The only way we can give them that loving hand, is by being vegan, and educating others to do the same.
Non-veganism is denying the very essence of what sentience is. It’s denying Jilly’s trust, her friendships, the desire she had to fulfil her interests. It denies the personhood of all.