In America, many people consider themselves to be “animal lovers”. As a matter of fact, I would even file myself under this category. For example, it is not uncommon for the question to arise among new acquaintances: “Are you more of a ‘cat person’ or a ‘dog person’?” as though one is expected to have an affinity for at least one of the two. One might also be hard pressed to find an individual or a family in the United States who does not keep some type of furred, feathered, scaled, shelled, or otherwise outwardly clad creature as a loyal companion and friend throughout the trials and tribulations of life. Among their caretakers, these pets are generally seen as members of the family, sometimes even taking precedence over children or spouses.
What is interesting is that many of these self-professed “animal lovers” also happen to eat animals. I do not make this statement in a critical or condescending way because I, until a few years ago, was also one of these confused but generally well-meaning people. For one reason or another, they fail to make the connection between the hamburger or steak on their plate and a living, sentient being, certainly no less intelligent or lovable than any dog or cat. When I decided to become a vegetarian in 2009, this connection between meat and its origin became painfully apparent to me, and very quickly I became repulsed at the thought of ever touching meat again.
Recently, when I was fortunate enough to spend a few months at Govardhana Eco Village (GEV) in Galtare, Maharashtra, India serving in the gosala and helping to take care of the cows, this realization came full circle. As I was petting one of the calves my first week at the farm, this confronting thought hit me like a freight train — what had I done to these peaceful, loving bovines before giving up meat? I will not soon forget the intense emotions that swept over me as a result of this thought, and I almost had to sit down as the nausea and disgust were too much for me to handle. One might compare this to the feeling someone would have after realizing they had just eaten the family pet for dinner.
Perhaps you may be thinking it a bit extreme or unreasonable for me to compare a cow with a domesticated animal. If so, I would humbly request you to spend thirty minutes in close proximity with a cow. Give her a good brushing under the neck and see how she lovingly reciprocates. Observe as she lets her calf enthusiastically nurse from her udders while she licks her baby with an undeniable display of motherly affection. Unless your heart is completely stone cold, you will undoubtedly see that these animals are just as capable of giving and receiving love than any other more traditional household pet.
As the days turned into weeks and months, my attachment and appreciation for these incredibly personable and sweet animals increased significantly. I began to observe how each cow has its own unique temperament and personality distinct from all the rest. Devarishi, a young bull about one year old, quickly became one of my best friends here at GEV and my morning routine of greeting him with a big hug around his trunk as I entered the gosala was one of the highlights of my day. Recently, I think Devarishi might have even hugged me back! I was bending down in front of him to scoop up some manure, and he took a few steps towards me and lifted his bulky head over the back of my neck. We both stood there for a few seconds in this heart-warming, though slightly awkward, embrace.
In just a few days from now, I will be boarding a plane and making my way back home among the crowded, concrete streets of New York City, far away from any farms or cows. I can honestly say that the most difficult part of leaving GEV will be saying my “good-byes” to my four-legged friends in the gosala. Their quite presence in my life has added a great amount of joy and satisfaction to my heart, and I hope that I may one day be fortunate enough to serve these amazing animals once again.
The address of Govardhana Eco Village is: Galtare, Hamrapur (P.O), Wada (Taluka), Thane (District) – 421303, Maharashtra, India