Who wants to be born in public?

Mary Ellen Williams is a Ph.D. candidate in English at UC Davis.
Before visiting or donating to an animal sanctuary, check to see that it is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries at www.sanctuaryfederation.org.

With the 2012 California State Fair underway, let’s remember the pregnant cow who escaped the livestock nursery in 2010 and was shot and killed. Despite this tragedy and the ensuing public outcry, the live-birthing exhibit continues, one of only a handful across the country. Most other state fairs have recognized that animals, like humans, prefer to give birth in privacy, and the crowds, close quarters and unfamiliar surroundings compound an already stressful event. Transporting pregnant animals is also roundly criticized as uncomfortable and traumatic.

The livestock nursery at the fair is run by students and faculty from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and I believe them to be well-intentioned and to genuinely care about the animals. But I don’t believe they are serving the animals’ best interests.

Their expertise is in veterinary medicine, not ethics. Neither they nor the fair’s board of directors are necessarily qualified to make ethical decisions weighing the educational value of the exhibit against the animals’ discomfort and distress, and the potential for another escape. Nor is this the only instance of animal exploitation at the state fair. Other attractions include horse racing and bull riding, not to mention the corn dogs, chocolate-covered bacon and other meat and dairy products served.

There are more humane alternatives for parents in search of a fun, educational way for their children to interact with animals than visiting the state fair’s birthing exhibit. Several nearby animal sanctuaries welcome visitors for guided tours and the opportunity to meet and play with animals rescued from hideous situations like factory farms and scientific-testing labs. These animals—the lucky few—are now free to heal from their trauma and live out their days peacefully and in the company of animal friends.

Sanctuaries see educating the public as part of their mission, which makes them great places to visit with your children. Certainly part of learning about animals should be learning to treat other species as we would like to be treated, and to respect the dignity and individuality of all living creatures.