The veterinarian came before dawn, and Lou the ox was quietly euthanized.
The decision by the small liberal arts college in Vermont in early October to slaughter its beloved pair of oxen and serve their meat in the campus dining hall had sparked worldwide outrage.
The euthanasia of Lou, who was suffering from an injury, was performed on the campus farm by a large-animal veterinarian between midnight and daybreak Sunday, according to Philip Ackerman-Leist, director of the farm and food project at Green Mountain College, in Poultney, near the border with New York State.
"It was hard for him to get around," Ackerman-Leist said, adding that with winter approaching things would only get worse. "We wouldn't want to see him suffer anymore."
The other ox, Bill, remains at Green Mountain's Cerridwen Farm. Ackerman-Leist said he was not sure whether Bill would go back to work "as a single ox or not."
He said Lou was buried at an undisclosed location off campus.
"We decided it was safest to do [the euthanasia] under the cover of darkness," he said. "With all the publicity and all the threats, we had to protect all the parties involved, including the vet."
The storm of protest, most of it from outside the college, was directed at students, faculty, and administrators, and some of it was threatening. Online alerts and petitions had pleaded for the animals to be sent to a sanctuary.
Sunday's announcement about the 11-year-old oxen, who had become a symbol of the college's farm program, was sent to students, faculty and staff at Green Mountain, Kevin Coburn, director of communications, said in an e-mailed media advisory.
The college seeks to teach and model small-scale farm production that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable.
"It's unfortunate that we couldn't handle the situation the way we thought was best because of outside pressure," said senior Alison Putnam, who supported the decision to slaughter the animals. Putnam is a member of the farm crew, consisting of students and staff, which she said made the initial decision. The administration supported the farm crew's decision, Putnam said.
Meiko Lunetta, a senior who also supported the decision to slaughter the oxen, maintained that even some of those students who had disagreed still defended the college.
"A lot of students are feeling frustrated," she said Sunday. "How is this better? It's just upsetting. It didn't have to happen this way."
Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which had posted an online alert about Bill and Lou, said, "That's excellent," when informed of the college's decision Sunday.
"I think that they will receive high marks from pretty much anyone who has a heart. If [Lou] was euthanized due to an injury, then that's understandable."
Veganism is the Next Evolution Sanctuary in Springfield, Vt., had offered to take the oxen.
"If you narrow the scope of options to two, both involving death, then euthanasia is definitely more merciful," said sanctuary cofounder Miriam Jones, who said that at least one other sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., had also offered to take the oxen. "But we do not agree that only two options existed for Lou."
Earlier this year, Lou sustained a recurring injury to his right rear hock and could no longer work. Consultations with veterinarians in the summer and fall "have consistently indicated that Lou's condition would not improve and that his quality of life would only continue to diminish," Coburn said.
Green Mountain said its decision to slaughter the animals was postponed until after the start of the fall semester so the full college community could have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
"The college's original timetable to process Lou and Bill for meat in October was disrupted by outside organizations seeking to appropriate the images of the oxen for extremist agendas, including the abolition of animal agriculture in Vermont," Coburn said.
He added: "These groups also harassed and threatened local slaughterhouses, making it impossible for them to accept our animals and carry out our decision expeditiously. One of the few Animal Welfare Approved slaughterhouses in the area was forced to cancel our appointment as a result of these hostile threats."
An online petition asking for the oxen to be sent to a sanctuary and sponsored by the Green Mountain Animal Defenders had collected 50,000 signatures as of Sunday.
Among those who signed it, Joslin Murphy of Brookline, said that she was heartbroken about Lou but that it was "certainly better than the college's original proposal."
But she worried about Bill.
"I suspect that the surviving ox will suffer deeply from the loss of his partner," she said. "Wouldn't he be much better off in sanctuary, where he can form new bonds with more permanent residents?"
Veterinarian Deborah Cogan, whose practice is in Peabody, said she was relieved that Lou had been euthanized and it was the most humane solution.
“It’s exactly what I would have chosen,” said Cogan, a vegan and PETA member who signed one of the petitions. “There’s no comparison between euthanasia and being taken to slaughter.”
Bill Porter can be reached at email@example.com