Two Minnesota vets refuse to treat an animal from a no-kill farm sanctuary

After Pete the steer took a spill, two vets said they would only help animals that "feed people."

After Pete the steer took a spill, two vets said they would only help animals that "feed people." Robin Johnson

Spring Farm Sanctuary in Long Lake, Minnesota is a nonprofit farm animal sanctuary. It’s a place where Pete, a Hereford beef steer, was bottle-fed as a calf. It’s a place where he could expect to live out the rest of his natural bovine life – no slaughterhouse included.

But in mid-March, Pete slipped on a patch of ice and splayed on the ground. 

This was a concern for sanctuary director Robin Johnson. Pete’s brother, Scruffy, died from a fall a year earlier. So volunteers called the Lester Prairie Veterinary Clinic for their usual vet. But a return voicemail said that no one was coming to help Pete.

“We do not come out there for emergencies – you are just too far away,” a Lester Prairie staffer said via voicemail. This hadn’t been a problem for Spring Farm’s former vet. Lester Prairie is a modest 38-minute drive away. But the staff member explained that that vet no longer worked there. And there was another reason they wouldn’t be coming:

“We’re also not really in agreement with the advertisements that are posted there [at Spring Farms],” the staffer said. “So we are not the vet there any longer.”

The “advertisements” are a series of posters displaying grim facts about big agriculture – like the fact that cows are separated from their calves on the day they’re born. Part of Spring Farm’s mission is to educate the public on the upsetting conditions some animals face within the industry. Apparently, Lester Prairie didn’t like that so much.

“I tried to reason with them,” Johnson says. She explained that it was an emergency, and that Pete was in a lot of pain. The response, she says, was that Lester Prairie only treats “animals that feed people,” and that she should try Buffalo Equine and Large Animal Clinic instead. (Lester Prairie declined to comment on this story.)

Johnson called Buffalo Equine, but nobody there was willing to come. If Pete wasn’t being raised to be slaughtered, they weren’t going to save his life, Johnson was told. (Buffalo Equine didn’t respond to interview requests.)

Under state law, veterinarians have the right to pick and choose their patients. What gets Johnson’s goat is that, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s oath, vets have sworn to “use [their] scientific knowledge and skills” for “the prevention and relief of animal suffering.” She had a steer who was suffering, and two clinics had refused to help.

Pete got lucky this time. The volunteers put down some sand and padding, and he regained his footing. He seems to be okay. But it could have just as easily gone the other way.

“What is their deal?” Johnson asks. She pays her bills on time, she takes good care of her animals. Why are her 21 animals such a “threat” to them?

Whatever the reason, the refusal of help is definitely a threat to Spring Farms. If they can’t get a vet to make emergency calls, they can’t keep their operation running. They’re already reluctantly looking to relocate their steers.

“It breaks my heart,” Johnson says. “It’s legal, but is it right?”