In September, 2004, the activist group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) included BOSS in their “Action Alert” newsletter to raise concern over the slaughter of animals on our longer courses. As a result of the Alert, many people who knew absolutely nothing about BOSS were sending us emails based on the information they read. Their letters were, as you can imagine, mean-spirited, hateful and ill-informed. In response to the accusations raised, a number of BOSS alumni submitted the letters below.
“It is unfathomable to me that BOSS is being accused by PETA of cruelty. They obviously have never experienced the course firsthand. I am 50 years old and have been a student on five different BOSS courses. The sheep kill was one of the most moving, reverential and rewarding experiences of my life. As a city-dweller with no experience in such matters, the practical skill and education were very rewarding by themselves, and helps one appreciate the source of our food in today’s society.
More importantly, the BOSS method reflects a deep spiritual understanding and respect for all living things, and especially for the life of the sheep killed to provide us with food, tools and the skills of killing humanely. The method used to slay the sheep seemed almost peaceful, as the animal is laid on its side, held and caressed by several members in a calming gesture, and then quickly dispatched with a swift movement of a very sharp knife. Killing the animal in any other way would take away from the experience, as it is meant to replicate the native customs and skills we are trying to learn and respect. This was an experience to always be remembered, and I strongly encourage it as a core element of the BOSS experience.”
– 50 year old male CEO from Illinois
From someone on the same course as PETA’s source:
“From reading PETA’s Action Alert, I get the impression that the group on this trip felt the sheep kill was disrespectful of animal life and unnecessary within the context of a survival course. I was there and personally feel it was quite the opposite. The instructors and the students all took the experience very seriously and respectfully. The sheep was approached calmly and quietly as not to frighten it; the method used is an approved humane method which has been used for thousands of years as an ethical way of taking an animal’s life. BOSS is committed to Positive Impact / Low Impact ethics — not only concerning the environment but also animal life. The reason for the ‘no picture’ rule was simply that BOSS wants the experience to be felt personally and not shown like a trophy to others as done in modern hunting practices. I agree with their position.
The sheep kill was one of the most valuable and emotional experiences on my course. People who had before only seen their food in plastic wrap at the grocery store were able to connect with their food — this is an important experience for a consumer culture no longer based solely around agriculture and livestock farming. To fully understand and ‘realize’ firsthand where your food is coming from and what exactly that means — the taking of an animal’s life for sustenance — is what the sheep kill was about.
I watched as the course participants, including a few experienced hunters, were humbled by the experience. As I held the sheep during its last moments I was not the only one with tears streaming down my cheek. What I learned from this experience was among many intangible lessons of the course: reverence for animal life and a deep respect for where our food comes from. I feel this is an important component of the BOSS field course and hope that in the future it will remain so.”
– 22 year old male from Nova Scotia
“I participated in a 28-day Field Course during the summer of 2004. The experience was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I learned more about myself, my relationship with the earth, and about truly living instead of just existing. Participating in killing and processing the sheep during the course was a highlight of the course for many reasons. The atmosphere was reverent and respectful. To take a living, breathing, warm animal and slaughter it for sustenance reconnected every student with the source of our meat. This sheep also provided the students with the raw material for tools, carrying pouches, and items of clothing.
The vast majority of Americans today do not realize that the steaks and chicken in the grocery store were once alive and breathing as well. This sheep was never kept in an over crowded or dirty environment. It was known as an individual not as a number. It was taken care of and lovingly provided to the students on the BOSS course to teach the students why wastefulness is terrible. Every single part of this sheep was utilized, which is much more than can be said for the thousands of animals that are slaughtered every day in the United States.
Additionally, as a veterinarian, I can honestly say that the killing of the sheep was performed humanely. The sheep died quickly, without fear or struggle.”
– 31 year old female Veterinarian from Virginia
“I have to say that apparently PETA has been misinformed. I am 35 years old and the father of two beautiful children. I took the 14-Day Field Course two years ago and had a wonderful experience. The way BOSS and its instructors treat everything with the utmost respect is very noble. That includes everything from the environment, to the animals, the fauna, and yes, even the rocks. No kidding.
Having been raised slaughtering, yes slaughtering a pig every year for Christmas Eve dinner while growing up, the thought of taking the life of a sheep was fine with me. Especially after spending a few days with minimal food. But the people at BOSS do not slaughter. The way in which this beautiful animal’s life was extinguished was humane and done with respect. We had a moment of silence to give thanks to this animal that was about to give its life so that we may continue with ours. It was done quickly and cleanly.
I and many others were moved by this event. Nothing goes to waste – every bit of this animal is used. As for the vegans and vegetarians that were on the course with us, guess what? Most of them consumed part of this animal. I don’t think there was one, not one, who didn’t at least try some part of the animal.
It angers me to hear that an organization that I support (yes, I donate to PETA) has the audacity to accuse BOSS of any kind of cruelty. If anything, they teach you to respect and to never waste any part of the animal you harvest. As for PETA, I will not only no longer be supporting anything that they have to do with, but I will tell everyone I know to no longer support their cause either. If anything, this has alienated me from PETA. I give you my permission to use my name so that PETA knows exactly who and how much of a contribution they are losing for their ignorance and lack of research.”
– 35 year old male from Florida
“It’s a fundamental law of nature that all animals, humans included, take life in order to have life. That’s how all creatures on earth have evolved. There is no life without death. Now, we live in a world where we are blind to the realities of nature and survival. We never think about where our food comes from. By taking part in the sheep kill, we were more human than we had ever been. When you sacrifice another being to live, you are in touch with the sacredness of all life, you understand how precious all life is and that you are part of a never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Never again can you take for granted what you eat.
The sheep was a necessary and powerful teacher. It is inhuman to have no fundamental awareness of where the meat on our plates comes from. Sure we understand, intellectually, that meat comes from animals, but unless you actually take part in the killing and processing of an animal, you can’t understand, deeply, in your heart, what meat really is. Killing animals for food is not inhumane. Eating animals without understanding the sanctity of life is. Only by killing can you fully appreciate and have respect for all life, and be responsible for what you eat.
Taking the sheep’s life was not about killing, but about understanding the process of how we get our food and the things we need to survive. It is important to realize that we cannot live without using other resources, and perhaps killing some things along the way. Life is a cycle of give and take — we could not have paper or houses without killing trees. In present-day society, we can go through our entire lives without seeing this. Would that be better than taking the life of one sheep, in a respectful and humane manner, in order to experience and better understand what it takes to live?
I fully support BOSS’s decision to include this as part of their course and I do not feel that I wasted a sheep’s life. The sheep provided me with food and a valuable experience, and I will use that experience to educate others.”
– 23 year old female Teacher from Massachusetts
“The purpose of slaying the sheep was to show us how man has survived on this planet by killing and eating animals. As this was a survival course, we were taught how to do this with minimal tools or technology, just as people have been doing for centuries. The process was preceded by a talk from our instructors telling us that we were not taking the life of an animal lightly; that we were killing this animal so that we may use its gifts to continue to live ourselves. The message was not lost on me: I learned a valuable lesson that day on the meaning of life. I got to participate in what happens on this planet daily and realized that when I order steak in a restaurant, or pick up chicken at the grocery store, that it comes from a living animal and that the taking of a life is something to be taken seriously.
We used nearly every part of that animal and left little to waste. We used more of that animal than I suspect most slaughterhouses. Not only did we eat the choice cuts of meat, we took the less accessible portions that many would throw away and steamed them for the exact purpose of not wasting the life we took. I left that course with more respect for animals than I went in. I wholly support BOSS and its ethical treatment of animals.”
– 29 year old male from Georgia
“When I talk to people about BOSS, I always mention the animal kill as one of the most life affecting moments. Nowhere else is so much respect given to an animal when taking a life out of the need to survive.
On my course, an 18 year-old about to enter college performed the cutting. He was instructed on the quickest way to take the life without unnecessary suffering to the animal. The rest of the group calmed the animal, and while laying with it, felt every breath and every heart beat. We looked into its eyes as our heads were only a few feet, or a few inches from its own. It was very personal. The neck was severed quickly. A neurologist on the course with us confirmed both sets of carotids were severed, instantly ending blood flow to the brain. We stayed in contact with the animal until the last breath of air was exhaled and the last heartbeat was felt. We all felt that last breath, and we all felt the last beat. No thrashing, no screaming, just silence.
Unlike shooting from a distance, this was a lesson in what it is like to take a life face-to-face in order to survive. Sincere respect was given for the animal and appreciation was felt for the food that would sustain the group. Nothing was wasted, and the least possible suffering occurred. But the lesson of what it is like to take a life while looking into the eyes of the animal who was surrendering it affected all of us.
This survival lesson should be an example for PETA as an educational tool to teach people the reality of taking a life. I haven’t killed for sport since my BOSS course. It just wouldn’t be right. If anything can teach people how personal taking an animal’s life is, this is it. Those who trap, shoot from a distance or slaughter don’t feel this. We did. It was the most ethical and respectful death I could think of.”
– 41 year old male Army Major from Hawaii
“The sheep kill was an educational instruction on the reality of where our food comes from and how primitive people (and probably still people in many parts of the world today) performed the process. I, personally, found this to be a very deep and moving experience. It taught me to have new respect for eating meat because it was once a living breathing creature, not just some package you buy at the grocery store.
I have told many people about this experience and how it has changed the way I view food. Previous to taking the course, I ate a fairly normal American diet, high in meat. Since then I have considerably reduced my meat intake. I don’t consider myself vegetarian, but people often make the mistake that I am one. I firmly believe everyone who eats meat should have to do this process at least once. If they can’t handle the reality, they shouldn’t be eating meat in the first place.”
– 23 year old female Electrical Engineer from Illinois
“Having grown up in a rural community, I spent much of my youth on small private farms surrounded by animals of all types. I have worked on a small farm and at a stable. It is a way of life, although disappearing, where animals are not considered property but as kindred. I absolutely consider myself an animal lover.
I attended a BOSS 14-day field course and was lucky enough to spend some time with the BOSS family (and it is indeed a family) before going on a second course. I can attest to the complete respect and dignity shown at BOSS for all animals and the appreciation for life that permeates the BOSS culture. My time with BOSS is to date the most positive and reaching experience I have had.”
– 32 year old male Solar Power Engineer from California
“I have taken the BOSS 14-Day Field Course twice. The course is very well done technically and ethically. It is a primitive survival skills course. The knowledge of how to actually process an animal for food is integral. I am an avid animal lover and very aware of the value of any life. Each time the harvest of the sheep was done in a serious, sincere and reverent manner. The instructors handled this with the utmost respect for the animal and the utmost respect for the integral value of this to the intent and integrity of the course. The act was done in the most humane and professional way possible. Every student gained a greater appreciation for the profound nature of survival and for life itself through the sheep.
This is a very valuable course which is why I have done it twice. Along with important survival knowledge the sheep kill leaves the participants with a greater respect and appreciation for animals and life than what they came in with. BOSS is a valuable experience. I hope to see the course unchanged and just as valuable when I attend again next year.”
– 33 year old male Vice President from Maryland
“Regardless of whether we are vegetarians or vegans, the killing of animals for food or urban growth is and will be done in our names. This is the nature of the society we live in. When you realize that as a society we condone death on a daily basis, the real issue becomes not whether we kill animals, but whether we behave in a humane way. The courses at BOSS teach us our place in the world on the most basic level. They teach us what is important, what matters most, what it means to be human, and what it means to be humane. Respect is the thread that ties all of these lessons together, whether it’s for the environment, for each other, or for an animal’s life.
I recommend your courses whenever I can and will continue to do so. They are some of the few educational experiences that are truly internalized and never forgotten. I will stand by the lessons and life experiences offered by BOSS without hesitation. That PETA would sit in judgment of an organization like BOSS simply shows their narrow perspective. They see the tree but miss the forest.”
– 38 year old male Museum Director from Florida
“I was a vegan when I took my first BOSS course. I was a vegan because I was concerned about cruelty endured by animals in factory farming. At BOSS, the sheep kill teaches people to question modern methods of plant and livestock agriculture, and gives them new appreciation for the life they consume every day. It is never done with ignorance or braggadocio. As a vegan, I was very grateful for the experience that BOSS provided me — to eat the flesh of an animal that had experienced respect from every human it had come in contact with. Many of us were in tears. I felt bursting with love. It is not an easy thing to feel life vanish from an animal. Should it ever be? Not if it is to be done with love and appreciation for the rest of the world.
I felt that animal’s energy surge in me for many days. I would not have wanted to eat meat any other way.”
– 29 year old female outdoor educator from British Columbia
“Not a day goes by where I don’t think about that month of my life at BOSS. The course taught me so much about people, about nature, and about myself. The sheep kill is a critical aspect of the experience which, if removed, would seriously damage the positive impact this course has on its students. BOSS teaches how people once lived out in the wilderness. Didn’t people kill animals for food, food they needed for survival?
By teaching us what it is like to live as primitive people once did, the course causes us to deeply respect how we live now in a technologically advanced society. There is no doubt about it — the sheep kill was tough. We are so far removed from where any of our food actually comes from. If anything, I now respect the meat I eat more, because I saw that it actually came from one of God’s living, breathing creatures. The animal gave its life so that we could survive. I can’t wait to learn more about nature and continue to build my personal foundation by taking another BOSS course.”
– 29 year old male Financial Analyst from Illinois
“When I tell people about my time at BOSS and how we learned to process large game, people assume it was wild, macho and savage. I then explain that it was actually the opposite. We showed our respect for the animal by killing it quickly and using all of its parts. We all held the sheep, and I was surprised that there was no struggle. The sheep died instantly. I guess I expected it to be jarring, but it wasn’t.
All of the students were thankful. We were thankful for the gift of food that the sheep was giving us, and we were thankful that the sheep could die peacefully. We didn’t take pictures because the lesson wasn’t about trophies or conquering something. It was about the interconnectedness of species and how we give and take with our surroundings to survive. This lesson showed me how precious life is. I won’t kill an animal unless I have to.
BOSS taught me to sustain myself in other ways. However, if I must, BOSS taught me how to do so humanly and how to use the animal as to not be wasteful. We all help one another, and that day, the sheep helped us.
– 20 year old female Lifeguard from California
“BOSS seeks to simulate an experience on its Field Course that is extreme in many ways. Physically, mentally, or emotionally, everyone in some way will be challenged on the course. Much of this challenge comes from removing the daily support structures we all rely so heavily on. Let’s face it: most of us live comfortably, never really exhausted, never really wondering where our next meal is going to come from. We simply get up, go to the refrigerator, and satisfy ourselves.
I can’t imagine an experience that would make someone respect animals more than the sheep kill. I honestly never really thought that much about where the meat that I eat comes from until I had this experience. Our instructors prepared us for killing our sheep with a long discussion about the ethics behind what we were about to do; everyone was allowed to speak his/her mind on the matter and we were forced into nothing. I vividly remember my instructors being very emotional and treating the animal with reverence. There was nothing cold, disrespectful or cruel in what we did. Moreover, there was without a doubt no torture to the animal by any means. I haven’t looked at things the same ever since and I sincerely hope that others get a chance to experience it so they, too, may think differently.
While I support what PETA stands for and can understand their concerns, I must say that what BOSS provides in this experience is profound and PETA is misguided in their efforts here.”
– 32 year old male English teach from the Netherlands
“I am in disbelief that PETA would accuse BOSS of unethical treatment of animals. Never have I been in the company of people who showed more respect for animals, and the environment. I have been a vegetarian at various times in my life. I don’t think I’ve deliberately killed an animal/insect other than a mosquito or tick in years! I will catch a fly and release it rather than kill it. The sheep kill was one of the most emotional and reverential experiences I’ve ever had. The explanation and description of what we were going to do provided by one of our instructors was truly respectful, articulate, and beautiful.
Far from being cruel, unethical, or any other negative adjective, the experience made me far more conscious and respectful of all animals who ‘give’ their life so that we might eat that form of food. In my group were life-long vegetarians, hunters, meat-eaters, the whole gamut. BOSS should be commended for recognizing the realities of how we live and making us more sensitive to what is required to provide that. We have all become so removed from our sources of food, shelter, etc. BOSS brings us closer to all of that.”
– 47 year old male from New York
“I took the 14-Day Field Course a few years ago. At the time, I was vegan and I found this phase of the course difficult to deal with. However, ultimately, I was grateful for the experience. It increased my admiration for people of earlier times (and even hunters of today) for whom this was a daily aspect of living. The folks at BOSS were careful to respect the spirit of the animal. We were encouraged to say prayers and do whatever we could to individually recognize this being as a vital and respected part of our web of life.
Animals today are slaughtered by the thousands in bloody warehouses. No one says prayers for them. No one respects their lives. This is the front where we should be shifting our activist energy. I cannot expect everyone to share my vegetarian ethics. If people choose to eat meat, however, I would want them all to understand what it takes to destroy life. This experience widened each and every one of the hearts of the folk around me, vegetarian and meat eater alike. My thanks to everyone at BOSS for a life changing event.”
– 26 year old female Residential Counselor from Massachusetts
“I took BOSS’s 14-Day Field Course in May of 2001 and have the utmost respect for the program and staff of BOSS. These folks are truly professional. When it came time for the sheep killing it was a shock but not a shock in the sense that I thought it was wrong or cruel. Just shocking because I had never done that before. What BOSS teaches us is how to survive in the most extreme circumstances. The staff at BOSS sat our group down and discussed the process before it happened. We each had our say of what we did or didn’t like about it and whether we agreed or didn’t agree with it. The staff allowed anyone who disagreed with it to not partake in the process. We even said a prayer before it happened. This was not some happy-go-lucky ‘let’s slaughter a sheep’ circus. This was done very professionally and respectfully.”
– 33 year old male Stock Trader from Massachusetts
“I went on a 14-Day Field Course with BOSS in August, 2000. I vividly remember the killing of the sheep during that course. By personal choice, I did not participate in it nor did I eat the meat afterwards. However, I was greatly impressed by the respectful manner in which the sheep was treated and the solemnity of the whole process as encouraged by BOSS leaders. This course was a serious attempt by BOSS to teach survival techniques, one of which was to kill and use all parts of an animal to survive. I had no problem with the way BOSS conducted the event. My antennae were up, watching for any disrespectful comments or behavior from either the BOSS instructors or my fellow coursemates and I saw none. We were encouraged in our own ways to thank the animal for the sacrifice and taught how to use every possible part of the animal for consumption, tools and clothing, all for survival purposes.
I was in the US Marine Corps and went through survival training there. I will never forget how callous and flippant an instructor was when he killed and tore apart a rabbit, making fun of the skinned rabbit in the process. BOSS was completely different and their process made a positive and lasting impression on me. I greatly admire the work of PETA and suggest they may be wrong in this instance.”
– 56 year old male Director for Amnesty International from Colorado