Speaker for the Cows: 10 Questions for Renee King-Sonnen, Author of Vegan Journal of a Rancher’s Wife and Founder of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary
The interview that I have for you today has really inspired me. This story honestly needs to be made into a movie. If I was a hollywood actress I would buy the rights and direct it. Maybe Angelina Jolie could play Renee.
Here is the story: One rebellious, independent, city dwelling, Texas fire cracker kind of woman falls in love and moves to her husband’s cattle ranch in the country. She’s scared of the cows at first but her husband tells her to adopt one of the calves, and feel at home. She falls in love with Rowdy girl, who she bottle feeds by hand, and soon she is befriending all the cows on the ranch, singing to them and dancing with them in the fields.
Until one fateful day when the red trailer pulls up to take the babies down the road to be sold and slaughtered. The experience rocks her world. She can’t bear to hear the mother cows crying and she becomes vegan and refuses to let the red trailer take the babies away the next season. But will it tear her relationship with her husband apart?
Doesn’t that sound like an awesome romantic movie? Well, the story is real, people. And not to ruin the ending for you but Renee has convinced her husband to turn the ranch into an animal sanctuary (!!!). She is raising 30,000 dollars to buy the cows from him and they are creating together Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, named after the calf she bottle fed and fought to save along with Rowdy Girl’s family and friends.
Once you read this incredible story, you may want to donate here like me and help build a permanent sanctuary home for the cows as a beacon of hope for all of Texas.
Without further ado,
10 Questions for Renee King-Sonnen
1. To start us off, would you please say a little about yourself to get us started in your own words, whatever comes to mind.
I’m 57 years old. Married twice to Tommy Sonnen. Born and raised in Houston, TX – grew up on country music, the rodeo, barbeque and cowboy boots. I was a victim of my culture I know now. Had no choice as a child as it was our way of life. I spent many a year on the road with my own country and western band and opened for many name acts – used to own a school for performing artists in Houston. I’m a singer/songwriter and play guitar. I’m a yoga teacher – have 630 hours of teacher training in hatha, kundalini yoga, and Ayurveda. I spent 10 days in silence once. I won a contest at Gilley’s. I’m a Presbyterian but not very obedient. I chant in Sanskrit and Gurmukh.
I consider myself a rebel at heart – have always worked for myself – I’m an entrepreneur – have owned my own yoga studio, massage therapy practice, and I built a medical spa in Texas City TEXAS in 2001. I’ve always had a heart for animals that I considered pets – always! Never got the connection that farm animals deserved the same treatment until living on the ranch with my husband Tommy. The agriculture industry is an invisible phenomenon on purpose – they don’t want us to know – but it was living here that opened my heart.
2. How did you meet your husband, what are 3 things you fell in love with about him, and were you excited about moving to a cattle ranch?
I met Tommy at the former Michaels Club at the Hilton in Lake Jackson, TX while performing one night. His friend called him unbeknownst to me and told him that there was a girl with red spandex pants on that wanted to meet him and that I could sing just like Patsy Cline. Tommy had just gotten off nights – it was about midnite when he walked in – he came in thinking I wanted to meet him and I saw him walk in and thought he was a handsome man walking in late – the place was about to close – we hit it off and became inseparable.
The 3 things I love about him are 1) His loyalty to family and furry friends 2) His love for nature and the outdoors 3) His passion for his hobbies ( he loves to metal detect). We’ve been married twice – we divorced in 1997 and remarried in 2010 – he didn’t have the ranch our first marriage – he bought the ranch 6 or 7 years before we remarried. I was not necessarily excited to move out here at first. I am a city girl. I was afraid of the cows at first and didnt know that the chickens were actually friendly. The ranch grew on me quickly. I fell in love with all the animals and the lifestyle – wouldn’t trade it for anything now, but I do miss city shopping, museums and theatres.
3. Most people know so little about cows. Can you tell us what cows are like in your experience? I read in one interview that when you first moved to the farm, you befriended the cows and would sing to them and dance around with them, much to your husband’s dismay. What do you love about cows?
The cows are very loving and stable beings – to me they are our connection to the earth – their very nature is the essence of grounding. Since going vegan I see them as our unconditional teachers. Unfortunately their DNA I’m sure is programmed to distrust humans, but the move towards more sanctuaries will gently reverse their fear. We owe it to the cows to BE with them in harmony – they love being sung to – when I’m dancing and doing yoga with them in the pasture it gives them the opportunity to sync up with an energyfield that is love, joy, respect and kindness.
I love that they are consistent – they are sacred animals that we have perverted into food. I really love that they are teaching me how wrong I and we have been about them – they are not inanimate objects that can just be exploited for the almighty dollar – when I look into their eyes now, I see their soul and they in turn see mine – not a soul that is void of compassion but one that is wide open to love them…to understand them and to witness their right to be my teacher.
4. You said in an interview that your reaction when the first red trailer truck came to pick up the calves to be sold surprised even you. You said, you had to see it to believe it. What was it like when you saw it with your own eyes for the first time.
The first time I witnessed the red trailer pulling in I was stunned at the way that the calves were baited into the trailer. The trailer was rigged so that only the smaller calves, 6 months or less could get inside – it took several days to convince them it was safe, and then when the door slammed and the trailer rolled out, the moma cows chased the trailer wailing – the babies were looking out of the trailer bug-eyed and confused. And the lamenting and cries from the mommas lasted for several days morning, noon and night – it was the most horrible sound I had ever heard. I went out side and cried with them, begging their forgivenss – I still mourn the loss of the beloved babies that were slaughtered – and I owe this sanctuary to the mommas that are still here…..the ones that are pregnant and going to give birth will never have to mourn that loss again.
5. Do you think the cows understood that they lived in an unsafe place where once a year their babies will be taken away from them. I have read a story about a cow on a dairy farm hiding one of her babies so it wouldn’t be taken from her. In your song on youtube you wrote called the red trailer, I believe you said the cows all look at each other when the red trailer would come, like “who’s next to go”? You said they cried for weeks. How aware do you think the cows are about their fate in life? I also read that you believe the cows understand that you are fighting for their freedom. I think that’s amazing. How can you tell?
Yes they understood that it was an unsafe place! And it was twice a year that the red trailer would roll inand out with their family. It’s been over a year now since they have lost their families. What’s even more surprising is that there are a couple of calves that escaped the red trailer last year and they are still here – the red trailer is in the pasture and is going nowhere – it has become a beacon of hope on hwy 35.
Like I said earlier, I believe their DNA gets it that they are our food source, and they don’t like it or accept it one bit!! They fight to the end! They cry and they want to be with their families. They have best friends and they are so snuggly with each other. The reason I know that they know I am fighting for their freedom is because I am out there almost everyday with them, talking to them, taking their pictures – seeing them different – not just out there to run an errand but to BE with them – I become one with them by following them through the woods – I pause when they pause – I watch, I witness, I cry, I pray and I thank God that I am now part of their solution! It is time for Texas to change!
6. Did you quickly find veganism after you first saw the cows being taken away? And what was the reaction like at first to you being a vegan on a cattle farm in Texas going against generations of tradition. I think that is such a bold and courageous move. Did it cause problems at first or did your husband understand?
No I did not quickly find veganism the first time the cows went away. My husband did everything he could at the time to console me and tried to explain to me that this was what we had to do. That at least they had a good life while they were here – that the only bad day they had was when they left the ranch. I totally disagreed and we would have many arguments over it.
I had dabbled in raw foodism and vegetarianism over the years because of my yoga studies. I intellectually and even spiritually was understanding the reasons for not eating meat but it wasn’t until I witnessed the industry firsthand living here that it forced me to begin researching the industry – it was then after much exploration into horrific film footage and explosive documentaries that I began to vegan in the depths of my soul – it was like an undercurrent that was going to have its way with me, and it did.
My husband and I almost divorced over it when I drew the line in the sand and told him that I was going to follow the red trailer to the sale barn and meet their demise if it rolled out one more time.
Going against tradition in Texas has been interesting – especially at dinner tables with family and at church. I’m bold but I do not attack. I do not stand for jokes about animals, their bodies and especially the religious reasons people spout off for their rights to eat animals. When a force like becoming vegan truly explodes inside, I believe that it is truly a force to be reckoned with because it does completely polarize relationships as so much tradition is based around what we eat. My responsibility has been to learn how to have these discussions realizing that we are all victims of the invisible system of carnism as Melanie Joy says. Until we unplug from carnism that is all we know, all we teach, and all we perpetuate– thank God I’m vegan.
To underscore the Texas tradition thing – I believe that Rowdy Girll Sanctuary is going to be a window into the heartbeat of Texas compassion – my mission is to prove by my actions and choices that it can and must be done, one ranch at a time.
7. I heard in an interview with you that eventually you refused to let the red trailer leave. What was that like, was it a stand off? (I must say your story would make a great movie).
When I refused to let the red trailer leave my husband literally went to war with me – he threatened me by telling me to stay out of “his” business. I moved to the ranch after he had bought it. He owned it 7 or 8 years prior to me moving here – so suddenly it became “his” business and I was to stay away. I told him NO that it wasn’t a business to me any longer – that these cows had a right to live – that they trusted us – and I couldn’t be a part of the corrupt industry we were a part of any longer.
My husbands tradition and family history was threatened – he is a strong man of family loyalty and always believed himself to be doing the right thing with the animals – my decision exposed a truth he wasn’t able to see until many weeks into the standoff. He is now very much onboard and seeing things so differently.
I am proud to be his wife – and so proud of his resolve to move forward with me creating Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. He is a member of the Brazoria County Cattleman’s Association and twice a year they have a big steak and barbecue dinner that we always used to go to. We wont be going there anymore. LOL
8. How did you get the idea to start a sanctuary and was it hard to convince your husband to let you buy the cows and become an animal sanctuary director rather than a rancher?
I got the idea to start a sanctuary when I was trying to find refuge for Rowdy Girl and Houdini her baby girl. Houdini had been getting out along the highway everyday – local ranchers and people passing by would stop at the ranch on a daily basis to tell me we had a cow out along the highway – it was always Houdini – then the local sheriff started coming over and we were about to start getting fined.
And since Houdini was “my cow” (because of technicalities since she was the offspring of Rowdy Girl), I told my husband this: He told me that I was going to have to do something with Houdini – that she needed to go “up the road”–That always meant to the sale barn! I flat out said not NO but hell no – all of this went on right after I had the stand off with him about the red trailer pulling out – it was all happening in unison. So he flat out told me, well then you figure it out—“were gonna start getting fined”!! So, my husband had a change of heart and the next couple of days later I came home one day and Rowdy Girl and Houdini were in a separate pasture where the chickens and one of the hay compounds are.
I tried to find them a home in Texas but there was no sanctuary that would take them – all the ones in Texas are mostly for horses and goats – not cows. I did find one finally but it sounded shady – like they were gonna go in one door and out the other to slaughter so I didn’t agree to that. By that time (about a week into searching) I had researched every farm sanctuary in the US, Canada and abroad – I couldn’t believe that farm sanctuaries were everywhere!
So one day when I was at my wits end with trying to figure out what I was going to do about Rowdy and Houdini I blurted out “why don’t we just start our own farm sanctuary right here”? My husband about had a cow himself! He thought I was out of mind, (and I probably was), but I needed to get out of my mind and into the mind and hearts of these cows – sanctuary was what they needed not slaughtered! Not exploited and bred over and over again so that we could kidnap their babies for sale! Happy farms along the highways all go to the same place – slaughter! Unfortunately small farmers are all bought into the same corrupt system. It sucks!
We went back and forth about my idea – he said there was no way and gave me a ton of reasons why not and all I could see was that WE COULD & WOULD! During all of this I had befriended a girl named Jeanne on FB and she would just cry with me into the night about my plight – she has been vegan for 30 years. My friendship with her was a Godsend – she gave me hope and strength. One day out of the blue a few days into all of this tension with my husband I asked him, “what if I buy the cows from you?” “How much would you sell them to me for?”
Again he looked like a deer in the headlights at me. He was baffled – “you want to buy my cows”? I said yea, how much? He kinda laughed at me then – the tension for once was broke as I was appealing to his business mind for a minute and he said, “well I don’t think you can do it, but if you could I’ll give you a discount since you’re my wife” He said: “you can have them all for $30,000 and I’ll get out of the ranching business, take care of them for a year and lease the land to you for a year for $1.00”.
A dam had broke – I felt a rush of energy into my soul like nobody’s business – the passion for starting the sanctuary and raising the money to save the cows was born. Initially, this campaign was to save them, not it is to create sanctuary because we are getting there and my husband has changed through it all. Oh and by the way, Jeanne was the one that convinced me to start my journal: Vegan Journal of A Ranchers Wife – it was there on 12/20th that my real journey to create sanctuary began.
9. Who is rowdy girl?
Rowdy Girl is the cow I bought 6 years ago whenI first moved to the ranch. My husband wanted me to have a connection to the ranch so he suggested I buy her – she was 2 months old – her moma had died or been slaughtered or something and I bought her for $300 – I fell in love with her – bottle fed her 3 times/day and my heart exploded with joy everytime I was out there with her. She would run up to me because I was momma. Little did Tommy know that his decision for me to buy Rowdy Girl would be the reason we will have a Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. There’s a little bit of rowdy in me too LOL.
10. What is your dream for your animal sanctuary?
My dream for the sanctuary is to create a place where other Texas Ranchers can see that there is another way to BE with the animals they claim to care about. My mission and vision is unfolding as we speak. I have dreams of having an education center here so that others can learn about veganism, factory farming and how small farms are just a pawn in big agriculture. If small farms start changing, factory farms will eventually feel it.
My dream is to have a loud voice for the animals, for others wanting to find another way but lost in the system of carnism. My dream is to show others they can uplug from the matrix – that there is another reality deep inside of them – I know because once I dove in head first I was given the right choices, my compassion broadened to depths I didn’t know I had – we all have the vegan voice inside of us! My dream is to help others find their vegan voice!
And then, I have a long range dream, once Rowdy Girl Sanctuary is stable and long term of repeating the process somewhere else in Texas so that the passion of this Rowdy Girl will be a catalyst for change in Cowtown, TEXAS!!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the questions. Your story is truly beautiful and inspiring. I hope to visit your sanctuary one day.
If you feel moved, comment below with support for Renee here or donate a few $ here to help save the cows!
Renee’s Vegan Journal of a Rancher’s Wife on Facebook
Rowdy Girl Sanctuary on Facebook
Rowdy Girl Sanctuary indiegogo fundraising campaign