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Midnight Musings: Where the news is fresh and the coffee is decaf

If you can’t hug Doug, what can you hug?

Our community recently received an advisory about wild animals on campus. Though he wasn’t mentioned by name, the message was clear: Don’t touch Doug. For those not in the know, Doug is a deer. A cute one, really. I’m not on Facebook, but I’ve been told by a faculty member that Doug the Deer has many friends. Apparently, we should keep our friendship with him virtual.

Of course, it’s not just about Doug. To borrow from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, all wild animals are dangerous, but some wild animals are more dangerous than others. Bears? Avoid them. Panthers? Ditto. The saltwater crocodile is—as Lofty Wiseman warns in his famous survival guide—“an infamous man-eater.” Avoid gators and crocs at all costs: Lose a friend, but save your life. Having read this warning, you may never wander near Sager Creek again.

Back to Doug: The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission answered my questions about the legality of touching deer. If you can shoot deer in Arkansas, can you touch ’em, too? Newsflash: It’s legal to touch them; it’s just very foolish. So don’t.

For the record, I’ve never touched Doug, and I have no plans of doing so. But some students may have had tactile relations with Doug (I’ll neither confirm nor deny this), and we need to offer them a safe and healthy alternative.

What’s the solution to student fascination with wild animals? Let them work with domesticated ones! Here’s a modest proposal: By 2019, the hundred anniversary of our venerable institution, we should make JBU’s Siloam Springs campus an animal farm again. It’s already an animal farm in other ways, after all.

With the appropriate caveats, check the city ordinances, know the county regulations, the person I spoke to at the Arkansas Agriculture Department was surprisingly supportive of my hopes for JBU. One in six jobs in Arkansas relate to agriculture, he said, and though you don’t have to know which end is up to do logistics for a major chicken company in this state, it can’t hurt. If we start with less than 200 chickens, we can sell the eggs as “country eggs.” There are added benefits: “Chickens act like a lawnmower” if we house them in portable coops. We can also raise pigs, cattle, and goats for our own consumption, and produce our own raw milk.

Students will learn the value of hard work and the importance of biosecurity—and everyone can get involved. Engineering and construction management students can design and build the coops. Family and Human Services can offer a class in animal husbandry. Missionary kids know what to do with the goats. And if people get hurt, we now have nursing students. And I’m not shirking my own responsibility: If we can get cattle on campus, I’ll gladly teach the philosophy of cattle raising.

We talk about head, heart, and hand here at JBU, but we’ve been told, in a roundabout way, to keep our hands off Doug. That’s fine. It’s good advice. But what about bottle feeding a calf in springtime, or checking on the chickens late at night? There’s great dignity and value in working with your hands, and JBU has a great opportunity to train students to do just that, both on and off the farm.

Bruce is an associate professor of philosophy at John Brown University. He can be reached at JBruce@jbu.edu