Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dear Vegans

No, Elsa does not want to snuggle or pose for the camera.

As the operator of a chicken sanctuary, I often have to justify myself to the masses: No, it’s not a farm; no, I don’t sell the eggs; and no, she’s not an “it.”

These kinds of things are to be expected.

What has been less expected -- and indeed, heartbreaking -- is the constant need to justify myself to vegans.

Yes, I really did just spend thousands of dollars to save one bird’s life. No, she wasn’t a special pet who displayed a remarkable intelligence and affection for humans. She doesn’t like to dress up in human clothes or pose for photo ops on the couch. She doesn’t even like being touched, much less held.

But why does it matter? She is still an individual with a zeal for life and interests of her own that are every bit as worthwhile as those of a horse, pig, or dog.

“I know it’s being speciesist,” one vegan wrote. “But isn’t that a lot of money?”

Yes, it is a lot of money. Four nights of hospitalization plus four hours in surgery cost a fuckton of money for anyone of any species. Would you withdraw support from a horse sanctuary because it spent $2,500 on a surgery? Would you badmouth your sister for spending $2,500 to save her pet cat?

Or do you think that because her dead body sells for only $2 in the grocery store, the life of a chicken is worth less than that of a horse or cat?

Birds are incredibly complex and fragile, perhaps more so than any other animal. Domesticated chickens, with their generations of selective breeding to suit animal agriculture, have taken this fragility to a whole new level. Caring for them properly is a never-ending task that can only be accomplished with the support of the community – particularly, the vegan community that purports to love all animals equally.

Please don’t devalue them for not being snuggly or because they all look alike. Please don’t engage in the speciesism for which we criticize non-vegans.

Being an activist means appreciating others for who they are and realizing that, after all, it’s not all about us.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Since early chickhood, Dancer knew he was different. Bald of head and red of skin, he stood out from the rest of the flock like a bright beacon.  

Looking up at the elder roosters -- Goldie with his leonine neck ruff, Ian Puffypants with his checkerboard poof of leg feathers, and Heitor with his gleaming red saddle feathers -- Dancer knew well that luxuriant plumage was a rooster's biggest asset.

In this area, Dancer knew he could not compete. But Dancer had something else: he had soul. He had rhythm. He had a style about him that most others could only dream about. 

And so that spring, Dancer cultivated his talent. Quietly in the side field he shuffled his legs to a silent beat. Alongside the ivy in the front yard, he smoothed out his shoulder drop. On the stage of the wooden deck, he practiced his head dip to perfection.    

At night he reviewed footage of his matinee idols. He dreamed of the day when Magic-Mike style dance-offs would supplant the less artful forms of male machismo.  

When The Human opened the porch door on a midsummer morning, Dancer could contain himself no longer. His inner dancer burst forth into a magnificent melange of dizzying dance moves that stunned his audience into silence.

"Oh, Dancey Pants, you are so cute," cooed The Human, stroking his sparse plumage. 

"Cute" was not exactly the word of praise Dancer had been yearning for, but in that moment he knew his dizzying dance moves had captured at least one heart. It was a good start. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Creepy Dave

For as long as he could remember, he'd always felt like an outsider, different from the others.
When he walked across the yard, he could feel the hostile stares from the other boys, while the girls turned their backs to him and clucked cattily.

"Creepy Dave," they whispered in hushed hen voices. But he pretended not to hear. He knew he was considered small-boned, and he knew that his crows lacked the deep, sonorous quality of the others.
But he was not a rooster easily discouraged.
He kept up his courtship -- one day dancing for the speckled hen; the next day, dancing for a hen with snowy white plumage like his own. He even sidled up to some of the older matrons of the flock, twice his size. But all were indifferent to his charms.

And then he spotted her. With feathers the color of flames and eyes of amber, her beauty struck Creepy Dave like a bolt of lightening.
Tossing caution to the wind, he put forth his most magnificent display yet. Tapping into his inner Flashdance, he stamped his legs like pistons and tossed his feathery head with wild abandon.
The ginger-feathered object of his affection didn't run from him and she didn't turn up her beak. Instead, she did what Creepy Dave had previously dared not even dream of: she kissed him.
Beaks touched and time stood still.
It was then that Creepy Dave knew he could die a happy bird.

At long last, he'd found acceptance; he'd found love

The Chicken-Duck

She didn’t know how long she’d been in hiding, but time meant nothing to Antoinette; she was a bird on a mission.

Too many times she’d created a perfect nesting spot for herself, only to have her maternal ambitions thwarted by The Human and its egg-snatching ways. Not this time, thought Antoinette.
She’d been out on a routine bug-hunting venture along the fence line when she’d spotted the cache of eggs – untouched and hidden deep in the tall grasses.

How the eggs got there mattered little to Antoinette. Guided by a visceral, undefinable impulse, she hunkered down with the egg cache and waited.

Weeks passed. The Human had lumbered past several times, calling out her name. But Antoinette turned a deaf ear. She knew her patience and stealth would be rewarded.

And so they were. First came the persistent peeping, then the tap-tap-tap of a tiny beak against a shell. At last, one small ball of fluff burst forth, and then another.

“Strange, that one’s beak,” thought Antoinette. “And the feet are so flat and wide, almost like paddles….” But she quickly dismissed those thoughts and focused on the task at hand.

When day broke, Antoinette marched proudly back into the flock, the fruits of her labor in tow. The other hens looked at her askance, but she knew they were just jealous.

Antoinette didn’t even notice when The Human emerged from its compound.

“ARRGHGHH!!!” came a garbled cry. “What the F—?!?!”

The Human is displeased, Antoinette thought.

But what did she care? No longer did she have to hide; no longer was she a hen on the run.

Victory was sweet.

The Sentinel

No one had ever accused Ian Puffypants of being overly heroic. Short in stature and puffy of feathers, he was a rooster oft underestimated. Other chickens regularly chased him about, while the goose sometimes rolled his rotund body along the ground like a feathered soccer ball. 

But dire circumstances can make heroes out of the most unlikely candidates.

That late-summer afternoon, IPP knew something was wrong. After a languid session lying under a bush with his favorite chicken companion, IPP found that little Hen #20 would not rise when dusk beckoned them all into the barn. He clucked impatiently but received no response.

Confusion gave way to concern and soon, panic. IPP's clucking grew wilder and his pacing more frantic, as visions of nefarious nighttime creatures played in his mind. But something else played in his head, too: some distant, atavistic memory ..... a well, a boy, a dog... Lassie?

And then it happened: The Human came lumbering around the corner, slow and clumsy as usual. But IPP knew what he had to do. Furiously his feathered feet stamped the ground, as he let loose a thin, reedy crow.

The Human turned. Closer it came, stooping just beside them. Strange noises emanated from The Human's lips as oafish mitts lifted the prostrate hen and carried her away.
Closely IPP followed them, until the Human reached the doorway into its structure. He branched off to his own perching station then, uncertain but satisfied he'd protected his hen from the dangers of the dark.

Days later, IPP was strolling around the bushes and he saw her again: Little Hen #20 had returned to the yard. Standing on shaky legs, she clucked a gentle salutation.

"Lassie...." echoed the distant voice again in IPP's head again. And he silently thanked the inspiration that had convinced him to summon The Human that fateful evening.

He would would always remain wary, he thought, but no longer would he curse The Human and its oafish ways.

The Operation

Gaby wasn't feeling herself. The unusually cool summer, the constant influx of new summer fruits and vegetables to sample from -- none of these were enough to buoy her spirits. She felt an uncomfortable heaviness in her abdomen, and when she tried to fly to the perches at night, she found herself unable to lift off the ground.

The Human worried. Large ungainly hands lifted her delicate body into a box, and soon Gaby found herself under bright lights atop a cold, metal exam room table. She was confused, so she didn't fight when the tiny gas mask went over her beak and sent her into unconsciousness.

When she awoke a few hours later, something was different. She felt a certain lightness to her body. A bit of soreness too and.... what are those? Staples!  Something had definitely happened; something was definitely missing. "The humans," she thought, "They have cut something out of me -- perhaps that unpleasant abdominal mass that made me feel so heavy?"

Soon The Human reappeared, boxed her up, and brought Gaby back to its compound. Pills. Repulsive syrupy medicines. Nonsensical human chatter in the air. A small prison cell, a fraction of the size of her normal sleeping quarters.

A plate of corn appeared, but Gaby was not fooled. She knew she had to get out.

The next morning, she was ready. She heard the jar of pills opening, and she watched the hulking human hands reach for the prison-door latch.

Like a bolt of lightening, Gaby made her break. Through the prison door and out the screen door she ran, never slowing, never looking back.

"Gaby, wait! Your medicine!" wailed The Human, but Gaby did not wait. On and on she ran until she found her kin. White feathers blended into white feathers until she was just one drop in a sea of hens. She knew The Human would never be able to find her again.

She chortled in a clucky kind of way, then sighed in relief. Safe again.