Published on:

March 24, 2014

Rescuing Hens with Animal Place


Last Friday, Organizers Kelly and Brian helped Animal Place rescue 755 hens from a concentration camp in California's central valley. The next day, several of our activists went to Animal Place's Rescue Ranch in Vacaville, to assist with the girls' health checks.

Working one-on-one with real rescued individuals is very important, first and foremost to the people we're helping, but also because it motivates us in our activism for their cousins. Feeling their little heartbeats and the warmth of their bodies, watching them explore and socialize, hearing them talk to you, and looking them in the eyes turns this abstract, removed idea of "chickens who are suffering" into a much more tangible and powerful conception of real, breathing, living individuals. They are the reason we fight, they are the real faces we fight for.

The "free range" prisons where they had spent their lives were large, crammed, stifling, stale, ammonia-filled sheds, hot in the summer, full of feces and the noise of the hens' calls. Many of the girls had respiratory problems. Every hen had part of her beak cut off as an infant, and was completely covered in lice, many with large colonies of egg clusters the size of my fingernails. And though they were young, because they are forced to lay more eggs than their bodies can handle for long, several were suffering prolapses. Like most hens exploited for their eggs, all were to be gassed once "spent."

At least, those are the external conditions we observed being imposed on them. Internally, on account of my human privilege, I can hardly begin to imagine what they experienced. In their position, I would have felt terribly trapped, not just by the spatial restrictions and the physical immobility of being so tightly packed into that space with other people, but how maddening would it be to not be able to escape the smell or the noise either? How frustrating would it be to have difficulty picking up food, and to not be able to feel the world as I do now with intact fingertips? How infuriatingly irritating would it be to have lice crawling all over me, day in and day out, my whole life? And to never get a deep breath in? How exasperating.

When we were at the sanctuary after the rescue, I found that time and time again, when I picked up one girl after another for a health check, many would lie calmly in my lap, and turn their head around to look me straight in the eye, then quirkily cock their head -- as birds do -- and cluck curiously, as though to ask me what I, this strange giant, was doing to them. But most of them trusted me and let me go about examining them. They were all very eager to explore every inch of the barn, and some would come stand beside the humans doing health checks (and in some instances perch on a shoulder), just watching what we were doing to their sisters. While I held them in my lap, some of them would gently grab my thumb with their little feet, and it flooded me with protective feelings, just as an infant human grabbing your finger does.

I cannot stop seeing this one little girl who didn't want to be caught and checked, but when I turned her on her side and placed her in my lap, she calmed right down, and just looked up at me so casually and by her delicate little cluck I could swear she was just saying, "Oh, hello there, how are you today?" My heart skipped a beat and the moment nearly drew a tear out of my eye, because she was just so sweet, so pure, so totally and completely without hatred or anger or any of these nasty emotions we humans get so hung up on. She's just a youthful child, who wants to explore and play and love. She had just spent her life in a cramped, filthy concentration camp, and here she was just happily moving on with her life three hours later. Though I insist that offensive violence is wrong no matter who the victim, her incredible innocence just made me feel the atrocity that much more intensely.

I am very relieved that they are now almost all -- excepting a few girls in critical condition -- safe and cared for, most adopted out to new homes and some remaining at the sanctuary. But while I smile at the thought of their safety, I cannot help but think of and grieve deeply for the millions who were taken to a kill floor today.

Fight for them, until every animal is free.

Friday Rescue at the Concentration Camp:

Saturday Health Checks at Animal Place's Vacaville Rescue Ranch: