A Baby Chicken Taught Me to Never Give Up Hope. His Name is Vincent.
To everyone who doesn’t believe in a better world, I understand. I feel your pain and I know how hard it is to keep going in a world as painful as ours. But, just a glimmer of hope saved Vincent’s life and it might just save the rest of the animals, too. So please, don’t give up.
“Don’t get your hopes up.”
That’s what multiple veterinarians told me when I brought them Vincent, a baby rooster on the verge of death. “I won’t give up on him,” I said, “Please do everything you can to save him.”
Hours earlier, I’d found Vincent lying on the ground at a Petaluma Poultry factory farm. He was hot to the touch. When I nudged him, he wouldn’t move. I tried to push on his underside to encourage him to stand, but he couldn’t. He was weak and I knew that his life was in grave danger.
In my arms, I already held a hen, Petunia, who we’d helped moments earlier. We found her on her back with a bloodied, injured wing. I knew we couldn’t leave Vincent there to die, so with my spare arm I lifted him up.
As we left the facility, he struggled to breathe. He felt so warm and feverish that holding him actually caused me to sweat, even on a cold night. I kept checking to see if he continued to draw breath, continued to hold onto life. I didn’t know if he would survive, things were not looking good.
On the car ride home, I continued to watch him fight to stay awake, fight to breathe. As soon as we could, we rushed him to an avian hospital. The vets discovered that he had multiple life threatening conditions. He was living with heart disease, likely as a result of the way he’d been genetically manipulated by Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry to grow 3x faster and 3x larger than a chicken should. He had a genetic deformity known as sway back. He was suffering from multiple viruses, Infectious Bronchitis Virus and Infectious Bursal Disease, and he had gone septic from a multidrug-resistant strain of Enterococcus bacteria. The vets told me he likely wouldn’t survive and that, even if he did, his heart disease would kill him within months, if not weeks. But, I looked into his eyes and behind all the pain, suffering, and fear, I could see his will to live. I could see him holding onto the little strength he had left as he struggled, with everything he had, to stay alive. I knew he wanted to live, wanted to fight, so I told them to do everything they could to save him.
I didn’t see Vincent again for a week. He spent several days in the hospital. He was put on multiple medications, including heart meds that he would have to continue taking for the rest of his life. Every morning
when I woke, I was afraid I’d see a voicemail from his vet saying he’d passed away in the night. Every time I got a call, I feared bad news. But somehow, miraculously, he pulled through. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that he survived. All odds seemed to have been stacked against him. Today, almost half a year later, he has lived longer than anyone predicted and he is thriving.
Most people would’ve given up on Vincent. In fact, I think the veterinarians thought I was a bit absurd for holding out hope to save a chicken who seemed surely destined to die. And every day, I’m told I’m naive and silly for hoping and fighting to change the world not just for Vincent, but for all of his brothers and sisters and all of the animals of this world.
Last week, journalist Annie Lowrey published a piece in The Atlantic profiling Direct Action Everywhere. The piece painted a vivid picture of the heart-wrenching reality of animal agriculture. However, it also painted a picture of hopelessness, of a world where this heart-wrenching reality is doomed to continue forever.
In the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women fought decade after decade and constantly felt like they were running up against a brick wall. When looking back at their struggle, suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton recalled moments where they “felt as helpless and hopeless” as if they “had suddenly been asked to construct a steam engine.” Women were fighting against a system that existed for thousands of years, a system that hardly anyone was eager to change.
I bet you that there were articles written during the Women’s Suffrage Movement that were similar to Lowrey’s, painting the picture of inequality while insisting that there was no point in fighting back. I bet you there were women who left the movement or never even joined, deciding it was a lost cause. Just like powerful people today say that animals were made to be eaten and experimented on and dominated in every way humanly possible, powerful men said that women were meant to be owned and controlled, that they weren’t built for things like voting.
It’s easy to look back now and see that the suffragettes were on the right side of history. It is easy to see their successes and ignore their failures, because history is written by the victorious. But, suffragettes had to work hard to hold onto their hope in the face of so much discrimination and repression. They had to fight to create a vision of a world worth fighting for. And Annie Lowrey might not believe that a world worth fighting for is possible, but I do, and I think we’ve already come a long way.
Lowrey’s piece ignored all of the victories of the animal rights movement. The title of the piece was “Radical Vegans Are Trying to Change Your Diet.” And yes, if your goal is to create vegans one by one, things do look pretty grim. After decades of activism, the percentage of vegans in the U.S. has gone from 3% to 1% and the number of animals killed has risen drastically. But, that’s largely because for far too long, our movement has been focused on trying to change people’s diets. And the reality is, consumer change doesn’t work and that is exactly what Direct Action Everywhere has been trying to say for years.
At DxE, we engage in nonviolent, direct action to fight for systemic change, not diet change, and it’s been incredibly effective. DxE successfully banned the sale of fur in Berkeley in 2017 and in San Francisco in 2018, and then led the grassroots effort to ban fur in the entire state of California in 2019. We have won two groundbreaking trials against multi-billion dollar corporations to further solidify animals’ right to be rescued from abuse. The animal rights movement has banned cockfighting in the entire United States of America, and the entire country of Canada just banned all cosmetic testing on animals. I could go on. Annie Lowrey shared the quote from Hahrie Han that “Most movements fail.” But, she forgot to mention that some movements win.
I believe in a world where chickens like Vincent never have to suffer the pain of genetic modification. I believe in a world where pigs roll in the mud and get belly rubs to their hearts’ content. I believe in a world where fishes get to swim in the open water without fear of their fins becoming entangled in a net. I believe in a world where rabbits hop through fields of grass, the wind blowing between their ears. I believe that a better world is possible, but I believe that we will have to come together and fight like hell for it. I believe that we will have to find hope in the darkness.
To everyone who doesn’t believe in a better world, I understand. I feel your pain and I know how hard it is to keep going in a world as painful as ours. But, just a glimmer of hope saved Vincent’s life and it might just save the rest of the animals, too. So please, don’t give up. Keep fighting until every animal is free, and if you are ever feeling lost in the darkness, think of Vincent and let him be your light, let him be your hope.