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Published on:

January 11, 2023

Inspiring Stories from 2022, Part 2

Keeping sanctuary animals safe; activists who saved chickens demand a date with the justice system; and Charlie, a piglet whose story touched thousands

Ensuring the Best Possible Life for a Sanctuary's Animals

I want to tell you about Dōbutsu Kaihōji, the Animal Liberation Temple. It is a Soto Zen Buddhist Temple and Animal Sanctuary founded by Reverend Robert Ryugen Doshin Yamada, an ordained Soto Zen Monk. The Temple serves the physical and spiritual liberation of animals. Robert is also a dedicated activist who has organized with the DxE Phoenix chapter since 2016.

Earlier this year, Robert made a big decision. He decided to move from Arizona to California for a variety of reasons including the extreme heat and a tragic incident where police entered the Animal Liberation Temple and killed a sweet turkey named Navid. But making the move meant finding a new home for the Temple and its more than 30 residents, not to mention the logistical hurdles involved with moving so many individuals to a different state.

Construction underway at the Temple’s new home

Fortunately, a California sanctuary called One Living Sanctuary had land to share and the Animal Liberation Temple moved to the top of their rolling hills. The move was a long process, not just driving 30+ animals over 700 miles, but also building their new barns, fences, and the Temple itself. DxE activists in the Bay Area came out to help and got an incredible amount of building done in a short time. It was beautiful to see so many people come together to make the Temple’s big move possible, and to see Robert’s dedication to doing what was best for all the sanctuary residents. Of course, at a sanctuary, there is always more to do. Robert wants to build a pond for the ducks and an ICU building for the sick and more vulnerable.

Activists Who Saved Lives Want Their Day in Court

The transport truck was stopped right outside of California’s largest slaughterhouse: Foster Farms in Livingston. Ethan and Jax were moments from what would have been the end of their lives. But that windy morning, a group of DxE activists staged a blockade in the entrance to the slaughterhouse with a parked U-haul and chains. Two other activists, Alexandra Paul and Alicia Santurio, ran up to the stopped truck, pulled Ethan and Jax out of their cages, and carried them away to safety. 

That was September 2021. Over six months later, in April of this year, Alexandra and Alicia received a letter in the mail from Merced County: they were being charged with theft. While it’s never fun to be charged with a “crime,” they relished the opportunity to be able to bring this action to court, especially because we had documented evidence of what fate awaited Jax and Ethan had they not been rescued. Hidden camera footage from the slaughterhouse showed chickens routinely avoiding stunning and reaching the blade fully conscious, dead and injured birds thrown to the floor as workers are forced to keep up with the high line speeds of 140 birds hung up every minute, and living birds buried beneath piles of dead “condemned” birds.

Perhaps the prosecutors realized that public consciousness around animal rights is growing, or maybe they saw the historic win for the Right to Rescue in our Smithfield Trial this October, because they offered Alexandra and Alicia a very good deal: just don’t get arrested in Merced County for a year and the charges go away. But Alexandra and Alicia said no. They want this trial. They want to put Foster Farms in the hot seat and show this footage in court. 

Watch Jax's rescue and recovery:

The trial is set to begin March 7, 2023, and we’re busy reviewing evidence, crafting arguments, and identifying key witnesses. What happens in the dark at Foster Farms needs to be brought into the light for the public to see. Then the jury can decide whether Ethan and Jax had the right to be rescued.

Charlie's Story

“It’s almost like we were too good.” 

That was DxE investigator Matt Johnson’s analysis when, just 48 hours before his trial was set to begin, he found out that his charges were being dropped. Matt had been facing felony burglary charges for rescuing a little piglet named Gilly during the course of the bombshell ventilation shutdown exposé in 2020. This news would make most people happy, but not Matt and his legal team. They tried to argue the judge into not allowing the charges to be dropped. The judge - stunned - did not agree. There would be no trial.

Matt and Gilly

Dozens of activists were on their way to Iowa. Major media outlets were ready to cover the trial. We were planning to put key Iowa Select Farms executives on the stand. We had done all our homework and were ready to make this trial a media spectacle. And that’s probably why the prosecution dropped it all. As Matt said, maybe we were too good... 

We went to Iowa anyway. The ten days we spent there were amongst the most defining of 2022 for me. Rural Iowa in January is like another world. On our first full day there it was so cold that school was cancelled. We protested outside the county attorney’s office to an essentially empty street, and lasted about 20 minutes before everyone had to go warm up. For a moment I thought: What are we even doing here? But then we found Charlie.

Charlie was a piglet who had been left to die in a pile of his dead siblings in the freezing cold. Driving around Iowa, you see pig farms everywhere. And on almost every single pig farm is a dumpster. And that dumpster is full of bodies. That is where we found Charlie. We had not prepared to rescue anyone that day. We were simply driving back to the motel when something compelled me to ask the car to stop and turn around so we could document the dead pile. We didn’t have supplies or a team put together, but how can you turn away when you find a baby animal freezing to death?

So two activists rushed through the snow to pull him out while others cranked the heat in the car and started frantically Googling for the nearest vet. Charlie was bloody and barely conscious in the car ride, but by some miracle he made it to the vet alive. We rushed him in and a team of professionals immediately surrounded him - warming him up, trying to start an IV, and looking for the source of the bleeding.

We had regular calls with the vet over the next few days. It was up and down, but Charlie seemed to make some progress. Three days later though, we got the news. Charlie died. I just sat there and cried.

It might feel out of place for this story to be billed as “inspiring.” Despite our best efforts, Charlie never saw grass or felt the sun on his skin. He never got to play or eat bananas or pumpkin. But he had three days of warmth with people who cared about him. He made the news and captured the hearts of incredible journalists like Marina Bolotnikova who wrote so powerfully about him and the need for direct action, and his story was seen by hundreds of thousands on social media. 

Watch a video on Facebook about Charlie:

What happened to Charlie makes me so angry. It infuriates me that our society tolerates an industry that leaves baby animals to die alone in the cold, and it is so backwards that the people who rescue them are the ones who are punished. But I’m not the only one who’s outraged when they hear Charlie’s story or learn about animal rescuers facing years in prison. The public is on our side, and that’s why even huge corporations like Iowa Select Farms often back off when the world is watching. With your help, we can channel that public outrage into change.