We're Driving Animals Mad
The systems we have designed for animals are mentally abusive from the very beginning.
My late friend Dina had some strange habits. She would take water into her mouth and spit it out in a line on the floor. While it was amusing to watch, it certainly left a mess to clean up. She also had a habit of swinging her head in a deliberate motion that would cause her waddles to fly up into the air just enough that she could catch one in her beak. Dina was a chicken, you see, and while these habits were cute, the reason that she developed them was not.
Dina receiving care at Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary
Dina grew up on a factory farm where she was treated like an egg laying machine. A chunk of her beak was burned off when she was less than a day old, leading the top and bottom halves of her mouth to not quite meet together the way they should have. Chickens on factory farms regularly undergo this mutilation to prevent them from causing damage when pecking one another. Normally, chickens pecking each other isn't a serious concern, but on factory farms, the birds are often driven mad by overcrowding, which can lead to obsessive pecking behaviors. Dina never engaged in these obsessive pecking behaviors herself, but she did learn that she could use the gap in her beak that resulted from her painful mutilation to create lines of water by her feet.
She taught herself to create these lines of water along with catching her own waddles in her mouth as a coping mechanism. Dina spent two years of her life in a tiny, wire cage where she could barely turn around. She was forced to live with the stench of feces that permeated the air, as well as the rotting smell of dead bodies due to the notably high mortality rate on factory egg farms. Whether her strange habits were a symptom of madness from the abuse she endured, or merely mechanisms she developed that prevented her from ever truly going mad, I will never know. Unfortunately, there are no psychiatrists for chickens. At least, not yet.
Recently, I watched a TED Talk by Laurel Braitman about mental illness in nonhuman animals. Braitman detailed how various species have been found to suffer from clinical depression, anxiety, and even OCD and ADHD. Like us, many nonhuman animals live with mental illness for no real reason except biological disposition. Perhaps nothing traumatic happened to them, and they just happen to be an anxious individual. However, it’s important to acknowledge that many animals, like Dina, have had traumatic experiences and many of them have been at the hands of humans. For some individuals like Dina, these traumatic experiences have been the direct causes of their mental illness.
As someone who has been operating a farm animal sanctuary for 9 years, I have rescued and worked with over 1,000 animals rescued from factory farms, slaughterhouses, and other abusive situations. This has given me a direct look at not only the physical ramifications animals endure from their abuse, but the mental ramifications as well.
The systems we have designed for animals are mentally abusive from the very beginning. Chickens who are forced to be hatched in sterile incubators and never allowed to be with their mothers generally are never as confident as those who are hatched naturally and raised at their mothers’ sides. Piglets who are taken from their mothers too young (as most are on factory farms) often spend weeks engaging in repetitive suckling behaviors due to their desperation to breastfeed from their mothers’ teets. These same piglets may develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the mutilation they routinely face on factory farms, such as tail docking, ear notching, and castration. All of these procedures, it’s important to note, are typically performed with no anesthesia or pain relief.
Now, I know that some people may find it hard to believe that nonhuman animals can develop post traumatic stress. However, it is a phenomenon that is backed by science, and one that I have witnessed firsthand. Two pigs who live at my animal sanctuary, Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, have shown clear signs of mental trauma as a result of physical abuse. Lisa and Lucy were raised by a family participating in 4-H, a youth agriculture program. The family would routinely whip and hit Lisa and Lucy repeatedly as they screamed out in pain. For several months after Lisa and Lucy came into our care, they would flinch and scream any time anyone would reach out a hand towards them. They were, and to some degree still are, always on edge and always anticipating pain from humans.
Lisa and Lucy enjoying breakfast at Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary with their rooster friend, Buckbeak
In every way that matters, animals are just like us. We are all animals, after all. It is only through our own arrogance and pride that we have separated ourselves from other species; there is no actual biological distinction that makes us better than. We are all capable of feeling happiness, love, and hope. Unfortunately, we are also all capable of experiencing fear, despair, and trauma. We must put our human arrogance aside and recognize that nonhuman animals should be granted the same respect we ourselves deserve.