Rest in Peace, Mei Hua
As she lay dying in my arms, Mei Hua lifted her head, stared intently into my face, and ever-so-gently pecked away my tears. When she closed her eyes that time, she never opened them again.
Mei was utterly unlike anyone I’ve ever known. Although I knew her for barely a year, she integrated herself so fully into my life that it seemed impossible that she would ever leave.
But she did leave -- almost a year to the date that she arrived. Her departure was as shocking as it was sudden. One week she was comforting a little white hen who was recovering from surgery; the next week, she was diagnosed with cancer. We ran test after test, hoping for another outcome but each one only further confirmed the grim diagnosis.
I’d hoped for a few more weeks -- maybe even months -- with Mei, but it was not to be. Within days, Mei’s food stopped digesting and her body grew frail. The subcutaneous fluids we administered pooled under her skin and failed to absorb, as her organs shut down.
It seems unfair that such a beautiful life was taken so soon, but that is the price of animal agriculture: Mei was never meant to live more than 18 months. As a hen born and bred to churn out obscene numbers of eggs, she was slated for death at just one tenth the lifespan of her wild counterparts.
Indeed, when she first arrived here, Mei was as close to death as one can possibly be. She could not lift her head; she could not drink on her own. She was covered with filth, and her body was cold and nearly stiff as a corpse. The only indication of life was a blinking eye and a slowly rising chest.
Although veterinarians thought otherwise, we knew she had a chance and that she, like all animals, wanted to live. We wrapped her battered body in warm blankets and laid her on a heating pad. We dribbled Pedialyte into her beak and administered subcutaneous fluids. We stayed up all night with her, ready to give her nourishment if needed, or comfort if her body gave out.
Over the next few days, Mei slowly came back to life. The first time she raised her head, we all held our breaths. When she dipped her beak into the bowl of water on her own, we breathed a sigh of relief. The day she took her first tentative steps, our hearts sang.
Slowly but surely, Mei’s life returned to her. It was not long before she was strolling throughout the house with a calm sense of purpose. It turned out that Mei had a sweet tooth. Her favorite snacks were sweet corn and watermelon, and she was even known to dip into a bowl of soy ice cream to satisfy her sugar fix.
But Mei remained scarred by her past. She had trouble flying up to perches, waiting each night to be carried up to her perching spot and each morning to be carried down. In this she was infinitely patient and calm, a perfect lady always.
Something else remained in Mei from the egg industry: cancer. Like all domesticated chickens, Mei was genetically selected to lay eggs far in excess of what any bird would naturally lay. And as with 90 percent of all industry hens, the resultant ovarian cancer killed her at just a fraction of a normal hen’s lifespan. It didn’t matter that Mei Mei had never lived in a cage; her breeding made her a prisoner in her own, disease-ravaged body.
A part of me feels thankful that Mei lived so fully for one year, but the other part of me is consumed with a grief, not only for the loss of my beautiful friend, but also for the callous disregard for life that caused her -- and causes so many like her -- to die prematurely.
Mei cheated death once and managed to squeeze out another year out of life, but she deserved more -- as do all animals. It is the task of our generation to find a way to give them that.
Want to hear more about Mei? Check out our rescue video below.