Giving Thanks

(Guest blog by former CAS Animal Care Director Abbie Rogers)

Two days before Thanksgiving, I drove down the highway with two turkeys in the back seat of my Honda.  But unlike most other turkeys this time of year, these two were curiously looking out the window.  Blue, a resident of Catskill Animal Sanctuary for three years, was used to car rides; she had been to the vet numerous times because of chronic “bumblefoot” (an infection stemming from the pressure of her unnatural twenty-five pound body on her feet).  Through months of daily foot wraps, Blue maintained near-eternal patience, taking her big bandaged foot in stride, and even dozing off during treatments.

Blue molted late this fall and, instead of shedding a few feathers at a time as usual, she pretty much exploded, leaving a flurry of feathers everywhere she went.  Now almost entirely bald, she spent her days basking in front of the heater in the feed room, her eyes half-closed, waiting patiently for her feathers to grow back.

Blue’s friend Henrietta was a little more anxious in the car, shifting her weight and panting as she took in her surroundings.  Henrietta was supposed to be someone’s ninety dollar organic, free-range centerpiece last Thanksgiving, but a friend traded her for one of her frozen Butterball cousins, and Henrietta joined the flock at Catskill Animal Sanctuary.   From day one, it was clear that her left leg, which splayed noticeably outward, was already very arthritic, her six-month-old body having grown well beyond capacity.

Even more noticeable, however, was her exuberance.  Compared with our dignified and sedate older turkeys, Henrietta was a wild child.  No potential snack was safe; even buttons and fingers were fair targets (how do you know it’s not edible unless you try?).  She could hobble across the barn aisle surprisingly quickly and stealthily to grab a sandwich from an unsuspecting hand.

We referred to Henrietta as the sanctuary’s token feminist.  She and the other turkeys bunked in a stall with several broiler hens – chickens raised for meat – and whenever a free-ranging rooster harassed one of her hens, Henrietta went after him.  Puffing up her feathers and sounding a shrill war cry, she would drive the offending rooster down the barn aisle and out the door.  Only when she was satisfied that he had gotten the message would she shake herself off and return to her post, cuddled in a bed of straw with Atlas the goat.

Henrietta’s limp never slowed her down, but in the past month, she had developed bumblefoot that made her one weight-bearing toe on her bad foot swell to many times its normal size.  Despite ice baths, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and padded bandages, the huge, hot toe, with skin stretched almost to the point of splitting, refused to heal.  Amazingly, while the toe was clearly very painful, Henrietta diligently continued her duties as rooster patrol and generally remained as curious and energetic as ever.  That is, until this weekend, when she rapidly declined.  While we had hoped for a miraculous recovery, it was clear that the tissues in Henrietta’s toe were dying.  She couldn’t support her full thirty-pound body on one foot, so amputation wasn’t an option.  We had no choice.  We had to let her go.

While we waited in the vet’s office, I caressed the soft, warm, sweet-smelling skin on Henrietta’s head and neck while she made purring noises and blinked slowly.  The sparse, hair-like feathers on her head rose in satisfaction.  Blue chirped and preened the little feathers that were starting to come in on her back and chest.  She padded around, exploring all the shiny things in the exam room, but never going too far from Henrietta, whose foot had become too painful to walk on.

When the vet arrived with the euthanasia injection, I held Henrietta and kissed her as she quietly slipped away.

On the drive back to the sanctuary, Blue and I stopped at Karma Road Café in New Paltz, NY to share a piece of vegan pumpkin pie after our emotional morning.   Blue ate politely from a fork, but still managed to get pumpkin all over her face.  When I informed the café staff that their pie was “turkey-approved,” they eagerly took a break from preparing vegan Thanksgiving orders to come say hello and get their pictures taken with this living, breathing Thanksgiving spirit.  As Blue cleaned up the last crumbs of crust, I gave thanks to be celebrating the holiday with such a gentle and beautiful friend.  And I gave thanks for Henrietta, who had gained an unexpected year of life, love, and happiness, while we had gained her humor, her tenacity, her spunk, her curiosity, her vibrancy, and her heart.



Sanctuary Life


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