If you’re like me, there’s little you won’t do to enrich the life of your dog or your cat: we want our beloveds to thrive. That same approach occurs here at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, where we individualize our care for the 300+ animals who call our Sanctuary home.
But as a species, we humans don’t think much beyond the animals we call family. We certainly don’t consider the fact that the animals we eat might, if given the chance, develop into larger-than-life beings as remarkable as that “love of our life” dog or cat. But sanctuaries DO consider that truth. We honor the individuality of pigs, chickens, cows, sheep, and others, then get to watch as the animals prove to us, over and over again, that humans and farmed animals are more similar than we are different—at least in the ways that matter most.
Of the many who’ve left an indelible impression, Paulie the rooster was a game changer whose remarkable story is told in my first book, Where the Blind Horse Sings.
Originally removed from the cockfighting underworld, Paulie settled quickly into life as a Sanctuary “Underfooter” (free-ranger), and soon insisted on eating lunch with us. If we put him outside the front door, he ran around back and screamed holy hell until we let him in. He’d then find Alex at the table and begin pecking his shin. Why? Alex brought blueberries for lunch. If Alex didn’t share quickly enough, Paulie had a temper tantrum, squawking and hopping up and down, like the child who begs for candy, screaming, “Alex: I WANT MY FRIGGIN’ BLUEBERRIES!” Paulie knew the sound of my car and chased it until I stopped, picked him up, and took him for a ride. He loved my dog Murphy, often napped with him, ran to anyone who called his name, and bravely broke up pig squabbles—yes, an animal made to fight to defend his life was a peacemaker—and a courageous one! After many years with us, Paulie died in my arms, gently rubbing his head against my arm, over and over again.
“I love you,” he was so clearly saying. He was also saying goodbye.
At CAS, we share stories of other remarkable chickens: Barbie, the chicken who so loved a sheep named Rambo that she spent her days lying right next to him, pushing her big bird body into his wooly side, sometimes climbing on top of him to use him as a sofa. Jailbird and Emmet, ambassadors supreme, who sat each weekend in the laps of unsuspecting visitors, suggesting: “Everything you think about my species is wrong.” What these animals help us understand is that every single chicken we thoughtlessly consume is a someone.
Consider the following:
1. Chickens are way smarter than you’d guess. This truth is so obvious to “sanctuary people”! But scientists know it, too, and have proved that some of the chickens’ cognitive abilities are more advanced than those of some primates. Truth.
2. They have no legal protection. None. Not even in the slaughterhouse, because they’re exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act.
3. We torture billions each year to provide a product we don’t need. “Meat” chickens are forced to grow to slaughter weight in 47 days, and go to their deaths peeping like baby chicks because that, indeed, is what they are. If children grew that quickly, they’d weigh 500 pounds at 10 years old. The lives of egg-laying hens are even worse.
4. Growing 9 billion chickens a year in this country alone is devastating to the environment. It’s a leading cause, for example, of water pollution and ocean dead zones.
5. What the cluck? Consider your health: though it’s aggressively marketed as healthy, chicken is routinely found to contain significant levels of antibiotics, arsenic, fecal bacteria and other contaminants.
We humans consume billions—wrap your head around that, people!!—of chickens in the summer months alone, often in the form of “chicken salad”, “barbecued chicken,” “Waldorf salad”, and the like. We invite you to visit Catskill Animal Sanctuary, where first, our wonderful chicken friends will nestle into your arms and your heart just might open to important truths about the sanctity of all lives, and where secondly, Chef Sara from our culinary program often includes Chickpea Waldorf Salad in her weekend food demos. In the meantime, you can find many other delicious, plant-based summer recipes, including Barbequed Tempeh, in our just-released cookbook, Compassionate Cuisine: 125 Plant-Based Recipes From Our Vegan Kitchen.
For the chickens who want their lives as much as you want yours: thank you.