Posted on Oct 18, 2018
I held her against my chest, folding her feathers so they were smooth again. I kissed her face and cradled her in my arms as she relaxed into my embrace. The symphony of peep, peep, peeps lulled me into a happy trance, while one after the other came to sit by me until I was surrounded by a sea of white downy loveliness. I spoke to her softly, telling her how much I love her, and how much she means to us all. I stroked her chest and her little fluffy head until her eyes closed and she fell asleep in my arms. If I could, I would puff myself up into a very large bird, become their mommy, and keep them all warm and safe underneath me. To me, they are clearly innocent babies. Their eyes are a soft baby blue, their voices beg for nurturing, and their rubbery yellow feet, uncalloused yet by the world, are endearing and sweet. I would give anything for them to grow up, learn to crow or lay eggs, fall in love, watch the seasons change, and have a rich, full life. But I know that they will never get that chance.
Strength is one of the smallest, but also the first one to show signs of immobility. Her legs splayed apart and she walked with a limp. When the vet could not find a fracture, he was perplexed and told us that the sheer weight of her little body was enough to make it impossible for her to use one of her legs. But she was such a fighter, so feisty! As the weeks pressed on and it got harder and harder for her to walk right, she would try anyway. She never accepted defeat. She never took “no” for an answer. We called her Strength.
Her favorite spot was in our arms. She was not comfortable sitting on the ground, but hated the wheelchair and would catapult out of it if we were not careful. She became completely full of life once placed outside and would gobble up as much grass as she could. She was curious, animated, vocal for what she wanted, and affectionate. When she was tiny we held her a lot. So as she grew, when she would see us, she would run to us to be held. And when walking was no longer possible she would struggle with all her might to get over to us, until we picked her up. Even though most of the chicks looked alike and we had to work hard at telling them apart, we always knew who Strength was, as she exhausted all efforts getting our attention.
When The Chairman of our board called and said he was on his way to us with twenty chicks from a factory farm, I knew that the day would come, when we would have to help them out of their bodies. I knew all too well how big they would get and how fast. I knew that they would die as infants. I knew they would have trouble walking. And I knew that we would have to make excruciating decisions. But even knowing all this, I didn’t realize how much I would try to cling to denial. I didn’t foresee how much I would try to hold on to them, even when they could no longer walk or stand. And after months of witnessing how strong they were, I didn’t foretell how strong I would have to be to let them go.
At The Gentle Barn, we would do anything for an animal to thrive. We have operated on animals who vets wanted to put down. We brought home animals who seemed to stand no chance of making it. We have given the most vicious and broken a chance to recover, and even when it has taken years, they have chosen life. But when an animal can no longer eat or walk and stands no chance of recovery, there are times that we must walk them home. And that is the hardest and most important work of all! We took the Tennessee chicks in knowing they would be short-lived. Knowing that we had to share their story for the greatest impact because they shared the story of millions in factory farms. And understanding that we would have to love them as much as possible, hold them as long as possible, and give the best possible life, for we never knew when the end would come. And for six of our chicks, the end is here. They cannot walk or stand. They are unable to get to food or water. They cannot move themselves into the shade or warmth. The circulation is cut off to their legs which causes discomfort. Of course, we spend all day, every day making sure they eat and drink, moving them from the sun to the shade, massaging their legs, and shifting positions. But if we let them lie there any longer, bed sores will develop, and they will start to suffer, which we cannot allow. We do not want to see them go, but we cannot permit them to stay and hurt. By accepting them in, we have vowed to love and protect them, feed and care for them, and help them transition when the time comes.
When most people go into the grocery store and buy chicken, they do not know that they lived in a dark warehouse and never saw the light of day. They don’t know that because they are in their own feces and ammonia, that by the time they are a few weeks old they are blind and can barely breathe. They don’t know that because of the genetic engineering, by the time they are a few weeks old they cannot walk. And they don’t know that the ten-pound bird they are bringing home is a seven-week-old baby still peeping for their mommy. They don’t know that they had personalities and friends, and a will to live, even under those horrific circumstances. And they don’t realize that they were terrified when they died. If only that was on the label! Or better yet…. if only animals didn’t come with labels at all, and were only known for their unconditional love, their affection, their intelligence, and the way they feel when they are in our arms, falling asleep because we love them so much! Thank you, Carolina, Aretha, Prince, Kenny, Whitney, and Strength for the way you felt in our arms! We will never forget it!