Last weekend, Catskill Animal Sanctuary visitors walked out with me to meet the horses we'd rescued just two days earlier. In the ten years since CAS was founded, this case was one of the worst I'd seen: twenty-four horses on a property with no food and a stagnant pond. Only one horse had a ramshackle shelter, and many were stuck up to their knees in a thick stew of mud, manure and urine. One young stallion was so weak that he crawled onto the trailer with his front legs but then collapsed, sitting on his rump to recover from the effort. Eventually, several of us helped to hoist the good boy up, then we were on our way to CAS.
Two days later, as the visitors and I approached the quarantine pasture where five young stallions were recovering, they came over the hill and toward the fence, eager to greet us. Many guests wiped away tears at the sight of the horses' dull coats and emaciated bodies. "How can people do this?" one angry woman asked. Her question begged another one, which we'll get to in a moment.
For me, healing the physical and emotional scars inflicted on an animal continues to be the most deeply satisfying part of Catskill Animal Sanctuary's work. It is also the work that resonates most with so many of our supporters, and we are grateful for their concern for each individual life. We'll share the horses' recoveries on our Website, blog and Facebook pages, and together, we'll celebrate broken bodies and spirits made whole. We invite you to make a contribution in support of this vital work.
As much as our hearts go out to these victims of unconscionable neglect, billions of others cry out for our attention. Each year in the U.S. alone, ten billion animals are tortured from birth to death in ways just as excruciating as the prolonged and profound suffering of these newly rescued horses. And whether or not you personally feel empathy for these billions of chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys and other animals "processed" to feed humans, the fact remains that their suffering is mighty; their lives even more wretched than the nightmare from which the lucky horses were removed.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary recently euthanized a hen named Barbie when a respiratory infection wouldn't clear and every breath became a struggle. Barbie was one of many "broiler" chickens fortunate enough to escape her fate and find her way to CAS. Like so many of her predecessors, Barbie was one special bird. Sometimes she'd jet down the aisle as if to say, "I'm alive!! Isn't life grand!" She had a very special relationship with Rambo, the wise old sheep whose remarkable story is told in my first book, and whose friendship with Barbie is depicted in my second book in a chapter aptly called The Audacity of Love. Quite simply, the fat white hen and the wizened sheep loved each other. Even with an entire barnyard to explore, Barbie was almost always nestled up against Rambo's woolly body. Occasionally, she'd climb atop his back and remain there for a good portion of the afternoon, using her pal as a comfy perch.
There've been so many others who've helped me understand that chicken hearts yearn to sing just as surely as human hearts, dog and cat hearts, and horse hearts do. Henry, one of our first broilers, loved to fall asleep in our laps, cuddle up with my dog Murphy on his cushy bed, and go for car rides.
Consuela loved to sing along with the radio, and accompanied me on many visits to elementary schools, during which she would walk up to a child, cock her head, and look directly into his eyes. "She's saying hello to me!" more than one child observed. Mike, our current favorite, wanders into the break room to eat lunch with us. Yesterday, I spotted him standing in the doorway at 12:20, patiently waiting for his human friends to arrive and offer him bits of their salad, rice and beans, or veggie burger.
To Purdue, Pilgrim's Pride, Tyson, Cargill and other agribusiness giants, each of these animals is nothing more than a unit of production, with every aspect of their process designed to produce the greatest number of units at the least cost. Chickens are confined, mutilated, stuffed into acrid warehouses and forced to grow huge quickly, so that by the time they reach slaughter weight at just 42 days, they are virtually unable to move. In the amount of time that it takes you to read about ten lucky horses' happy endings, 47,917 chickens, 660 pigs, and 201 cows will have will have met a most unhappy ending after brief lives during which they were confined in filth, given unnatural diets that cause painful health conditions, and deprived of any and all behaviors that give them joy. Just like the horses CAS rescued.
So I repeat the question asked of me: How can people do this? Our hearts go out in sympathy for the suffering of some, but we're complicit in the suffering of so many more for.
As you read about the horses and join us on our Web pages in celebrating their recoveries, I hope you'll also consider the cows, pigs and chickens. Whether it's for your own health, the health of a planet in desperate need of a global shift to a vegan diet, or for the animals who long for happiness as much as the horses do, may this be the moment when you say, "I get it. I'm done. I'm going veg."
We've put together a short video that we hope will support you in your journey towards greater compassion for all beings. Thanks to our friend Chrissy Budzinski for use of her wonderful song, "If I Could Talk." I look forward to your comments.