Please meet Anne and Jessica Turkey, named for vegan beauties Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.
Having been given the full spa treatment, including bath and blow dry (see video), they will be joining us for the Thanksgiving feast as the guests of honor -- at the table rather than on it. The only turkey on my Thanksgiving table is a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon. It's next to the photo of Olivia, my first turkey love.
I met Olivia in the year 2000, when I visited the Poplar Spring Farm Animal Sanctuary. Having fallen for Babe, the movie star, I thought I was there to meet the pigs. But the sanctuary owner, Terry, started our tour at the turkey coop and changed my life.
Terry opened the gate, and Olivia hobbled toward me -- "hobbled" because the ends of her toes had been cut off. Terry explained that turkeys on factory farms are crammed so close together that their claws and beaks injure each other's lucrative flesh, and it's cheaper to cut them off than to give the animals enough space. I learned that such practices are legal because the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates housing, exempts animals used for food, and animal cruelty laws exempt any "standard agricultural practice" no matter how painful. I learned that turkeys are not even covered under federal humane slaughter laws; no poultry is, even though birds make up approximately 95 percent of animals slaughtered for food.
More happily I learned that turkeys love to be cuddled. As I sat cross-legged on the grassy hill near the coop, Olivia limped in my direction. First she came close enough for me to reach out and touch her -- gingerly. Then she moved further in, and I could pet her. It was surprisingly like petting my dog.
I reached my fingers under the outer feathers on her back and could feel a layer of soft down underneath. I had only ever felt that down in luxury pillows. How odd and lovely to feel it warm on a living being.
Within a couple of minutes, Olivia had edged herself into my lap! I continued to move my fingers through her down. She laid her head in the crook of my elbow. She fell asleep. I fell in love.
I wished I could take her home with me, but I settled for sponsoring her at the sanctuary.
Olivia showed remarkable longevity for a modern turkey. Bred to be deformed, with a grotesquely huge chest for lots of "white meat," she'd been too weak to stand when she had arrived at the sanctuary. But apparently a home with space to move, grass to enjoy, sunshine in which to bathe, and loving care had given her the will to live. And live she did, happily, until 2005, when I received the sad news that the sanctuary's lovely little turkey ambassador, my little ward, had died of cancer.
In Olivia's honor I started to sponsor a new turkey every Thanksgiving. Then, in 2008, I brought two to my home, saved from the local slaughter industry, in order to do a bit of media work. Now I can't imagine "Turkey Day" without live turkeys.
They come to me pretty stinky, often covered in excrement from their cagemates, so that's why they get a bath. And while the blow dry might make you think I missed my calling as a hairdresser, it's actually a necessity. Turkeys are waterproof; their beautiful soft down is protected by thick outer feathers, which hinder both water and airflow, so if you are going to wash the layers underneath, you have to blow-dry them or they just won't dry.
Anne and Jessica are in better shape than most turkeys. They have obviously come from a free-range farm, as they still have their beaks and toes, which is rare.
But their intended fate was no better than that of the other 45 million turkeys killed for Thanksgiving, so it sure is lovely to hear from the front yard, as I type this, their sweet and very alive turkey noises.
They are so affectionate. My video shows them calling out from the front door, and this morning, before I had a chance to put up the barrier, they marched right in. As I tried to usher them out, Jessica just sat down and wouldn't budge. They really are just like dogs. The neighborhood kids are getting that message, and I know that "tofurky" sales have been up at the local supermarket since I started doing my annual turkey rescue.
In December we'll take Anne and Jessica up to the Animal Place sanctuary in northern California, where they'll live out their lives as ambassadors, entertaining children and teaching them that turkeys, like all animals, just want to be loved. I hope that people touched by this little tale will sponsor them and all the other wonderful animals at Animal Place.
Mostly I hope that people will keep in mind that "Turkey Day" can be a lot more fun when the turkeys are alive and well.
UPDATE: Annie and Jessica ended up going not to Animal Place but to Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California. You can visit them there, and you can learn more about their "Adopt a Turkey" project by clicking here.