“Each animal is an individual who brings to the world the mystery of a mind, a heart, a language, a memory, a unique personality, a biography.”
Many of the animals at Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary were rescued from ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ facilities, small family farms, and other food production situations that are typically considered ‘humane’. The stories of these animals, lovingly shared by sanctuary volunteer Joanna Lucas, tell the truth about these methods of food production.
The PPS blog tells stories of liberation, of freedom and of lives saved. It is truly heartwarming to know that there are places where animals are actually treated as persons, individuals with needs and desires, and members of the moral community.
It really must be hard for them to believe.
Yet the real treasures offered by the blog, in my opinion, are the sobering reminders of what their torment actually does to these animals. Frequently, when animals are brought to the sanctuary, their emotional and psychological wounds do not heal so readily, even when the horror of the concentration camp is long behind them.
I was in tears reading the story of Melvin, a rescued turkey whose five friends died one by one at the sanctuary, crippled by the unnatural stresses of their disfigured bodies, which had been manipulated for early slaughter.
“… for a brief time after their arrival at the sanctuary, they were grounded so firmly in the hope of things, that they seemed inextinguishable… But almost as soon as they entered this welcoming world, it started to ebb away from them… As they became progressively crippled, their genetically manipulated bodies growing around them like tumors, engulfing them in their grip, suffocating, choking, destroying them in the name of our ‘turkey dinners’, their ability to participate in life diminished. Their daily cavalcades into the open fields became slower and slower, shorter and shorter, fewer and fewer, and then, eventually, not at all: George, Stanley, Alfred, Elmer and Archie died one by one, and, with each of them, a whole world of consciousness, memories, yearnings, everything each of them knew and remembered ceased to exist…
After each loss, Melvin’s own light dimmed, as if disconnected from a power source. And, as the burden of sorrows, ailments and age accumulated, it took him longer and longer to return to life… But he always did. He lifted himself from sadnesses that grew deeper and deeper with each new loss… Then, one day, he did not. When Shylo, his last remaining friend died, he isolated himself in the back of the barn and refused to leave. Morning after morning, the gates would fling open and everyone would rush out to greet the day, but Melvin did not. He remained rooted in the same dark spot and refused to leave. He did not move, he did not turn, he did not look away from the wall.”
I strongly encourage readers to follow the link to Melvin’s story, because it becomes even more remarkable, as it actually turns into a love story. Amazingly, the only way Melvin could be brought out of his depression was by weekly visits from his favorite human. Yes… A human. Perhaps the love he found with Ruth served as an antidote to the poison in his spirit from the horrors inflicted on him by others of her kind.
Then there is Marcie the sheep, whose ability to love transcended her fear, as she learned how to trust, despite a lifetime of betrayal:
“Like all farmed animals, Marcie was defined not by what was there, but by what was missing – the visible and invisible amputations of a lifetime of slavery – mutilated body, broken spirit, wounded soul, unrealized potential, capacity for pain filled to the brim, capacity for joy left utterly empty. In her years of confinement on a small family farm, where she repeatedly watched her babies being killed, so much had already been taken from her that, by the time she was rescued and brought to a place where she could finally begin her life, there wasn’t much left to build a life on.”
Just today I read the story of Libby and Louie, and the next thing I knew, I couldn’t hold back tears. Louie, an ‘alpha’ rooster, became the guardian and constant companion of Libby, a silent hen, crippled by the loss of her foot to the wire floor of the ‘cage-free’ egg facility from which she was rescued. Their story demonstrates a capacity for love that most humans would do well to learn from.
“There was the silent song of giving up his treasured roost in the rafters, his nest in the sky where he had bunked every night of his years before Libby, the space where he felt safest surrendering to sleep, strongest entering the night. Happiest. But, in her lameness, Libby couldn’t join him there. She managed to climb next to him a few times but, with only one foot to grip the perch, she kept losing her balance and fell to the ground and, after a while, she stopped trying and just stayed there. So Louie quietly descended and settled next to her in her terrestrial roost – a long, narrow tent created by a leaning plywood board – and he slept near the entrance, exposing himself to the intrusions of curious goats, wandering cats and restless geese, the better to protect Libby from them.
There was the soundless song of limiting the sport of his summer days to fewer and fewer hours when the stiffness in Libby’s stump increased with age, and the effort of following Louie in the fields, hobbling and wobbling behind him, turned from tiring to exhausting in fewer and fewer steps. At first, she was able to make it till 6 in the evening, but then 6 became 5, and 5 became 4, and then it was barely 3 in the glorious middle of a summer day when she felt too weary to go on. The day was still in its full splendor, there was still so much more of its gift to explore and experience, and there was still so much energy and curiosity left in Louie to explore with, but Libby was tired, and she had to go to her tent under the plywood plank, and rest her aching joints. And Louie followed. With Libby gone from the dazzling heat of the summer day, the night came early for both of them.”
Joanna describes how Louie did the ‘speaking’ for both of them – not because Libby was mute, but because she preferred to remain silent. Louie, ‘the most resplendently bedecked and befeathered rooster of the sanctuary’, devoted himself to Libby. Throughout the day, while Louie would make the usual sounds that accompany the behavior of hens and roosters, Libby remained silent…
“Except today. Today, it was Libby who ‘spoke’ for both of them. And, this time, there was no doubt whose voice it was, or what it was saying, because it split open the sky, punctured the clouds, issued forth with such gripping force and immediacy that it stopped you dead in your tracks. It was a sound of such pure sorrow and longing, hanging there all alone, in stark and immaculate solitude, high above the din of sanctuary life, like the heart-piercing cry of an albatross. She had started to cluck barely audibly at dawn, when Louie failed to get up and lingered listlessly in their nest. She continued her plaintive murmur into the afternoon, when Louie became too weak to hold his head up and collapsed in a heap of limp feathers. And then, when we scooped him up and quarantined him into a separate room for treatment, her soft lament turned to a wrenching wail…
… But we underestimated both his strength and her determination. Libby did find her soul mate again. We don’t know how she managed to get into the locked rehab room, but she did… She found her way into his room, only she knows how, and Louie found his way back to life too, seemingly at the same moment. There he was, looking up for the first time in days, life flaring in his eyes again, and there she was, huddled next to him, quietly sharing his hospital crate. And there they still are, Louie, slowly recovering, and Libby, blissfully silent again. She hasn’t moved since. She won’t leave his side now that she’s found him again, she refuses to even look away from him, as if he might disappear in one blink of her eye, as if the force of her gaze alone can keep him anchored in life.”
This is the kind of love that many humans search for, in vain, their entire lives. Perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves why it seems to come so much more easily to animals, and what it is they are in touch with, that is so difficult for us to access?
Simply put, the Peaceful Prairie blog posts are some of the best pieces of writing I have read on the internet.
Learning who these animals really are is an essential key to seeing them as individuals, and granting them the rights to which they are entitled. It is within our power to break down the artificial barriers we have constructed between ourselves and our fellow animals. It is within our power to break through the cultural conditioning that causes us to see certain animals as objects simply because we like to eat them. We hold the key not only to their liberation, but to our own. Is not humanity longing for freedom from this guilt with which we live, the guilt that we can not help but bear as a result of the extreme terror we inflict on innocent animals every day, for the sake of nothing more than our perverted desires?
The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog offers remarkable glimpses into the emotional lives of animals who have been given ‘a second chance at life’. These animals are the lucky ones – rescued from certain death, freed from a life of slavery, and provided a safe home where they can maybe, just maybe, find the peace that they deserve.
Image: Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary