Voices Of Someones
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Changing the Way We Think About Farm Animals
On the cover:
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the Suidae family of even-toed ungulates. Pigs include the domestic pig and its ancestor, the common Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa), along with other species; related creatures outside the genus include the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog. Pigs, like all suids, are native to the Eurasian and African continents. Juvenile pigs are known as piglets. Pigs are highly social and intelligent animals.
Animal Ambassadors Inspiring Compassion
Pam Ahern is the founder of Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary, a scenic 153 acres nestled in the Macedon Ranges, just outside of Lancefield, Australia, home to over 300 rescued animals. Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary, or Edgar’s Mission, was named in honor of her first rescued pig, Edgar Alan Pig. The charming and affable pig would not only become an ambassador for pigs and all farm animals, but he would also leave behind a lasting legacy of kindness, love, and compassion. Edgar, known as “the pig who started it all,” came into Ahern’s life with the arrival of actor, James Cromwell, who was “Farmer Haggett” from the movie, Babe. Cromwell, a passionate animal activist, was visiting Australia in May of 2003, and had agreed to help Ahern create awareness about the plight of pigs in the realm of lax animal protection legislation. To create awareness, Cromwell would be photographed with a pig; Ahern soon had the idea to procure their own pig from a piggery, who would then live with her: a landrace large white cross, Ahern named Edgar. Acknowledging Edgar would need a large area to call home, Ahern created a sanctuary. Heartbreaking to everyone who had the opportunity to meet him, Edgar passed away shortly after his seventh birthday party in April of 2010.
Ahern and the Edgar’s Mission family hope to save more lives through the inclusion of farm animals in animal welfare legislation. As Ahern accounts, the approximate 500 million “food” or “production” animals have been excluded from the protection of Australian animal welfare legislation, as millions of farmed animals endure lives of misery in factory farms, on a daily basis. “Barely able to move, they endure acts of cruelty that would be illegal if they were your cat or dog.” The “life” of a factory-farmed animals: an existence without sunshine, deprived of freedom and the opportunity to socialize, and devoid of hope. As Ahern accounts, this is because we have designated some animals appropriate to be our friends, and other animals to be our food, but “they are no different. All share the same ability to suffer, the same need and desire to experience life, for it to have joy, meaning, and purpose.”
Perhaps the most influential voice for farmed animals, are the animals themselves. When people have the opportunity to meet them and interact with them, people develop a new sense of respect and affection for their new friends, perhaps reconsidering their lifestyle and transitioning towards a cruelty-free lifestyle. As Farm Sanctuary (with the mission is to protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living, operating three shelters: in upstate New York, Northern California, and Southern California) describes, visitors can give a pig a belly rub, talk to a turkey, or kiss a cow, as the residents at Farm Sanctuary love visitors, taking a break from frolicking in joy and freedom.
Ahern also recognized the power of the animals. As a farmed animal advocate, Ahern would attempt to gain people’s attention in order to share with them informative flyers, speaking to animal welfare, but it was in meeting Edgar which truly resonated in people’s minds. “People learned more from one long look in Edgar’s eyes than in all the flyers I handed out.” The walks with Edgar illustrated to Ahern the best way to create awareness and gain people’s attention: “If you have a pig, they will come!” It is in meeting and interacting with the gentle souls at Edgar’s Mission which resonates deeply within people, as Ahern observes, “We will always have animals as our ambassadors for kindness and change.”
Chickens: Emotional and Intelligent, with Unique Personalities
Miranda Lee, is perhaps one of Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director, Susie Coston’s favorite Farm Sanctuary residents. Miranda Lee is extremely curious, recognizes individual voices, names, and people, running up to a person she recognizes, particularly Coston. Miranda Lee has an affection for people, allowing people to pet her; she will go out of her way to find someone, “If she hears your voice, she will come find you!” such as during one evening when Coston was giving medication at the pig barn. Coston turned around, and “there was Miranda Lee!” With a laugh, Coston notes, Miranda Lee now knows where Coston’s office is, where she will look through the glass doors, to look for Coston.
Chicquin, a rooster, is a someone who has a special place in Ahern’s heart, as she considers Chicquin to be “a very special fellow,” and a great teacher. Chicquin was the product of a school hatching program, and once the program was complete, a family decided to adopt him. Unfortunately, the family did not realize that their council, like so many, did not permit crowing roosters. The family was desperate to find a safe home for Chicquin, where Edgar’s Mission came to the rescue. This special fellow had taught Ahern so many things during their time together, “but the insight into the chicken’s world was perhaps the greatest gift to me.” Ahern sadly reflects, chickens are the most mistreated of farmed animals, perhaps because many people don’t think of chickens as emotional, intelligent, or having unique personalities. However, Chicquin illustrated that chickens do have wonderful, individualistic personalities, “I love him and he loved me,” often running on his thin, little chicken legs, when Ahern called his name. Chicquin liked to snuggle and he was a wonderful helper in the office. As Ahern observes, “The idea that chickens could be affectionate and do make intelligent, chatty companions, is a little known fact,” suggesting people spend an afternoon with a chicken, and perhaps, people may reconsider what they would have on their dinner plate.
Today, a cheeky little fellow, named Red Baron, embarks on adventures and shenanigans with his friend, Vet Nurse Ruby, a favorite resident of Edgar’s Mission, also the sanctuary’s official greeter. Before Vet Nurse Ruby, a pure-bred working sheep dog, came to the sanctuary, her previous owner had paid a large amount of money, expecting the puppy to be the consummate herding dog; however, Ruby was too kind hearted and fun loving to be a sheep dog, and the farmer grew frustrated with her, beating her. One day, he had enough of Ruby, and took her to a friend’s house to be shot. The friend retrieved the gun, and Ruby jumped up on him, looking directly into his eyes. The friend lowered his gun, and made a phone call to Edgar’s Mission. As Ahern observes, “This would be the first of countless hearts that she has been able to ‘wake up,’” when Ruby joined Edgar’s Mission on July 6, 2009. Ruby is determined to greet every single visitor to Edgar’s Mission, both human and non-human, ensuring that everyone feels kindness through her gentle touch, or gentle lick. Ahern comments, if you’re a human, Ruby will sit in your lap and share your lunch with you, perhaps before giving you a tour of the sanctuary. “All of the animal residents know dear Ruby. She acts as playmate with the young and boisterous as well as her much admired role of nurse to the sick and injured;” through her loving, reassuring kisses, her vigilant observation, and supportive body warmth, Ruby has healed many of Edgar’s Mission’s most vulnerable rescued residents. Vet Nurse Ruby demonstrates that friendship has no bounds of shape, or species.
Pigs: Intelligent and Focused
As Ahern and the Edgar’s family can attest, pigs are extremely intelligent, as many animal welfare advocates cite this particular observational experiment to illustrate the pig’s intelligence. According to the Associated Press, via The Seattle Times, Stanley Curtis, former Professor of Animal Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, had taught two pigs, Hamlet and Omelette, to play video games in January of 1997, after vigilantly testing their eyesight to ensure they could see the game screen. Within weeks, the pigs had learned to pucker up, using their snouts and teeth to make the tractor gear-shift joystick move the cursor around the screen; if they placed the cursor to the correct place, they were given a sweet reward. When Curtis changed the rules for getting the reward, the pigs quickly learned and kept playing, as “They beg to be the first ones out of their pens, then they trot up the ramp to play,” observes Curtis. Curtis has also taught the pigs to turn the heat in the barn up or down, as he remained hopeful of observing “some of the quieter species and see if we can unlock their secrets.” Farm Sanctuary cites, “Pig Video Arcades Critique Life in the Pen,” which appeared in Wired, reporting on Curtis’s assertion that the pigs learned to play games as quickly as chimpanzees, where “Hamlet and Omelette exhibited more interest in the task at hand than their primate cousins…”
As Hamlet and Omelette has demonstrated, pigs have the capability of focusing their attention. As Coston accounts Nikki and Rose, who are former gestation sows, rescued from Iowa, during the floods of 2008. Nikki was found on a levee, as she well-hid her babies; as the other animals on the levee was starving, Nikki’s kept her babies fed, despite the fact that she was also starving, “she was skin and bones.” Rose is also a wonderful parent, as a surrogate mother to Rory, one of Nikki’s children. As Coston accounts, Rose was a little older than Nikki, in worse condition, as she had arthritis in her legs and was flat-footed, due to her time at the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, where sows are kept in sow stalls, a steel cage which completely surrounds the sow, restricting movement), seeing “every bone in her body.” Rose recently had babies, who all passed away, either due to being born premature, or lack of food as Rose was too emaciated to produce milk. Nikki had come in with her babies, where Rose’s spirits were lifted, as she wanted to watch Nikki’s babies. Arriving at the sanctuary, all the gestation sows lived together; Rose was able to help with Nikki’s babies; as Nikki went to bed at night, Rose would herd the babies into the barn. The highlight for Rose was being a surrogate mother for Rory, who was kicked out of the herd, by dominant Chuck (pigs are territorial with a hierarchy). As Rory was isolated, Rose would sleep with Rory every night, happy to make nests for Rory. To Coston, all farm animals have relationships similar to relationships dogs and cats have, with the ability to exhibit happiness and excitement, but perhaps expressing their emotions in a different way.
Cows: Altruistic and Protective
Cows can be protective of their families, as Coston recalls the story of Cincinnati Freedom, affectionately known as “Cinci.” Cinci, was an escapee from the stock house, where she jumped over the wall, as she was aware that she would soon be slaughtered. Coston observes, the animals will arrive to the slaughter houses in groups, and know each other; animals are incredibly aware that death is imminent, as they smell the blood, and sense one another’s fear. Cinci, a pure white cow, ventured to a park and was sighted for the next 11-12 days, as if she was a ghost; Farm Sanctuary offered a home for her at the sanctuary. Cinci was vaccinated before arriving to the sanctuary, where in preparation, a high stall was built, knowing Cinci’s propensity for escaping. With a laugh, Coston recalls, the second night Cinci was at the sanctuary, she had knocked down the barn door to join the herd of cows she heard! Cinci was incredibly fearful of people due to her prior experience, where she was always vigilant; “the second she saw a person, she stopped playing.”
Cinci developed cancer in her spine, where she began dragging her feet; as the tumors grew larger, Cinci would not be able to use her back, and soon, she was unable to walk. Sympathetic, Coston observes, Cinci must have been terrified, as she was completely vulnerable and could not walk; Cinci would drag her front legs in effort to run away. Cinci’s condition was getting progressively worse, where the difficult decision was made to euthanize her, and a veterinarian was called to the sanctuary. Cinci’s herd, consisting of 40 individuals, realized the situation, as they began making fearful sounds; “every one came and surrounded us, with [Cinci], me, and the veterinarian in the middle, [even] denting the veterinarian’s car.” Kevin, the head of the herd, approached Cinci, licking her face, in efforts to calm her, as the entire herd stayed with Cinci, making “crazy noises they usually don’t make, “ a clear expression of their concern for Cinci. Once Cinci passed, Coston and the veterinarian departed, but allowed the herd to stay, perhaps for them to understand what has happened. Coston returned with the veterinarian to bury Cinci, where the herd chased him back onto the tractor he arrived on! It was 24 hours before Cinci could be buried. To Coston, Cinci needed her herd to feel safe, as her herd understood she was terrified of people, and needed to protect her, a concept that is impressive to Coston.
Clarabelle and Valentine, her Valentine’s Day baby were the Edgar’s Mission residents who affected Ahern the most. Eight-year-old Clarabelle was pregnant, but was no longer producing enough milk, and was consequently being sent to slaughter; however, Edgar’s Mission rescued her, and she began her new life in late November of 2014. In mid-February of 2015, Clarabelle’s behavior was indicating something was amiss; her baby was not expected for another week, yet something was odd. “A firm favourite: to be first to feeding, on this occasion, Clarabelle was not.” Clarabelle apprehensively walked to the paddock, intermittently, yet showed no enthusiasm to eat. Ahern and her team noticed that Clarabelle had one engorged teat, indicating that Clarabelle was hiding a secret.
Clarabelle had given birth, yet there was no calf to be seen. However, “an enchanted forest that claimed the tiniest section of the rear part of this field offered an answer.” Ahern and her team ventured through the trees, until they finally discovered a tiny bundle of brownness, “ever so carefully hidden in the tall grass and camouflaged by fallen logs.” However, this beautiful, “innocent, big eyed darling was no newborn calf,” as Valentine was fully clean and dry, along with her umbilical cord, and no afterbirth in sight. Ahern suspected that Clarabelle, having had each of her calves taken from her shortly after they were born, was determined to keep this baby, stashing the little one in the forest, as if nothing had happened. However, Ahern observes, something had happened, something had changed: no one would ever take Clarabelle’s baby again.
To Ahern, Clarabelle affected her the most, in Clarabelle’s role of creating awareness in the truth behind the dairy industry. Consumers rarely reflect upon the conditions of the dairy industry and the cows who produce 106 litres and 13 kilograms of cheese the average Australian consumes each year. Consumers have a romanticized notion of happy cows, grazing in green pastures, doing their “jobs” in providing consumers milk and other dairy products. However, in order to produce milk year round, a cow must be kept in an essentially, perpetual state of pregnancy and lactation, as the calves are taken away from his or her mother shortly after birth. Ahern is happy that she and the Edgar’s Mission family were able to help Valentine and her Mum, who have helped to spread awareness about the truth behind dairy products. Ahern hopes that in people learning about Clarabelle and Valentine, it will inspire them to choose one of the myriad of non-dairy milks available.
The Future for Farm Animals
To Ahern, the most powerful way to help end animal suffering can be accomplished through transitioning into a cruelty-free lifestyle. Ahern observes, “The laws of supply and demand dictate that fewer animals will be killed if fewer people are eating them. The decisions we make and the example we set will help turn the tide towards a world where there is kindness and justice for all animals.” Ahern is confident that when people transition, they will feel a “deep joy and profound sense of relief at contributing to the end of animal suffering by leaving animals off their plate.” When transitioning, Ahern advises, become informed, as there are many resourceful websites which will serve as a guide for the transition; Ahern also recommends people become connected, as the vegan community is friendly and supportive, ready to welcome new people into the community.
Farm Sanctuary advocates a vegan lifestyle, to help end the cruelty and abuse of farm animals. As Coston observes, it is tragic that farm animals face cruelty, just because of who they were born as, they are considered food. To Coston, farm animals are no different from dogs or cats, exhibiting feelings of happiness, fear, satisfaction, and developing relationships; chickens will even peck to get attention (as chickens use their beaks since they don’t have hands or paws, as a dog or cat would to paw for attention). Coston elaborates further, “Knowing they have feelings, it should be our role to make sure they aren’t suffering,” to protect them. Carnivores, such as tigers, must eat meat in order to survive; however, we, as omnivores, can survive on a plant-based diet. Coston hopes we can make informed decisions based on scientific facts, with a thought-provoking observation: in eating farm animals, “not only are we taking their lives, but we’re also not allowing them to live their lives.”
Voices of Someones
As Edgar’s Mission is a home for rescued animals, it is also a voice. As Ahern observes, “Being advocates for farmed animals can feel frustrating and hopeless, but I am sure that is how all activists for social change sometimes felt…” noting that human bondage had been abolished, child labor has been outlawed, and women received their right to vote. Ahern is optimistic that animals—all animals—will gain their rights, through the same hard work and perseverance, “changing one heart and opening one mind, at a time.” It was Edgar Alan Pig’s charming personality which helped him champion the cause of pigs, and all farmed animals, accomplished through sheer kindness, as the first of a great line of ambassadors, who call Edgar’s Mission their home. Ahern, the Edgar’s Mission family, and the Edgar’s Mission animal ambassadors welcome visitors, and hopes that after meeting the residents, or even reading their stories (as the residents of Edgar’s Mission has reached people globally), people can decide which life these beautiful beings need, and deserve.
As Coston, observes, farm animals have a complex world; they are “very beautiful and wonderful animals with the ability to do damage, but don’t,” as they are sympathetic to us, as long as we respect one another’s boundaries. Coston feels fortunate to be a part of Farm Sanctuary, as it allows her the opportunity to observe the residents’ individual personalities, as the sanctuary facilitates an environment conducive to these personalities to shine. In addition to seeing these personalities, the sanctuary provides an environment to observe the relationships the animals establish, distinguishing who have relationships with whom. Observation at the sanctuary allows the animals to express emotion they may not be able to in the wild. To Coston, it is incredible to witness the complexity of the relationships animals can develop, as can be “very intense for them.” Farm Sanctuary provides a safe environment, where the animals are no longer fearful; as Coston observes, living in fear, you cannot be yourself; at the sanctuary, the animals are rarely scared, facilitating the opportunity to see the animals for they are. At the sanctuary, the residents get to be who they are, whereas farm animals existing in CAFOs, we will “never be able to see them.”
Undoubtedly, these animal ambassadors, the voices of someones, have opened the minds and touched the hearts of an innumerable amount of people, who not only become voices for farmed animals, but also their proud friends.
To learn more, please visit: Edgarsmission.org | Facebook | Farmsanctuary.org | Facebook
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)