If his mother could see him now—her beloved boy, alive and well, and cherished, in a land of love and plenty. If she could see the way he sauntered out of the rescue trailer, swift and surefooted as a deer, the way he glided into this welcoming world as if he recognized it, as if he remembered its essence of love and fairness. If she could see the way the new world embraced her son, with such warmth and benevolence, the way it opened its arms to him and promised everything she had fought so desperately—and failed so bitterly—to secure for him: the peace to live, the freedom to flourish.
Last time she saw him, it was the dead of December. He was two days old—a thumb of a child wobbling around on impossibly long legs, casting the light of his enormous eyes on the dark world that had replaced the perfect promise of the womb, and suckling her with such avid hunger, such astonished gulps, such joyous urgency, as if drinking not the mere milk of a mortal mother, but life itself.
He was sleeping and hiccuping in his full-bellied dreams when the men came to take him away. She charged them even before they walked into her pen. She stomped, she kicked, she bellowed her terrible threats and terrors, her mighty fears and furies, her pitiful pleas and supplications, all in one anguished breath, she put her battered body between her infant and his attackers, she struggled frantically to protect him, to keep him out of harm’s way, to simply keep him, and give him the love, the peace, the goodness she had never known. They took him anyway.
One man sidled in the back of the stall while the other tormented her with an electric prod and, a moment later, her baby was gone, and she was alone again with the wound of a mother’s worst loss, and the unbearable experience of being forced to fail, once again, in the only way that mattered to her: to protect her child.
Six months later, she is still making sweet milk for her lost boy, and every drop of it is still being plundered by humans. She is pregnant again, with another rape child who will be torn from her shortly after birth—to be killed, if he’s a boy, or forced into a life of misery, if she’s a girl. She will never get to nurse, nurture, and watch any of them grow. But one found his way to freedom.
If she could see him now, with Spring on his breath, and endless plains opening underfoot, and a community of free beings to belong to, and a whole life to live, love, and flourish.
He is exactly where his mother desperately wished him to be, in a peaceful world that, even though she has never seen with her own eyes, she saw, even more clearly and powerfully, with her heart when her son was born, she felt it in the way any mother would—as the burning certainty that peace was necessary and essential for her baby’s survival—and, for a day, the glow of that heart’s vision was more real to her, and more solid, than the bone-crushing burden of her bitter existence.
She, who had known nothing but anguish, abuse and deprivation, felt with the clarity of love, that another world was not only possible, it was as real as her baby’s life, indeed, it was necessary for her baby to live. She felt this other world in her own fervent determination that her son be safe, be free, be loved. And that fierce imperative to protect and provide for her baby, to create—by the power of her own body and soul—the haven where her child would be safe and loved, was the closest she ever got to the vegan world, the sanctuary, that her only surviving son was entering now, on Mother’s Day, a day when her tormentors celebrate motherhood.
If she could see him now—her nub of a child, grown into a tall, lanky boy: Clifford!— strutting around on impossibly long legs, casting the light of his enormous eyes on the radiant world that has replaced the dark betrayal of the dairy farm, and drinking in its perfect promise with such avid hunger, such astonished gulps, such joyous urgency, as if living—and seeing—for two.
by Joanna Lucas
Originally published on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog
It took extraordinary events – a shattering blow, like the loss of her right foot to the wire floor of the “cage-free” egg farm where she was rescued from, or a rapturous release, like her arrival at the sanctuary, or a seismic shift like Louie’s absence – to shake, charm, or punish a sound out of Libby. It’s not that her voice was frozen in fear, like so many of her fellow refugees. It’s not that she was shy, feeble, injured, or ill. She was quiet. And, unlike so many of her kin, she did not enjoy, or need to, commit her inner experiences to the stream of constant humming that often fills chicken communities with the music of their thoughts. Libby’s thoughts were silent. Silence was her nature, her disposition, her remedy, her talent, her power, her gift, and her pleasure. She looked at the world in soundless wonder – her thoughts, streaming and darting, swelling and swarming in the dark pools of her eyes – and filled it with the hush of her mind.
In the blush of her first weeks at the sanctuary, when everything astonished her – the open sky, the endless fields, the scent of rain, the feel of straw underfoot – we thought we heard her voice a few times: small, joyful cries coming out of nowhere, seemingly formed out of thin air, the musical friction of invisible particles, not the product of straining, vibrating, trembling vocal chords, but a sound of pure joy coming from the heart of life itself. But, after she paired up with Louie and became his sole partner, Libby turned so completely quiet, that we began to wonder if the voice we had heard in the beginning was truly hers.
Louie’s delight in the sound and functioning of his own magnificent voice, his pleasure in putting sound faces on everything – their finds and failures, their contentments and complaints, their yearnings and fears, their joys and hopes, the major, minor or minute events of their daily lives together – gave Libby the improbable ability of being heard without making a sound. For the first time in her life, she could enjoy the bliss of silence and the full power of voice at the same time. Her thoughts, her needs, her feelings, her pleasures and displeasures, were all there – perfectly voiced, perfectly formed, perfectly delivered in Louie’s utterings – each experience, captured in the jewel of a flawlessly pitched note. And in these notes, you could hear the developing musical portrait of Libby’s inner happenings.
There was the sighed coo for Libby’s request to slide under his wing, the raspy hiss for her alarm at OJ, the “killer” cat’s approach, the purred hum for her pleasure in dustbathing, the bubbling trill for her enjoyment in eating pumpkin seeds straight out of the pumpkin’s cool core on a summer day, the grinding creak for her tiredness, the rusty grumble for her achy joints.
There was the growing vocabulary of songs used to voice their shared moments of delight – the lucky find of the treasure trove hidden in a compost pile, discovered by Libby and dug out with Louie’s help to reveal a feast of riches to taste, eat, explore, investigate or play with; or the gift of walking side by side into the morning sun and greeting a new day together; or the adventure of sneaking into the pig barn and chasing the flies that landed on the backs of the slumbering giants.
Occasionally, there were the soundbursts for their shared moments of displeasure, hurt, sadness, fear, or downright panic, such as the time when Libby got accidentally locked in a barn that was being cleaned and Louie, distressed at the sudden separation, paced frantically up and down the narrow path on the other side of the closed door, crowing his alarm, crying his pleas, clucking his commands, flapping his wings, showering us with a spray of fervid whistles, following us around, then running back to the barn door, clacking at it, knocking on it, then running back to us, whirring his wings, stomping his feet, tapping the ground with his beak, staring intently, and generally communicating Libby’s predicament in every “language” available to him: sound, movement, gaze, color, and certainly scent too.
But, for all of their panache, Louie’s most spectacular acts of voice were not his magnificently crafted and projected vocal announcements but his quiet acts of allegiance, his tacit acts of devotion, his daily acts of restraint. The things he did not do.
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. The spot closest to the clouds. His personal Olympus. 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, grounded, anchored to the earth. So Louie quietly descended from his blue yonder 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, and she started to retire to their nest earlier and earlier in the day. 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 heart of the summer day, the night came early for both of them.
Then there was the tacit song of forfeiting his foraging expeditions and his place in the larger sanctuary community only to be with her. When Libby’s advancing age, added to the constant burden of her lameness, forced her to not only shorten her travels with Louie, but end them altogether, and when her increased frailness forced her to seek a more controlled environment than their plywood tent in the barn, she retired to the small, quiet refuge of the House. And Louie followed her there, too, even though he still enjoyed the wide open spaces, the wilder outdoors, the hustle and bustle of bunking in the barn. But Libby needed the extra comfort of the smaller, warmer, more predictable space inside the House and, even though Louie did not, he followed her anyway. And, when she started to spend more and more time indoors, curtailing her already brief outings, Louie did too.
And there they were. Just the two of them in the world.
A monogamous couple in a species where monogamy is the exception. Determined to stay together even though their union created more problems than it solved, increased their burdens more than it eased them, and thwarted their instincts more than it fulfilled them.
It would have been easier and more “natural” for Louie to be in charge of a group of hens, like all the other roosters, but he ignored everyone except Libby. He paid no attention to the fluffy gray hen, the fiery blonde hen, the dreamy red hen, the sweet black hen dawdling in her downy pantaloons, or any of the 100 snow-white hens who, to our dim perceptions, looked exactly like Libby. Louie, the most resplendently bedecked and befeathered rooster of the sanctuary, remained devoted only to Libby – scrawny body, scraggly feathers, missing foot, hobbled gait and all. It’s true that, with our dull senses, we couldn’t grasp a fraction of what he saw in her because we can’t see, smell, hear, touch, taste, sense a scintilla of the sights, scents, sounds, textures, and tastes he does. But, even if we could see Libby in all her glory, it would still be clear that it wasn’t her physical attributes that enraptured Louie. If he sought her as his one and only companion, if he protected that union from all intrusions, it wasn’t because of her physique but because of her presence.
It would have been easier for Libby too – so vulnerable in her stunted, lame body – to join an existing chicken family and enjoy the added comfort, cover and protection of a larger group, but she never did. She stayed with Louie, and followed him on his daily treks in the open fields, limping and gimping behind him, exhausting herself only to be near him.
What bonded them was not about practical necessities or instinctual urges – if anything, it thwarted both. Their union was about something else, a rich inner abundance that seemed to flourish in each other’s presence, and that Libby nurtured in her silence and that Louie voiced, sang out loud, celebrated, noted, catalogued, documented, expressed, praised every day of their 1,800 days together.
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 not only sounded off, 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 wrenching wail.
The next morning, she was still sounding out her plea, her love, her desperation as she feverishly searched every open room in the house, then wandered out into the small front yard, then the larger back yard, and the small barns behind it. Soon, she left the house and the fenced yard and took her search to the open fields, cooing, calling, crying like a strange sky creature, using her voice as a beacon, it seemed, a sound trail for Louie to follow back to safety, and roaming farther than she had in months, stumbling and staggering on a foot and a stump, the light in her being dimming with every solitary minute, her eyes widened as if struggling to see in dark, her feathers, frayed at the edges, as though singed by the flames of an invisible fire, their sooted ends sticking out like thorns straight from the wound of her soul, her whole being looking tattered and disoriented, as if lost in a suddenly foreign world.
And, for three excruciating days, we didn’t dare hope she’d ever find him alive again. Louie was very weak, hanging to life by a thread that seemed thinner and thinner with each passing hour. He didn’t respond to the treatment we were advised to give him and, after three days of failed attempts, we were beginning to accept that there was nothing more we could do except to keep him comfortable, hydrated and quiet until the end.
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. We were planning to reunite them later that day – going against the Veterinarian’s advice, as we sometimes do out of compassion for the animals – because it had become clear to us that Louie’s ailment was not contagious, it was “just” a bad fit of old age. But Libby beat us to it. 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.
She beholds him with her deep, dark eyes, thoughts streaming and darting, swelling and swarming in their inky pools, and she envelops him in her symphonic silence, which – you hear it now! – is not really a silence, but a space in which Louie’s voice may shine, a protected space where his voice may grow stronger, vaster, freer – not because it can boom against her muteness, but because it can speak for someone other than himself and, in so doing, it may grow from an instrument of self expression to an instrument of grace. Not the abstract concept of grace that we like to discuss and dissect, but the daily practice and experience of it.
They are both quiet now – Louie, exhausted from his affliction, regaining his strength, Libby, exhausted from her dark journey, gazing steadily at him. Both, brimming, basking in the rich silence that is so alive with voice and flowing conversation, that it glows between them like a strange treasure. And it shines.
by Joanna Lucas
Originally published on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog
“…the way humans readily project their emotions and intentions into some animals and not others is itself a cause for concern. Few people have much fellow feeling for fish even though many fish are long-lived, have complicated nervous systems and are capable of learning complicated tasks.”
—Professor Patrick Bateson, Professor of Ethology
University of Cambridge
From salmon making the long journey from river to ocean and back, to goldfish swimming circles around a small pond, the inner lives of fishes are a mystery that scientists are only beginning to unravel. One of the key elements they are searching for is the extent to which each fish is sentient or, more specifically, how they process what we would call a “painful” sensation (such as a hook cutting into their lip.)
On this journey, scientists have discovered that fish have nerve structures that are anatomically very similar to those of humans and many other species of animals. Among these common structures are receptor cells called nociceptors, which are found throughout animals’ bodies and are activated by stimuli expected to cause damage to bodily tissues. Tellingly, some species of fish have upwards of 58 different nociceptors located in their lips alone*.
As in human anatomy, these nociceptors are wired by nerve fibers to the central nervous system (the spinal cord and brain.) When the pain centers in the brain are activated by signals from the nociceptors, they trigger the body to respond to the potentially harmful or life threatening events that may be happening.
Fish anatomy is so complex that they have even evolved the same “pain-blocking” substances (endorphins) as humans.** It is theorized that endorphins help animals to tolerate pain from severe injuries in order to help them escape from a predator. This leaves us with the question: Why would fish have endorphins in their bodies if they couldn’t feel pain? And why is there still a debate over their sentience?
* Physiologist Lynne Sneddon discovered 58 different nociceptor sites in rainbow trout lips.
** Endorphins are akin to naturally occurring morphine, although their role in the body is more complex. It is also worth mentioning that some analgesic drugs used by humans also appear to reduce pain in fish.
In the scientific world, the line between simply reacting to negative stimuli and “feeling pain” is marked by the capacity to process and express emotions.
“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”
– The International Association for the Study of Pain
Thus, one of the main arguments scientists use against fish feeling pain is that their brains lack certain structural elements, most importantly the neocortex, which, in other animals such as humans, processes negative stimuli into emotions. The second common argument is that their amygdoid complex (similar to our amygdala which helps us process emotions) is wired to produce aggression and not fear. The reason this is important to our sense of “feeling pain” is because our pain response also comes with a negative emotional reaction which in turn excites the amygdala and helps form a memory of the damage done to our bodies by a particular stimulus.
As you can see, in any species of animal, the concept of feeling pain is a complex one. What scientists are really trying to prove is not only that fish sense the negative stimuli damaging their bodies, but also despite the differences between their brains and ours, that they also have the capacity to associate emotions with the damage done.
To these ends, scientists have continued to experiment on fish, dissecting and torturing these often-gentle creatures. While a number of these callous experiments have offered proof that fish do feel pain, by documenting their capacity to remember painful experiences and demonstrate “fearful, avoidance behavior” (avoidance of food, rocking behavior, grunting) and other such signs of their emotional reactions to “pain”; these findings were gained through electrocuting goldfish, injecting bee venom into trout’s lips and dropping fish into hot water among other such barbaric methods.
Why is it that we continue to go to such heartless extremes to prove a fish’s sentience when anyone who has gone fishing can attest to how hard each fish struggles against the hook it has unwittingly bitten into and how vehemently their bodies continue to fight even as they slowly suffocate on land.
Perhaps it is not the way in which fish process pain that is in question, but rather our own ability to empathize with them. While it is easier for us to recognize our own expressions of fear, love and pain reflected in such species as dogs, primates and felines, this does not give us the right to needlessly** kill or harm animals whose inner lives are a mystery to us.
**Many people include fish in their diets under the mistaken belief that they provide nutrients that aren’t readily available elsewhere, such as DHA. The truth is, while the human body does have specific nutrient requirements, we can fulfill these needs easily and more healthfully without including fish or any other animal products in our diets. If you are concerned about essential fatty acids, there are plenty available in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (especially flax seeds), and if you want “healthy protein” look no further than the produce section.
“Fish constitute the greatest source of confused thinking and inconsistency on earth at the moment with respect to pain. You will get people very excited about dolphins because they are mammals, and about horses and dogs, if they are not treated properly. At the same time you will have fishing competitions on the River Murray at which thousands of people snare fish with hooks and allow them to asphyxiate on the banks, which is a fairly uncomfortable and miserable death”.
—Professor Bill Runciman,
Professor of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care
“Fish are no mere reflex-automatons, but animals capable of experiencing pain and fear and influenced [behaviorally] by experience, expectancies and motivational state in a manner analogous to that in higher animals up to man.”
—Dr R. Buwalda
Institute of Comparative Physiological Studies
“Even though fish don’t scream [audibly to humans] when they are in pain and anguish, their behavior should be evidence enough of their suffering when they are hooked or netted. They struggle, endeavoring to escape and, by so doing, demonstrate they have a will to survive.”
– Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M., Ph.D.
“The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals.”
– Dr. Donald Broom, a scientific advisor to the British government.
by Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati, Gentle World
He shows up every morning, this small, slight, inky-eyed child. You can see him teetering across the prairie on his absurdly long legs, toiling across tough, tangled, thistly terrain on his pale hooves, struggling to cross the field that separates the neighboring farm from the sanctuary — a nub of a child, pushing forth on his spindly bug legs, in his tiny bug body, with infinite bug determination — so scanty against the hulking earth, so tender under the bleak sky, so unprepared for the demands of the journey, yet so determined to undertake it. Nothing deters him until he reaches his destination: a thorny scrap of scorched dirt on the sanctuary border where the fence wires are slightly bent, stretched and loosened. There, he stops with a sigh in his body, with a hitch in his shoulders, as if tossing an invisible burden. He gazes into the green distance, swaying gently from side to side, shuffling his small feet, sniffing the breeze for news of the free animals, focusing exclusively on the remote spot where he last saw the sanctuary cows disappear the day before, and ignoring everything else: the thirst, the hunger, the blistering sun, the burning prairie winds, the stings of angry fire ants.
He comes a long way to get to this thankless place. There are mean fields to cross and gaping ditches to sidestep, and snarls of barbed wire to wrestle, yet he makes the trek every day, in all kinds of weather, without fail and without complaint as if that bitter spot on the sanctuary border can give him something he cannot get anywhere else — a refuge, a remedy, or at least a reprieve.
He is the sole survivor of a “grass-fed beef” herd. Left behind in the commotion of “auction day”, in the terror and thrashing of families being torn apart, in the deafening roar of mothers and children calling out for each other and, most deafening of all, the cries of his own mother being beaten, shocked, dragged into the truck as she begged for his life and hers.
He’s here now. Standing there, in that forsaken border patch, with something resembling faith, waiting quietly, patiently, perched on long legs that stretch down like roots, straining for the deep waters, reaching for a new life. Once in a while, he extends his neck, throws his head back and opens his mouth as if to bellow out a mighty cry, but no sound comes out, only a series of hissed, raspy breaths, the voiceless sobs of a child who cried himself mute. He keeps calling his soundless pleas, mouth open in silent despair, eyes widened in anguish that verges on sound, as if someone can, will, must hear him.
And someone does. A barely audible response in four different voices comes from the far reaches of the sanctuary: Juliette, Ember, Justice and Bumper. And, with that one faint, barely discernible sound, everything changes. His eyes glisten, his shoulders straighten, his body shimmers with anticipation. He becomes larger, stronger, brighter, steadier as the sanctuary cows amble slowly towards him, bringing the windfall of their loving presence to his lonely existence.
And, finally, they’re there. Within his reach! They stick their long necks through the fence, bending and stretching and loosening the wires in the process, they bring their large, generous, benevolent persons into his lonely existence, they surround him with something that feels and heals like love, they breathe him, they lick his sad face, they moo sweet, reassuring things in his ear, they caress his mute throat with their raspy tongues until they love a small sound out of it again—a whisper, a whimper, a sigh of relief, perhaps not relief from sorrow but relief that his sorrow is finally heard.
He responds to affection with affection, to warmth with warmth, to joy with joy. He nuzzles Ember’s face, he rubs his cheek against Juliette’s neck, he tries to attach the entire length of his bitty body to Justice’s ample side. He basks in the warmth of their nurture and protection, he freezes in delight. This is the substance he needs more than food, more than water, more than shelter, more than the comforts of the body when his soul is in turmoil—this substance that feels like love. He lies down on his side of the fence and they lie down on theirs, inching as close to him as possible, their massive flanks and backs touching his slight, skinny frame through the fence. They doze off, they dream together for a while, sharing the living, happening moment, passing thoughts and understandings from mind to mind.
And then, as if driven by an invisible force, he unfurls his lanky legs, leaps to his nubby feet, shakes his head, wags the wild reed of his tail, and starts running puppy laps up and down the fence, bucking, kicking, bouncing, leaping, playing pretend games, chasing imaginary friends. A child again.
He lives there. In that harsh, wounding place that batters his body and wrenches his heart. It’s the only place in the nonvegan world where he can get a meager measure of happiness, warmth, love, hope. The only place in the world where his heart ekes out a song. For a brief moment.
Eventually, inevitably, Justice, Juliette, Ember and Bumper get up and walk away, back to their lives, called by the fullness of their own free lives that make their own demands, that call to be lived and experienced to the fullest. Juliette is the last to leave, she lingers a while longer next to this thumb of a child, perhaps reminded of her own lost baby, and of all the times when she left the safety of the sanctuary and ran back to the farm where her calf was caged and crying, and risked her own life only to bring him a measure of comfort. But, soon, she gets up too and ambles off with the others. He watches them walk away, quietly at first but then, when he finds himself alone again—alone in the blistering fields, alone under the shattering sky, alone in the bitter pit of his life, he resumes his mute cries, his chest heaving and wrenching with each new silent sob.
We try to comfort him but he rejects our offerings of food, water and affection. He doesn’t need human consolation, he needs human restraint, human decency. He doesn’t want what humans have to offer, he wants what humans have taken away for a taste of burned flesh—his home, his family, his future, the freedom to live out his life and pursue its wonders. His whole being is focused on the spot where Justice, Juliette, Ember and Bumper are slowly disappearing from view. When he can no longer see them, he folds himself in the tight curl of his body, clutching himself in his own meager embrace against the sadness that is to come, the sadness that is already there, batting its black wings at him, pressing itself into his pores. He furls himself into a tight coil but sticks the tips of his hooves past the fence, as if trying to get a small part of himself into the sanctuary. The bulk of his body is anchored on the farm but the tendril of his tail, the buds of his hooves, the nub of his muzzle make it into the sanctuary, reach, touch, live on the other side.
By evening the “farmer” will come and wrangle him back to the farm. By morning, he’ll teeter back over the field again, all legs and elbows, and he’ll park himself in that same blistering spot again, under the same withering sun, and he’ll issue his silent sobs again, pleading to be held, to be helped, to be heard. We’ll offer him food, water, affection knowing full well he’ll reject all, and we’ll witness again his faithful vigil at that spot in the fence where the wires are bent, stretched and almost ready to give, where the seemingly insurmountable barrier between two worlds has been loosened by such gentle and relentless straining, and struggling, and sobbing, and wrestling, and grasping, and yearning, and loving, and hoping, and reaching through to the other side.
by Joanna Lucas
Originally published on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog
“In a natural environment the queen honey bee, not the beekeeper, would choose the hive’s location and the number of eggs produced. The bees would gather nectar and pollen to feed their own communities.
Do the bees themselves care that they have lost control over their lives? They probably do. Not only do bees have brains; they also use those brains to form abstract concepts and to reach consensus. Joan Dunayer has described how “scouts (all of whom are sisters) search for a cavity of suitable location, dryness, and size” when planning their colonies. “A honey bee scout may advertise one site over a period of days,” adds Dunayer, but “[i]f a sister’s find proves more desirable than her own, the honey bee stops advocating her original choice and starts dancing in favor of the superior site. She’s capable of changing her mind and her ‘vote.’”
Bees have a complex central nervous system, and many have intensely keen senses of sight and smell, and intricate methods of communication and nest architecture. They obviously experience their lives, avoid harm, and seek out what appeals to them and sustains them.”
— Lee Hall
Honeybees communicate with each other through pheromones (excreted odors), sound produced by vibration of the wings, and through the language of dance. Using sound and dance, foragers alert the rest of the hive to quality food sources. They convey the distance (number of waggles and sounds), direction, and quality (duration of the dance) of the food source. If the food is close, the dance pretty much just goes in circles and everyone gets the picture. Bees watching the dance can make a noise and the dancer stops to let the requesting bee taste the food. The bees can accurately perform the waggle dance regardless of cross winds or the original path taken to find the food. Indeed, when a scout bee finds food she makes a beeline back for the hive and somehow manages to calculate a straight shot.
Honey Bees are assigned jobs based on their age.
At 1-2 days old, they spend their time cleaning cells, starting with the one they were born in and keeping the brood warm
At 3-5 days old, they feed older larvae
At 6-11 days old, they feed the youngest larvae
At 12-17 days old, they produce wax, build combs, carry food and perform undertaker duties
At 18-21 days old, they perform guard duty, protecting the hive entrance
At 22 days old until their death at around 40-45 days, they fly from the hive collecting pollen, nectar, water, pollinating plants, etc.
Honey Bees can calculate angles and distances
Honey Bees use a variety of means to communicate things that are important to them and their sisters, such as the best sources of food, the best available locations for new homes, the need for a new queen, or the need to bury their dead. In addition to scent and taste, they also use dance to pass information and instructions.
In communicating a new location, they give precise directions using flight angles, the roundness of the earth, and even indicate how far they need to go in each direction. All without any measuring device.
The Making of A Queen
Queen bees are, in effect, made by the community they serve. Unlike pack leaders or matriarchs, they do not arrive at their position in the group, they are brought into it by the will and the work of the colony. When a colony gets crowded, the bees decide to make a new queen bee to lead part of the hive to another home.
They begin by constructing up to 20 wax queen cells in which the current queen lays fertilized eggs. As long as the larvae are under 3 days old, they can be groomed to become queen bees. The young worker bees feed these larvae a special food called Royal Jelly and extend the cell downwards until it is about 25mm in length.
When the larvae are 9 days old, the first queen cell is sealed with a layer of wax.
Soon after, a large swarm of older bees leaves the hive in search for a new home, while the existing queen gets “starved” to thin her down in preparation for flight. The older bees convince the queen to join the swarm and go scouting for a new place to create a colony. Probably in deference to the queen whose flight ability is not as strong as theirs, the migrating bees takes a lot of breaks along the way, sending scouts to go search and report back with information based on which they chose the best spot to settle next.
Eight days after the old queen has left her original hive, the first virgin queen emerges out of her cell. Depending on her personality and temperament, she may take a small swarm of her own and leave the hive to start a new one, or she may kill the other potential queens by stinging them through the wax of their cells.
Once her role as queen is established, she begins her duties by flying around to orient herself in her new surroundings before taking several mating flights which will enable her to lay fertilized eggs at a rate of 2000 a day. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees, unfertilized eggs get fertilized by the tiny number of drones who live in the hive to produce a similarly small number of males whose contribution to the hive is to mate with the queen and to ensure that new drones are created.
The new queen will stay with the colony for at least a year, until a large enough swarm is available to start a new colony elsewhere. Unlike the worker bees, whose lifespan is 40-45 days, and the drones who either die in mating or are evicted from the hive in the fall to conserve food, the queen can live up to 5 years.
This is all you saw at first, or maybe this is all that your mind could take in at one time — not a whole picture, but manageable bits and fragments. You saw a large, white shape lumped by the side of the road. You saw an angular jumble of legs, knees, knuckles, elbows, hooves and ribs. You saw a broken, emaciated body whose breathing was so shallow as to be virtually indistinguishable from the constant shivering that rippled through it with a flutter so faint that it seemed stirred by the rustle of a passing breeze, not by the internal labor of muscles struggling and wrestling to keep the body warm and alive. You saw a pale maze of nicks and scrapes extending from the neck down to the back and sides, the record of the shearer’s rush to take the last thing he could plunder from the dying alpaca — her coat, her only remaining defense in the world — before dumping her now “useless” body in a ditch outside the sanctuary gate and leaving her to freeze to death. You saw a bulging abscess on the right cheek and a deep indentation on the bridge of her nose from the lifelong grip of a tight harness that had only recently been removed.
And finally, reluctantly, as she opened her eyes and looked at you in silent supplication, blinking softly, shining her wounded gaze on you with a despair so intense it verged on sound, you saw, as you had to, the face of a desecrated young life. An interminable minute later, as she closed her eyes again with infinite fatigue, you saw simply a suffering soul. This suffering soul. Willow.
We bundled her in blankets, rushed her to the warmest barn, packed hot water bottles around her core, and started her on broad spectrum antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. A few hours of constant care later, her breathing got stronger but her temperature was still below normal, and she was still listless, disoriented and unable to hold her head up, needing support just to remain in sternal position.
But, by nightfall, she took a turn for the better — she drank a few sips of water, ate a few handfuls of alfalfa, and became more alert with each bite. It was impossible not to be elated seeing her regain enough strength to sit up, enough will to nourish herself, and enough hope to look around, if not with interest, at least with minimal involvement. But it was also impossible to forget that her condition was serious enough that she might not make it through the night.
Amazingly, she not only survived the night, she woke up hungry, thirsty and, despite the deep, lingering weakness, she eagerly accepted every treat and absorbed every bit of affection with the intense urgency of the starved, demanding more, nudging you gently if you stopped stroking her, extending her swan neck towards you and leaning her face against your cheek as if inviting a kiss, nuzzling your nose with the fuzz of her nose, making intense eye contact as if trying to read something important in your gaze — or communicate it — and, when all this activity left her exhausted, she merely leaned against you as if the nourishment of a loving touch was enough to sustain her. And by mid morning she seemed strong enough to withstand the trying trip to the vet where she was scheduled for tests, evaluation, diagnostic, treatment and, we dearly hoped, a cure.
The diagnosis was as swift as it was grave, and the prognosis was poor — she had been starved for so long that her organs were probably irreversibly damaged and her chances of survival were slim to none. There was nothing they could do for her at the clinic that we couldn’t (and hadn’t already) done at home — keeping her warm, boosting her system with lightly heated IV fluids and additional rounds of Baytril and Banamine — so we bundled her in blankets, settled her in the back of the minivan, and took her home where she could at least rest quietly, away from the noise and stress of the bustling veterinary clinic.
She was almost pert during the drive, sitting up, swiveling the radars of her ears to catch every sound, and peering at the darkening landscape that was unfolding outside the window, watching silently until all the fields and the roads and the sky disappeared into the early winter night and the only image left in the window was her own reflection.
Back at home, we nestled her in a bed of cushions, blankets and heating pads, and we took turns watching her for the rest of the night, holding her as she drifted in and out of sleep, making sure that she fell asleep in loving arms and woke up in the cradle of the same warm embrace. Throughout the night, she remained eager to commune, connect and communicate — looking intently into your eyes, leaning trustingly against you, touching noses and drawing in the breeze of your breath as if inhaling not just air but some essential knowledge, some vital force that she found in her caregivers’ love, and responding with the caress of her own dulcet breath. And, heartbreakingly, as her lethargy deepened, she grew more, not less, curious and engaged, as if compelled to learn something important about the brightness of this new life where everything could still happen — this life that was finally releasing its nectar just as she was dying — as if wanting to be present for this love that was now, astonishingly, surrounding her in such improbable abundance, and to experience this absolute devotion that was there when she went to sleep and that, amazingly, was still there when she woke up.
In our two days and nights together, we heard Willow’s voice only once. She had woken up from a short sleep and lifted her head to touch noses again and to breathe in the loving presence of friends, locking eyes and gazing with a new intensity as if to entrust you with something urgent. And then she let out the softest feather of a sigh, the sweetest whisper, the most mellifluous of her 86,400 breaths, a sound of such aching purity and purpose that it felt like grace. A sound that your mind could not, dared not, take in as one seamless note but had to break into manageable bits and fragments — there was the knell of her last breath, there was the muffled crumple of her body collapsing into nothingness, there was the terrible soundlessness that followed, the shattering silence of a stilled life. And then, long after her last whisper had stirred the air, you finally heard it. The soft whimper of all that is pure and broken, shackled, starved, crushed, buried alive under the wreckage of our reckless appetites, still breathing its labored breath under the collapsed building of our humanity, and still speaking of love, and still begging to be heard. Hear it. It’s the only true voice you’ll ever hear, the only true thing in your life, and the only guide out of the darkness of a humanity that savors the anguish of beings like Willow as a taste, a fashion, an amusement. Listen. It’s your own voice.
by Joanna Lucas
Originally published on the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary blog
Yesterday, while staying in my home town of Wellington, New Zealand, I visited an historic house constructed in the 1800s. The ‘Colonial Cottage’ had housed children and grandchildren of the original settlers who built it, until it was bequeathed to the city in the 1960s.
As we came down a set of narrow steps and through an old wooden door, our guide informed us that we were now stepping into the ‘wet kitchen’. In the next few moments, I was about to find myself face to face with a dead rabbit, his perfectly preserved body hanging from the ceiling as part of the educational tour.
I’ve written about rabbits before, once when teenaged Petland employee Elizabeth Carlisle killed two of them and was vilified as a perpetrator of animal abuse, and once when NPR celebrated the history of a restaurant famous with local diners for a menu that revolved around rabbit meat. An example of our society’s confusion about animal ethics? I believe so.
Earlier this year, I wanted to write about rabbits again when the animal advocacy world went crazy over Whole Foods selling rabbit meat in its stores, claiming that, unlike other ‘food animals’, rabbits are seen as companions.
Having known rabbits as family members, it’s hard not to feel that the trend toward rabbit meat as the latest ‘sustainable food fad’ is particularly grotesque, but the fact is that we humans are remarkably hypocritical when it comes to the question of which animals should be passionately protected and which we value as nothing more than a source of gratifying flavors and textures.
As this article from The Atlantic demonstrates, there are plenty of people who aren’t any more concerned about rabbits than your average person is about cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, or any of the other sentient and aware individuals who are typically seen as nothing but ‘food animals’.
Mark and Myriam Pasternak are the owners of Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Marin County, California. According to The Atlantic, the Pasternaks ‘process’ 10,000 rabbits a year, to sell to over a hundred high-end restaurants. According to Mark:
“Rabbits are easy to raise and butcher in your backyard, they’re light on the environment, and their meat is lean and low in cholesterol.”
In 2010, when the NY Times published Don’t Tell the Kids, a story about the new trend toward DIY slaughter that profiled a ‘rabbit killing seminar’ held in Brooklyn, the facilitator of the class was quoted as saying:
“Today is a somber day because we are going to be killing rabbits… But I am always psyched after slaughter because I’m like, now I’m going to eat.”
My run-in with yesterday’s taxidermied body came on the heels of a particularly profound experience for me. Last month, as my friends and I prepared for a vegan event and our subsequent departure for our New Zealand location, we watched as our family rabbit Poof came to the end of a difficult battle with various challenges that old age had brought.
After being abandoned by our neighbors nine years ago, Poof had been taken to a local kill shelter. We knew him from the neighborhood, and from the times we had spotted him foraging in our veggie garden after he had been allowed to run free (see picture above… That’s one of our veganic kale seedlings he’s decimating!) When we heard about his new situation, we could accept no other outcome than for him to come home with us. And so he did, becoming Poof the Magic Rabbit, with his very own theme song to go along with the name.
When Poof was young and healthy, he had an exuberance that could make you laugh out loud. Our happiest times with him were when we were all together in a group, and he would get so excited he would jump up in the air, kick his heels, and sometimes even do a twirl in mid-leap.
If he was in a particularly good mood in the morning, sometimes he would give some lucky person what we called a ‘bunny blessing’, running around and around him or her in ecstatic circles. And right up until the very end, a gentle rub between the ears or a handful of lentil sprouts could send him into a state of bliss.
Despite a slightly aloof nature, and a lack of interest in being held or caressed (until his later years, when he learned the pleasure of physical affection) he gave us so much joy and laughter that it was hard for us to imagine not having him in our lives anymore. There were times when I would watch Poof hop away, turning his adorable little tush to me, or lifting himself up on his furry little feet to stand on two legs, and I was filled with a feeling of so much happiness and love that it was almost hard to contain.
But time passes, and it passes particularly quickly for rabbits, for whom making it to the age of ten is quite a feat. In his old age, Poof battled some physical challenges that threatened to end his time with us even earlier. But he had the constitution of someone much, much bigger, and despite the prognoses of everyone we inquired of, he beat the odds and survived for another year with amazing vitality.
In his final days, as his little body became increasingly frail, we did everything we could to try and keep him comfortable and cared for while he made his way toward a different stage of existence that we do not yet understand. We bathed him, tended to his physical needs, and tried all sorts of creative techniques to keep him interested in eating and drinking. Our biggest fear was that his ending would be painful, that he would suffer, and that we would be forced to make a decision for him that we didn’t feel was ours to make.
But one of the strange things about caring for a rabbit as a companion is that even the research we did for his well-being was a reminder of the peculiar, ‘dual-citizen’ status that rabbits have in our culture. In amongst information for how to properly care for your rabbit, you can find yourself being informed about how to raise them for food, and a simple search for veterinary advice can lead you to instructions for killing them quickly.
While we were trying our best to ease his discomfort, we were reminded over and over that our special little man, the Magic Rabbit himself, would be seen by many as nothing more than a luxury meal or the makings of a high-end sweater; a bundle of meat covered in the softest fur.
And so it is with everyone who is reduced to nothing more than the sum of their body parts. We may tell ourselves that they’re simply ‘food animals’, but the truth is that each one has a personality, a collection of their own special qualities, and the potential to bring love to a person’s world.
Thankfully we were not called upon to end Poof’s life before it was time, and he went to the other side when he was ready to do so, or so we believe. As for us, we’ve each found our own way to say goodbye, and we just hope that we gave little Poof as much as he gave to us, though it’s hard to imagine how such a thing could be possible.
By Angel Flinn, Gentle World