Introduction to Animal Place or Petting a Pot-Bellied Pig Named Murray

DSCN1287Today we met the co-founder and director of Animal Place, Kim Sturla. She is such a warm and inspiring person. Look her up. No really, click on the link and go look her up now and then come back. I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back I can tell you all about my day, assuming you care to read about it! What started off as a day off to get settled in quickly turned into a much more eventful settling in. We met with Kim in the morning and she told us about her background and the history of Animal Place. Then we got a tour with senior advocacy intern, Bethany.

We met Aiden and Alice, two very friendly sheep. I love sheep. I love digging my fingers into their deep wool. They’re so gentle. It’s impossible to think that people eat them as babies. We met the goats, who were friendly but a little too playful – i.e. head butting us with their horns. It’s affectionate, but we humans are awfully delicate!

Then we met the chickens. I was floored by how cute they are. Had you asked me 5 years ago my opinion of chickens, I wouldn’t have had one, except maybe that we shouldn’t eat them if it’s not necessary to do so. A pretty abstract animal rights ethic that was responsible for my becoming vegetarian at 21. Now I know just how adorably precious they are. Their faces are actually cute, like really cute, and their little pecky movements make them even cuter. If you’ve never been around chickens, you might need to see it to believe it. There are food dishes all over the place, but they like their food better if you put some in your hand and feed it to them. So, today I fed chickens for the first time. It’s hard to think that in my past their lives began and ended so they could feed me. If I ever feel like something remiscent of chicken, I buy tasty alternatives to chicken made by “Gardein.” I’ve also heard great things about “Beyond Meat.” It was featured on The Today Show and cooked up in a classic “chicken” dish and no one could tell the difference. In fact, everyone guessed that the vegan chicken was the animal chicken! I think it’s important for nonvegans to remember that people don’t typically go vegan because they hate the taste of meat, dairy or eggs. They’ve just learned to prioritize lives over their tastebuds. And needless to say, these vegan tastebuds are constantly evolving and incredibly satisfied!

I also saw the chickens eating lots of cooked eggs mixed with egg shells. Most of the chickens at Animal Place are “spent hens” from the egg industry. This means that they reached 1-2 years old (their lifespan is 12-15 years) and became less productive. The next place they go is to slaughter – first crammed into cages and transported for hours or days in any and all weather conditions, second hung upside down by their legs on a conveyer belt, third have their heads run through electrified water. Pretty miserable. And in case you’re thinking “not my eggs, I buy ones with ‘humane’ labels” many of the the chickens at Animal Place come from “free-range,” “cage-free,” and “organic” farms. Check out this article to see what the labels actually mean. They also suffer from severe beak deformities from de-beaking, which happens on just about all farms. Their beaks are so rich with nerve-endings that many live their whole lives in pain and have difficulty eating. These are the sort of facts I’ve come to memorize after exploring the lives of farmed animals, 98.5% of the animals used and abused by humans, over the last several years.

So why feed chickens their eggs? They’re bred to lay over 300 eggs per year, as opposed to the maybe 30 they would have laid prior to selective breeding. This causes them to develop severe reproductive diseases, including frequent uterine prolapses, and to lose so much calcium that their legs will sometimes break under them. Hen rescuers often feed the eggs back to the chickens to make up for lost nutrients. I know this is all brutal to read, but think about it, if you don’t even want to read about it, why pay for it to happen?

I met two pot-bellied pigs, Frank and Murray. Murray and I hit it off and he let me pet his belly on and off, which is apparently rare for him so I feel quite honoured! Pet the head of a cow named Stanley.

Came back to the house for lunch, had a massive salad with beans and tahini dressing and a hummus sandwich. Then fellow intern Ashley and I went for a hike and bike in the afternoon. It was unbelievably beautiful – though I fell off my bike, something I haven’t done for as long as I can remember! The bike I was riding didn’t exactly have strong brakes, so upon speeding down a rocky hill and trying to slow down, I couldn’t slow down fast enough to gain control so I tried to get out of the rough terrain at which point my front tire landed in a narrow crack in the dirt and I went tumbling over. I scraped my chin and the top of my shoulder of all places! I see it as foreshadowing for a wild adventure – but hopefully one where I’m in better control of the brakes!

Then we came back and spoke to Kim again about our roles as interns and about some of the “intern enrichment” activities that we’ll be doing, which can include going to a local animal rights meetup group, watching animal-related films (Cowspiracy and Turlock were recommended) and then discussing them, and going to a livestock auction. We were also told about frequent vegan potlucks among staff. I can’t wait! She spoke about how important it is for people to find what they’re passionate about and how wonderful it is when people find their passion at a young age, and even better when they act on it. I’m proud to be acting on one of my many passions!

Those reading this might have noticed that there’s some advocacy in this entry. Maybe you’re put off by it. That’s ok. It’s good if you are. I read a quote not too long ago that said, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Maybe it’s time to start paying attention.

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