Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

heartbreak: 39-8=31

I volunteered to do one leg of a rooster transport that happened this weekend. The final destination was again Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary, just like last week’s little red hen, but the starting point was in the middle of rural Virginia, about 4 hours from the DC metro area. I volunteered to take that leg, and Gary volunteered to drive them out to eastern shore from here.

The people at the animal shelter were very nice. Sort of curious, perhaps, at someone doing 8 hours of driving for chickens, but very grateful at the same time. And it isn’t that they didn’t understand at all, either – it was something of a surprise to me to see that they seemed very compassionate towards these roosters, rescued from a cockfighting operation. They were perhaps even a bit attached to them. They certainly seemed invested in their rescue. I suppose I expected attitudes like I saw at the shelter last week, with regards to the little red hen. I have a feeling that this past month with these abused roosters has impacted the people who spent time with them.

The roosters had arrived at the shelter on December 22, and from what the shelter employees said, they’d gotten much easier to handle. In the beginning, it was near impossible. Now, just a month later, the employees were cautious, but it all looked easy, from a spectator standpoint.

No, it was something else that was difficult.

After I pulled around to the back, to the trailer where the roosters were being kept, they opened the door, and said “come on in. You just need to choose the 8 you’ll be taking.”

It was like a punch to the gut. I probably should have realized ahead of time that this could happen, but I hadn’t. I hadn’t thought about what it meant that Eastern Shore was able to take 8 but that there had been 39 rescued.

I had to choose 8.

At this point there are no homes for the other 31, and we know what that means. It means that in effect, I was choosing who would live, and who would likely die.

I felt a bit sick. How do you make that choice? I was in shock, hoping that they, the roosters, would somehow tell me, would talk to me.

And so when one of them did talk, quiet little “bok bok bok” sound, I said “okay, him.”

The others, they all made eye contact, they had that look in their eyes…you know the one, the one that says they want to live? That look.

I looked around for ones that looked maybe more sad or … something. But a rooster in a cage? They look sad, it is a given. Mostly they were quiet, watchful, waiting. They all were beautiful to me, they all needed saving. I was paralyzed by the decisions I had to make.

One of the workers, pointed to one of the roosters and said, “this is the meanest one.” So I took him. Of course I took him.

Somehow I chose 8. They put the ones I’d chosen in carriers, we loaded them in to my truck, I signed the paperwork, and off I went down the road.

It didn’t take long before I had tears streaming down my face for the 31 I’d left behind.

Forgetting for a moment all the careful logical arguments that we store up for those times when people question and/or attack our choices, and running on pure emotion and instinct, I can say only this: looking into the eyes of these brave birds, I simply can’t comprehend that anyone else could look into their eyes and act with anything less than compassion.

For those of us who have that compassion and live our lives careful to avoid harm wherever we can, the constant frustration is that no matter how many we rescue, it is always a drop in the bucket. It is always a small percentage of those needing to be rescued.

And for any who think I’m taking about just chickens or just non-human animals, I’m not. The same is true whether we’re talking about humans or non-humans. There is always more abuse than rescue.

Always.

And so I had to choose 31 to leave behind. And my heart breaks.

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19 responses to “heartbreak: 39-8=31

  1. Stephanie E. January 25, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Oh, Deb, I cried as a I read along. I can only imagine the ache you had to feel. For the 31 and for the many more they represent (and for what you had to feel), I ache too. But for the 8 and the other animals who do make it to sanctuaries, you and all the others who devote so much time and heart to sanctuary work are heroes. You can’t save all of them, but so many more are being saved than would be if people like you weren’t out there. But I know that’s not much of a consolation. Big hugs.

  2. Deb January 25, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks Stephanie. I honestly don’t know how full-time rescuers handle it, because I know they face these (and other kinds of) hard decisions all the time. Definitely makes you understand how hoarders get their start…

    I heard an update from Miriam, at E.S., and she says the 8 boys are doing great. Mostly calm. I’m going to have to get out there to visit them soon, I think. It is funny how attached I get just driving them part of the way there!

  3. rich January 25, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Man, what a tough story. I am not sure how I could have handled that. I probably would have wimped out and left it up to the workers to decide.
    Though in the end I would have been happy for the eight I helped saved and work hard to show that fighting roosters can be rehabilitated and made social again.
    As hard as it must have been you did a great thing and I am so happy to hear they are doing well.

  4. Deb January 25, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    rich, it was tempting to have them tell me which were their “favorites”, but that didn’t seem fair to them either. None of it was fair, it is idealistic of me to even say that word, I know, but somehow I just felt that I had to make those decisions. I did go with the three that one of the workers pointed out – one was the “meanest”, one “the most beautiful” and another was “also beautiful”. I figured (other than the mean one) they might be her personal favorites.

    Or maybe she just wanted me to hurry up already. I was clearly struggling.

    I’m very happy for the 8, no doubt, but … you know me, i have a hard time letting go. I can’t forget about the rest.

  5. Gary January 25, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    What a bittersweet – even jarring – decision to have to make. The simultaneous joy and sadness, hope and despair…

    I grew attached to “the guys,” as I called them, simply driving them to the sanctuary – even though I’ve never seen them. I hadn’t planned on doing this, but I talked to them nearly the whole way. Sometimes they talked back. I apologized to them when I had to brake and accelerate – they weren’t keen on that. When we made the final turn to the sanctuary’s road, I told them, “You’re almost home.”

  6. Becci January 25, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Oh my goodness, that’s so hard. I can’t even imagine.

  7. Kay Evans January 26, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Deb,
    Thank you for picking up the roosters and driving the first leg to Pattrice’s place (and thanks to Gary for the second leg).

    What an awful and hard decision. When we used to be able to buy “spent” hens from the egg industry, I wasn’t allowed to choose. I just waited with my carriers open and the man would bring them out. But I could see inside the shed at all the ones in the battery cages who would go to slaughter within a week’s time. On driving away, I always cried, as you did, for the ones left behind. And then I tried to turn my focus on the few who were saved. Please try to do that if you can. I never forget the other ones, but I say over and over to myself, “At least these few are safe.”

    Thank you again.
    Kay

  8. Deb January 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Gary, I said the same thing to the little red hen (hannah) the week before!

    Becci, I think I’m glad that it hadn’t occurred to me ahead of time. Shock gets us through rough times, very often. :/

    Kay, thank you so much for sharing this. I suppose I imagine those of you who face this so often as being stronger or more able to handle these awful situations, or … something. Which is a bit silly, as we’re all doing this because we feel their pain so strongly. I will definitely try to focus on the boys who are safe at ES now. I will keep bugging Miriam and pattrice for updates and get myself out there for a visit soon(ish). That will help, I’m sure. šŸ™‚

  9. Mary Martin January 27, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you for this story, and of course, thank you for helping the roosters. The way I look at it, though you chose who would live a great life at ES, you aren’t the one who is responsible for the deaths of the others. It was not you who chose death for them. Still, to look into all of those eyes . . . . that’s heartbreaking.

  10. Greenconsciousness January 27, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    This is what heroes do —Heroes do what they can instead of averting their eyes because they cannot do it all and therefore do nothing.–Heroes do what they can and accept the pain.

  11. pattricejones January 27, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Oh, Deb, I didn’t know you had to do that!

    Only this afternoon, while being pecked by the rooster who must be the one they called “the meanest,” I wondered how they chose which ones to send. Now I know: They made you choose.

    Oh, how awful for you and, yes, this is exactly what we all go through whenever we can save only some. There’s no remedy for the grief except to keep working toward the day when nobody will need to be saved. (And, of course, take care of your physical self, do something to express the feelings, and remember that you did something real and meaningful for those you were able to help.)

    The roosters have only been here a few days but one has already proved himself able to be with the rest of the flock without fighting. A couple of others seem to be ready too, so it may be that only five of the eight require the full rehab program before being able to live peacefully with other birds. We’ll try to remember to keep you posted but don’t hesitate to nudge us if we forget to keep in touch.

    And thanks again for driving them, the little red hen, and those chicks from last spring who are now young adults. I’m so glad that you got to see them, if only at a distance, when you dropped of the hen.

  12. Deb January 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Mary, i know it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they’d chosen 8 roosters and sent me away with them. i would have been quite a bit more insulated. so it definitely was having that connection, and having to turn away from the others in need. i was raging, if only in my own mind, that the abusers should be required to fund the rehabilitation and rescue of all of the roosters. they created the situation and profited from it, they should have to fund the rehabilitation as well. (i guess i remain a cynical idealist)

    Greenconsciousness, that’s an interesting way of looking at things!

    pattrice, yes, sorry about bringing you the “meanest” one! I just couldn’t not take him once she said that, and I’m not sure I can explain it, but I bet you understand. Even though you might curse me as the days go on and the bruises rack up. I had 2 thoughts at the same time: “I have to take him,” and “sorry pattrice!”

    It is so good to hear that one is already out with the rest of the flock, and that a couple others seem ready too. Hopefully the others will progress quickly in the full rehab program.

    It was great to see the little babies, all grown up too. They looked so strong and assured.

  13. girl least likely to January 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    {{{{{deb}}}} i just can’t even imagine having to decide; i was teary just reading your post. i’m so sorry they put you in that position–although my guess is that none of them wanted to have to choose, either. i definitely understand how heartbroken you are. but i’m so happy you were able and willing to help with the rescue of the 8 who could go with you. xo

  14. Asma February 1, 2009 at 5:00 am

    This entry was so difficult to read, and even more difficult to respond to. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in that position. My heart broke, too.

    You’re doing incredibly important work, and opening up yourself like this is going to expose you to a lot of heartbreak. Thank you for being such a strong person, Deb.

  15. Amanda February 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    My heart goes out to you. I am so sorry – that was an excruciating decision to have to make. It was also very brave and I am humbled by your work. You have to focus on the lives of the 8, not those of the ones you had to leave behind. Think of it this way: there are 10 billion land animals to save every year. 10 billion. You cannot save them all – that’s the bigger picture. But for the ones you DO save….well, it means the world to them. Stay strong and keep at it – you are making a difference!

    Hugs.

  16. Deb February 4, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    gllt, I think you are right, that none of them wanted to choose. I can’t blame them for that! I am very happy that the 8 were able to be rescued, at least.

    Asma, I usually feel like the furthest thing from a strong person. But it is very true – rescue work of any kind (even “just” helping out at sanctuaries) does open us up to heartbreak. Luckily most of the time there are the success stories too. The hard part, for me, is to remember to focus on the good. Not to forget the bad, but just to not let it overwhelm the rest.

    Amanda, you are very right that I need to focus on the 8. Which reminds me that I should send a note to pattrice and miriam to get an update on them. šŸ™‚ Don’t be humbled by my work – really, I’m just a pooper scooper who sometimes lends a hand as a chicken taxi driver!

  17. Olivia December 24, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Joining this post several months late, having been “sent” here by Stephanie at challengeoppression. Gazing into each and every pair of eyes must have been truly agonizing, Deb.

    If each consumer were able to stare into the intelligent, friendly, pleading eyes of a pig or a steer or a dairy cow (or her calf) before they purchased a pound of flesh or a quart of liquid (or even a yogurt cup or ice cream cone), I wonder if they would have second thoughts about WHO they eat?

    Bless you, Deb, and Gary and pattricejones and all those who put their respect for animals into action just as readily and even unconsciously as they breathe.

  18. Deb December 24, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Olivia, it was hard, and I hope I don’t have to do anything like that again. But, if I did…well, I guess we just do what we have to, and deal with the heartbreak as best we can.

    I know that there are some who would definitely change their consumption choices if they let themselves understand the consequence of their choice, and saw the individuals they were condemning to death as individuals with thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. But there are a lot of people who honestly don’t care. (Thinking about my relatives who hunt, as examples.) But maybe I’m just being cynical. After all, if people like Howard Lyman can go from being a cattle rancher to a vegan activists, no one can really be dismissed as an impossible case, right?

  19. Pingback: Ancient History | VINE Sanctuary

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