Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Spring at the Sanctuary

Marius's seduction technique

Marius is a trip. He’s been checked for (ahem) hidden testosterone producers several times, but he’s definitely not an intact male, yet he is fairly relentless when it comes to his pursuit of the ladies. He’ll chase all of the other male goats away, while also chasing after the girls with his weird tongue waggle.

A video from about a year ago gives you the benefit of hearing him too!

Sometimes he’ll do a sort of snorting sneeze, which in goats can be part of the seduction routine, or can just mean they’re happy. My google skills aren’t up to par tonight, because I can’t find much in the way of articles on this type of goat behavior (or maybe I need to use a different search engine now that google is evil?), but I did run across this very interesting article on Goats and Cows, written by Maneka Gandhi and published by an Animal Welfare organization in India. It does talk about the goat sneezes, as well as the tongue waggling, but it also talks about their personalities, and it makes some important connections.

How odd that we value our dogs so much but we do not think twice before eating goats – which are kept like pets all over the world and are as intelligent, loyal and emotional as them. Goats are very often not given credit for being the smart and loving creatures they actually are. Think of them like dogs, except they don’t have the “I must please humans” thing that dogs have.

It is not for nothing that human children are called kids – a term that means baby goat. Baby goats love playing hide and seek. They crawl into little hidey holes and will lie very quiet and jump about squealing when you find them. They “explore their world” with their mouths just like human babies “chewing” and “mouthing” things to learn about them. They love climbing. Family members let their babies jump and climb on them. If you let them climb on you, you are considered family some of the activities enjoyed by kids include galloping, jumping vertically into the air, tossing their heads, and whirling around.

The same article talks about cows, describing their intelligence and personalities. But also:

When you next have a steak or wear new leather shoes, remember that this cow could articulate her pain. We are just not smart enough to understand her voice. John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol, has just published a book on the topic, Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden. “People have assumed that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic,” he says.


Every time you choose to buy leather or drink milk you kill a gentle intelligent sensitive being. Cows are not just oblivious, cud chewing milk machines – those terms can be more aptly applied to so many humans instead.


Aggie herself is an example of both aspects talked about the in article. Her breed is (or was originally) used for both milk and meat. Terry’s intro for Aggie (from when she first arrived, a few months back):

Aggie, our newest rescue, is a young Red short horn calf. She most likely escaped from the livestock auction, because she appeared at a home about a mile from the auction on sale day, as a tiny one month old calf. It seems she followed the railroad tracks to a farm where luckily a kind woman made the efforts to find her a sanctuary home. The local sheriff’s dept. and animal control wanted to take her and sell her for slaughter, but the woman kept her safe for several months until she was tame enough to lead onto a trailer. We picked her up yesterday, and she is very friendly and sweet, she loves to lick people. We can’t wait to introduce her to the other rescued cows, and here she will be able to spend the rest of her life in peace and happiness.

The pig yard was in great shape – we always end up talking about the pig yard conditions, because it makes a huge difference in how hard or easy it is to clean the pig yard. Last week was perfect. And as I scooped, I had a chance to get a picture of the cutest pig nose in the world.


Paige came with another little piglet, Patty, about 9 months ago, and they both have curly (for pigs) hair for their winter coat! It’s adorable.

Here’s the video from when they first arrived:

Aren’t they cute? They are still the littlest ones at the sanctuary!

Now that I’ve spent some time with Brenda Lee, I notice her right away. It’s funny how that happens – what used to be the general group of “beta barn girls” to me, are now distinct hens who I distinguish easily, though I don’t know their names yet.

And that’s the essence of an awakening to the individuality of others, isn’t it? All it takes is that small starting point, noticing, recognizing, and suddenly a whole new vista opens up. It’s a mirror of the awakening we go through when we realize that we must go vegan.

Julius and Brenda Lee

Spring in the DC area is very pretty (if you don’t have allergies) with lots of flowering plants and trees. Last week was the peak of the Cherry Blossoms, which is a pretty big deal because there are so many of them – something like 3700 just in the Tidal Basin area of DC itself, and many more all over the DC metro area. Most of the ones I see are planted as part of landscaping in people’s yards, or bordering developments. There is only one at the sanctuary (that I have seen – I haven’t walked through the woods to see if there are others!), and it is a wild cherry tree.

I don’t know enough about cherry trees to be able to talk about them in great detail, but I do know that most of the ones I see – the ones that are part of the landscaping – are more like the ones down in the Tidal Basin – the ones gifted by Japan. There are many species of cherry tree, however, and some of them are native to North America, as the wild cherry tree at the sanctuary is.

It just so happened that Dexter was wandering around down near the wild cherry tree, so I wanted to try to get a portrait of him with the blooming cherry tree in the background. It was a marginal success. An overcast day, a horse who wasn’t really with the whole “hold still and pose” program…well, you’ll have to trust my word that the vague fluffy white stuff on the upper left side of the picture is, indeed, the wild cherry tree’s blossoms!


As we were leaving after chores, I stopped to take a picture of four recent arrivals – domestic geese whose story I have forgotten for the moment. As I knelt there, this Canadian goose walked up to me. I imagine she was hoping I had something tasty for her, instead of just a big clunky camera!

So cute, with all that grass on her beak!


Foggy Morning, Treats, and The Show-Stealing Hen


When I first arrived at the sanctuary this past Saturday, Emily was up near the entrance to the sheep yard. She was done with her medicine and had been released out of the sheep yard, but she was staying close hoping to be spoiled with more food! I guess she wasn’t too disappointed to be in the sheep yard for those weeks.

The rest of the cows were hanging out on the hillside near her. It’s been neat to have them hanging out so close to the sheep yard. Of course the sheep don’t really agree – I guess cows are pretty intimidating if you’re a sheep…

Two people showed up while we were in the horse barn to meet and spend some time with Darcy and Tally. They sponsored these two as gifts for Valentine’s Day, if I recall the story correctly. They are friends of one of the other volunteers, Sheryl, and I think Sheryl recommended Tally and Darcy specifically because they are close companions, especially in the years since Darcy lost the final bit of vision to a degenerative eye disease. Tally wears a halter with a bell on it, and Darcy uses that to help him keep track of where she is, and to follow her. Sometimes he gets separated, and then he’ll call to the rest of the horses and the two mules. Tally will emerge from wherever they had been and lead him to the group. It really is sweet.


So their sponsors came and got to meet them for the first time, and fed them some treats (apples for everyone but Darcy, who prefers carrots). Of course Dexter, Sal and Gloria got some apples too, or there would have been a mutiny!

Gloria waiting for her apple

In the chicken yard I spent some time hanging out with the “beta barn” chickens. The main yard has two barns, and the smaller one is called the “Beta Barn” after the painting of a Beta fish that hangs inside. The barn was donated, and the person donating it requested that the portrait of his beloved fish hang inside. For a while when I first started volunteering, I thought the main barn was the “alpha barn”!

Even though there isn’t really a separation between the yards (a mesh fence, but one that’s more a suggestion than a rule), the chickens tend to hang out with the other chickens from “their” barn, and I have mostly gotten to know the chickens who live in the main barn, as opposed to the Beta barn. But last weekend I got to know a couple of the Beta barn girls.

Brenda Lee checking out the camera

It started when I noticed that one of the hens in one of the stalls was broody, and stayed in the nest box after I opened up the stalls. I asked Terry about it, and she requested that I bring the hen outside. This turned out to be Brenda Lee.

Brenda Lee is one of a handful of hens at the sanctuary who was rescued from a cock-fighting breeding organization a while back. It was a pretty big bust, and several sanctuaries on the east coast took a number of the hens. They’ve always seemed a little wilder to me, probably because they often spend time fairly high in the trees. They’re also hard for me to tell apart, as they all have that distinctive look – I call it “firebird”, though I’m not really sure why!

The firebird look... (not Brenda Lee)

Normally I wouldn’t have been able to pick up and hold one of these hens, but because Brenda Lee was broody and sitting in the nest box, she let me pick her up. I carried her outside to the tree where the rest of her group was, and had one of those heart-warming moments that I pretty much always have when I’m in such close contact with these amazing animals.

Brenda Lee

While I was over with her group, I took some pictures, and noticed that Brenda Lee was fascinated by the camera. She wanted to be the star! She’d chase the others away when they tried to steal her limelight.

And then I started videoing one of the other hens dust bathing, and once again, Brenda Lee stole the show!

These birds have so much personality. They’re curious and smart and they interact with their world in ways that often surprise me. Though it took me a while before I could really “see” them, now I am fascinated. It is a shame that so few people will ever take the time to see the wonder of these birds. They’ll continue to think that calling someone “chicken” is an insult instead of a compliment, and even worse, they’ll continue to think of chickens as little more than automatons made of flesh. The truth is that these amazing beings are filled to the brim with curiosity and a zest for life. My life is enriched by knowing them.

Paparazzi at Poplar Spring

A few weeks ago Jonathan mentioned that a Washington Post photographer would be coming out with him to the sanctuary one weekend. An article is in the works on the Humane Society University, and pictures of Jonathan (who teaches a course at the university) at the sanctuary would be included.

Last Saturday the Post photographer showed up. It was overcast, and quite muddy, but that didn’t seem to bother Marvin Joseph (check out some of his work!). He viewed the animals with the same glee and excitement that is common to young kids, but much less usual in adults. He followed Jonathan all morning. He took pictures of us unloading muck buckets into the spreader, of geese flying overhead, of all of the animals and of us interacting with them. He loved it all. A lot of what he took, he told us, was just for his own pleasure. I can certainly understand that!

Doesn't it look like Harrison is jumping for joy?

Harrison spends nights in the infirmary these days with a couple other residents (Morgan and Gertrude, these days) who don’t handle the cold very well and need a warmer place overnight. When we got down to the chicken yard, I brought the three out of the infirmary so they could enjoy the day. Harrison’s girls live up in the “playhouse”, so I carried him up the hill to join them.

Harrison with Clarice and Iris (background)

Harrison is looking amazingly good these days. Last summer or fall he wasn’t feeling very good, and his comb started to lose color and flop over. It turned out to be an impacted crop – basically he had a knot of grass in there and he had to have surgery to get fixed up. That was a first at PSAS! Very soon after he came back to the sanctuary you could see his comb standing up straight again, and becoming that vibrant red. And of course he had more and more energy as he recovered. Now he’s back to his old self, and his girls are very happy about that!

As I walked up to the playhouse with Harrison in my arms, Marvin was on his way down to the chicken yard. His eyes lit up at the sight of Harrison. Maybe it was a strange and exciting sight to see someone holding a chicken, or a bird of any kind? I remember being somewhat shocked when I first realized that some chickens actually let us hold them. That some actually like it!

Marvin took a bunch of pictures, and then switched cameras to get a close up. “You have such a beautiful wattle,” he said.

“You are talking about Harrison, right?”

Once down in the chicken yard, Marvin was entranced by Edward. Edward was very happy to perform for the camera. He displayed, and shook his tail feathers, and just plain thrilled Marvin.

Marvin and Edward

Marvin showed us some of the Edward pics he’d grabbed with his iPhone, and then showed us a couple of iPhone shots he had with Meryl Streep. “A lot of what I do,” he explained, “is take portraits of celebrities.” Jonathan and I agreed that this made sense; after all, he was there taking pictures of Edward!

I suspect we’re an odd bunch at the sanctuary. As gorgeous as the pictures of Meryl were, as cool as I suspect it must be that he takes pictures of such famous people, we were so much more thrilled that Marvin was thrilled with Edward and the rest of the animals at the sanctuary.


And seriously, he understood them. When we were walking by the pig barn after finishing up at the sheep and goat yards, the cows were all lined up, facing the sheep barn, and mooing. Emily, the young blind cow, has an infection in her tooth and is contained in the sheep yard for a few weeks so that it’s possible to give her the shots she needs to get better. The cows do not like to be separated. Emily was calling to them, and they were calling back. Marvin understood what was going on immediately.

I’d call it empathy. Whether it’s something innate or learned, empathy is one thing that makes him a good portraitist, a good photographer. I can’t help but to wonder whether that makes him reachable with an AR message. I told the rescue stories of some of the individuals he was taking pictures of. That’s ingrained in me at this point – between the blogging and the sanctuary events, and even just in conversation with the other volunteers, recounting their stories goes hand in hand with telling people their names.

So…he heard some of the stories. He was horrified to learn of what happens at goat dairies. The potential for making connections regarding the products he buys is there, it’s just a question of whether it percolates in a way that produces change. That’s what we, as activists, can never predict.

And regardless of what Marvin does with the information, he took a morning’s worth of gorgeous photos, which will be published in a Washington Post article talking about, essentially, humane education. His pictures have the potential to help others make some of those connections. The empathy he had for the animals will show in those photos, whether or not his empathy pushes him to change his own habits.