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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 6 May 2003 Issue

No Greater Outrage
by Robyn Wesley

We heard about the accident on the radio. A truck carrying chickens to slaughter had overturned, and hundreds of yellow plastic crates containing nearly 5,000 birds were scattered about the highway. DJs made jokes about chickens "crossing the road." I and other PETA staffers headed to the scene.

The owner of the trucking company was demanding that the birds be loaded back onto the truck and shipped to slaughter. We reminded law-enforcement officials that although the law is routinely flouted, it is illegal to

transport injured animals to slaughter and that all the birds would have to be examined. The officers agreed, and a veterinarian went about examining the birds.

Some had been impaled on shards of broken crates or were bleeding where their combs had been ripped. Intestines trailed from living birds. Many were still in intact crates but nevertheless had broken wings and legs from being roughly grabbed and shoved into the crates back at the farm. Some cried out pathetic little wails that sounded exactly like infants' cries.

Uninjured birds were placed back on the truck. Soon it became apparent that examining several thousand birds would take all night, and eventually, the truck driver got tired of waiting and left with some of the victims.

Having come so close to sparing the birds from slaughter, it was heartbreaking to watch some of them being driven off into the darkness.

We would spend the rest of the night putting the injured and dying birds out of their misery.

We had to work quickly in teams to get the birds out of the crates, hold them gently and let the humane officers inject them with sodium pentobarbital. I can still see the goose-pimpled pink flesh of their necks.

It looked delicate, and yet the needle would resist going in, then suddenly puncture the skin. It made me cringe every time, but the chickens never flinched; it was nothing compared to what they'd been through.

Long before the accident, most of the dead chickens we pulled out of those crates had withered away after an injury or illness had made them lame and unable to get to food and water.

I'd never touched a chicken before that night even though I'd grown up in Maryland's "chicken country" and was familiar with the barns where chickens were raised. My sister dated a chicken farmer's son in high school and he described walking through the barn to pick up the chickens who'd died each day overnight. Birds don't just die unless their living conditions are horrendous.

The truck carrying these birds was bound from North Carolina to a New Jersey slaughterhouse. It was a hot, humid day, with crates stacked 10 high and many rows deep. The chickens in the outside crates were whipped by the wind, but those in the interior must have had it so much worse. I doubt fresh air even made it to them. They must have been suffocating from the stench of waste covered birds around them and gasping for breath in the unforgiving heat. All this with no water, their cramped joints aching, and no understanding of what was happening to them.

We were able to end the suffering of thousands of birds that night. After the initial shock subsided, we all went to work, almost in a trance, but here and there, you'd hear someone scream out when they found a chicken with grotesque deformities or injuries that happened mostly on the farm. Toes so curled that they looked like pretzels. One chicken's toes had gotten slammed in a crate. The ends were still plump, but the middle parts were flattened.

Oozing sores, gouged-out eyes and missing toes. Not one looked like a normal chicken-they were all filthy and missing feathers.

Just after midnight, with hundreds of birds still awaiting help, we decided we needed reinforcements and somebody went off to roust the interns from their beds. Many of them started to cry when they arrived. When a bird was clearly dying, Ingrid would instruct us, "Hold them while they go," which always caused the tears to well up.

At dawn, some chickens started crowing. I was struck by this, thinking, this is the first time any of these birds have seen the sun rise, how did they know to announce it?

As I opened the final crate, I wanted to remember that these birds were individuals, not just flesh and feathers. The chicken inside stood up very tall, stretching his legs. He was so friendly and cooperative, with bright, golden eyes. A stately gentleman I knew for a brief moment. I picked him up, held him close, and really looked at him. I watched his face the whole time as he was injected; his eyes blinked, and then his head slowly fell onto my arm.

We looked like zombies when we returned to the PETA office, exhausted and numb. Our clothes were covered in feces, blood and filth; beyond saving, they had to be thrown away.

I still cry at the memory of that night and all the birds who died unnoticed and unmourned by all but the few of us who witnessed their passing.

Plutarch summed it up well: "But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy." The only reason these birds lived was so someone could eat their broken bodies, and I think there is no greater outrage.

Action For Animals
PO Box 45843
Seattle, WA 98145
[email protected]
(206) 227-5752

"Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
-Elie Wiesel

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