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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 8 October 2002 Issue


I arrived at Gate B-5 about 5 minutes before
boarding began, and saw a man holding a backpack
stuffed full of feathers. They were beautiful
feathers. No work of man's can catch rays of
sunlight as beautifully as nature portrays male
pheasant feathers, shimmering iridescent, reflecting
a profound creation of pigments and hues.

"Where did you get the feathers?" I asked.

I never asked the man his name, but learned that he
lives in Sparta, New Jersey, a short distance from
my home in Bergen County. He's vice president of
production for BASF, the chemical company that
manufactures Vitamin D-3 from wool grease (sheep
skin and fleece) and Vitamin B-12 from cow intestines.
Both products are often included as supplemental
ingredients to so-called vegetarian vitamins and foods.

I was surprised when he told me that he was not aware
of the origin of the vitamins he markets, but believed
his claim. We had a friendly conversation, and he had
no reason to be dishonest with a fellow traveler. The
feathers were beautiful, and he was proud that I
took note of his trophy.

The feathers came from the bodies of the pheasants he
had shot on Saturday and Sunday. While he participated
in his controlled shoot, I was attending an animal
rights conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What irony.

Mr. Feather-man had been on a hunting trip. BASF
owns a private island near Detroit. Actually,
it's just across the border, in Canada. I was told
that nobody can accuse the company of abusing animals
in the United States. That's why pheasants and
ducks are hatched from eggs and kept in captivity
on the private BASF game farm. The hunting preserve
exists so that top New Jersey BASF executives can fly
for a weekend of fun, shooting birds to death,
plucking their feathers as trophy gifts, and bringing
home coolers filled with their shot-filled naked bodies.
His reward for being a 32-year employee of the company.

I asked if the birds died immediately after being shot.
He told me that they had. I have seen movies taken
at pigeon shoots. These are very uncomfortable films
for me to watch. The birds take a long time to die. I
averted my eyes from the film, but the tormented suffering
of their death throes remains a part of my memory.

Our conversation ended as boarding began. Only a
few dozen people were on the flight from Detroit to
Newark. He rushed to the front of the line and was first
to board. My coach ticket had been upgraded to first class.
I was fourth in line. I walked the ramp behind the BASF shooter,
and as he rushed down the carpeted ramp to board the
plane, watched as a feather flew out of his bag and gently
fell to the floor. I thought of telling him, but something made me pick it up, and put it into my jacket pocket. I heard the Forrest Gump song playing in my head. I saw Tom Hanks sitting on his bus stop bench as a feather floats randomly through the sky as backdrop to the opening and closing credits of that movie. I now hold that feather.

My feather is an object of beauty. It once belonged
to a creature who died in terror, victim to an invading
spray of pellets from a shotgun. One half of the feather
is speckled, shades of brown dots. The other half
contains vertical streaks of brown and black ending
with reddish hues. At the bottom of the feather,
is a small tuft of fluffy, wispy, cloud-like, soft,
downy feathers.

I spoke Saturday morning to a passionate group of
animal rights activists in Ann Arbor. In the afternoon,
the crowd heard from Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society.
Wayne is one of my favorite speakers.

Wayne spoke of similar hunting preserves in the state of
Michigan. He praised the efforts of Julie Baker, founder
of a Michigan-based organization that seeks to ban the
hunting of doves.

Why do people hunt doves? These beautiful birds
have been revered as symbols of love and peace
for over 6,000 years. Hunters adore flying targets.
They hunt doves in Michigan.

I hold a feather. They say that birds of
a feather flock together. Would you become
a bird of my feather too? Support the work
of Julie Baker. Visit her website:

Let a bit of Julie Baker's passion rub off
onto you as gently as a feather falls in flight
from the heavens to earth.

I remember reading Thorton Wilder's "Bridge
of San Luis Rey." Forgive me if I misquote
the passage, but as memory serves me, Wilder
wrote something that has stayed a part of me:

"Some people believe that God touches
each feather from every bird's wing..."

The feather was picked up by Forrest Gump, and
put away for safe keeping. I also rescued a
feather, and have written this column, and some
good will come of it, I am certain.

Robert Cohen

Return to Animals in Print 8 Oct 2002 Issue

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