Ducks Saved From The Meat Grinder
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Ducks Saved From The Meat Grinder
Babylon seventh grader Tim Eisemann took a stand against inhumane treatment of duckling in school programs.
Alicyn Leigh 03/30/2005 5:47 pm
Long Island Press
Tim Eisemann, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Babylon, has taken action against his local school district regarding an educational program that might look great on the surface, but has a horrific ending for the animals involved.
Children in grades K-6 are often asked to participate in the rearing of ducklings, and then give them back, leading to the ducks later being slaughtered for food. The value of life is not taught—what is being taught is selfish acts that continue to create our throwaway society. In addition, teachers who aren't versed in raising farm animals are running these projects, so the animals suffer unjustly.
While Eisemann, was attending sixth grade at Babylon Memorial Grade School, he and his classmates were involved in such a program, which is fairly common, according to Susan Marino, founder/director of Angel's Gate Hospice & Rehabilitation Center for Animals in Fort Salonga.
"Every year thousands of classrooms across the country participate in what they call 'hatchling programs,'" Marino explains. "Fertilized eggs from chickens or ducks are placed in elementary school classrooms to be incubated. The purpose is to offer enrichment for the student. But when students like Eisemann ask, 'What will happen to these animals that we have hatched?' and he is told that they will be killed, where is the enrichment?"
Eisemann himself remembers what was said by his insensitive sixth grade teacher, who he will not name: "He said something along the lines of, 'When we're finished with the ducks they will go back to the farm and end up in the Chinese restaurant.'"
Marino says that during the program, teachers are encouraged to open the shell of the egg so that the students can observe the developing embryo. Also, the eggs must routinely be turned. Since there is no one at schools on the weekends to do this, often the animals are born with deformities. There are other mishaps too: Sometimes the eggs are accidentally dropped, or some chicks may be sent home with students. Their families, though well intended, aren't equipped to care for these animals.
"By early summer families are looking to place the animal," Marino says. "Many are killed by other family pets. This is just another trauma that the child must deal with."
According to psychologists, viewing this program can be confusing. "Pets need to be cared for humanely, so children as well will feel secure," says Dr. Rob Seiler, a psychologist based in Huntington. "Young children tend to give animals human feelings or character traits, since that is what they are most familiar with. They would be most secure knowing that adults treat animals with the same consideration as they treat their children. Otherwise, they might wonder how adults will care for them."
"Hatching chicks only to kill them does not teach children to be responsible caretakers. It does, however, in my opinion demonstrate again how disposable a society we are," adds Marino.
The fate for most animals used in school programs, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension at Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank, ends in slaughter. This varies across the country, according to Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns (UPC). She says to "dispose of" the chicks, teachers are told to put them in refrigerators where they die from the cold, or to flush them down a toilet.
And what is the fate of those who are returned to the farm? Teachers are told that the chicks will be used for food or in a breeding program, but the reality is that these chicks come from a very limited gene pool, so most are thrown into a hopper and ground up for feed or fertilizer.
"If you ask the teachers if they are aware of what happens to the chicks when they are returned, they often respond with, 'I do not want to know,'" Marino says. "Teachers are not prepared to field student's sometimes difficult questions. Being ignorant does not exempt you from being responsible."
STANDING UP FOR WHAT'S RIGHT
After Eisemann carefully tended to and bonded with the ducklings for over two months at the Babylon Middle School, only to find that they would be killed, he made his stand. He says he was compelled to help the ducklings because he "did not approve of the terrible waste of life." He shared his quest through major networking: When Sara Whalen of Pets Alive in Middletown sent out an e-mail alert that reached thousands of people, he received close to 100 phone calls. One of the first was from Marino.
"Eisemann was determined to find the ducklings a new home and not send them back to the fate that awaited them," Marino continues. "He was so concerned about the way they were kept in the classroom—they were in a very small box and had very little room to exercise. He also exposed one of the other issues: There is no allotted money if there are any medical problems."
Angel's Gate opened its doors to Eisemann and the four chicks that he and his classmates had hatched. "He was so excited," Marino recalls. "But when he arrived at Angel's Gate, he didn't have four chicks, but 22. He called all the other classes in the school that had also hatched chicks. He wanted to save them all."
When I asked Eisemann if the duck-raising program was still going on at his school, he replied, "The last time I had contact with any school officials in regard to the duck program, I received a lecture from my teacher and an angry, fuming assistant who said, 'You ruined the hatchling program in Babylon and in three other school districts.' So as far as I'm concerned, the program is busted."
ALTERNATIVES TO THE SLAUGHTER
There are many ways of providing humane education in the classroom. For the last three years, Angel's Gate has run a Reverence for All Life workshop, where speakers go into the classroom with animals and talk about "commitment" and "forever caring" and being responsible for the lives one takes into their life and home. There are also alternative programs, like bird watching, and virtual programs, such as those used by UC Davis and in veterinary colleges.
"If parents become aware of a hatchling program going on at school, they should voice their objection and refuse to have their child participate," Marino advises. "According to the law, no student is obligated to participate in experiments that are against their values."
Concerned people like Eisemann are an asset to our society. With so many humans on our planet who have absolutely no regard for animals whatsoever, he gives hope that our children, who are the future of animal welfare, will make a difference. Even at his young age, he clearly understands the value of life.
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