By Jill Howard-Church on Animals and Society Institute
For the rest of us, who work for animals in other ways, it's those faces we carry with us when we write letters, sign petitions, hold picket signs, hand out flyers or explain for the umpteenth time why we won't be eating the chicken wings. We use our voices to save more of their faces
Animal advocacy is often a vicarious pursuit. It is the only social justice movement in which the activists aren't even of the same species as those whose welfare they seek to improve. Many of us personally rescue individual animals occasionally, but there are millions we never see. We are "the voice of the voiceless," as the famous poem says, but sometimes it's certain faces we remember most.
I met some new faces last week when Bee Friedlander and I visited the SASHA (Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals) Farm sanctuary in Manchester, Michigan. Tucked away in an agricultural area off a dirt road you have to seek to find, the red barns and fenced pastures look like something from a storybook (you know, the old-fashioned kind that lie to children about where modern meat really comes from). But the animals lucky enough to end up there do enjoy a happy ending, or at least one far happier than the fate that otherwise would have befallen them.
I didn't bring my camera, but there are five faces I'll never forget. Two of the most adorable belong to tiny goats born just three weeks ago. A kind stranger bought them off a Craigslist ad to spare them from being sold for meat (their mother and their sister were bred for milk). Barely bigger than my cat, they were learning to nurse from a bottle, but one little guy preferred nibbling on hair, jackets and jeans — a typical "kid" putting strange things in his mouth (ask any preschool teacher).
Two other enchanting faces belonged to twin lambs born to a ewe who became something of an urban legend in Ann Arbor, appearing out of nowhere one day and then reappearing in different places across town for weeks before she was finally caught and sent to the sanctuary. Soon after, she gave birth, perhaps knowing that her babies' future was now secure. The lambs were as white and soft as the toys that bear their likeness, and not much bigger. Their mother kept them close in the presence of strangers, but their jumps and bounces made it clear they'd be springing through spring before long.
The fifth face was huge. It belongs to an enormous white steer who stood stone-still and watched us intently from about 100 feet away as we peered over the pasture fence where he and other rescued cattle lumbered through the mud looking for something to munch on. He has an ornately curly forehead and an expression that gave the impression that he was keenly studying our faces as well before deciding whether to approach us. He kept his distance, but I marveled at the dignified way in which he carried himself like a white marble Roman statue come to life.
There are many wonderful people, like those at SASHA Farm, who work tirelessly day in and day out to provide rescued animals, from cats and dogs to horses and pigs, with a comfortable life that billions of others just like them will never know. These people know exactly whom they're helping: the lucky ones who repay their rescue by serving as ambassadors for the animals we don't see, the ones hidden behind the walls of factory farms or scattered in the streets. The rescuees put a face on the idea that animals are individuals, not mass-produced commodities. "Out of sight" should never mean out of mind.
For the rest of us, who work for animals in other ways, it's those faces we carry with us when we write letters, sign petitions, hold picket signs, hand out flyers or explain for the umpteenth time why we won't be eating the chicken wings. We use our voices to save more of their faces. It's a good deal.
Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.