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CASH Courier > 1996-1997 Fall / Winter Issue

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ARTICLE from 1996-1997 Fall / Winter Issue

THE WILDLIFE AGRIBUSINESS: A PERSONAL NOTE ABOUT THE CANADA GOOSE SLAUGHTER FOR THEIR BREASTS

By Anne Muller

They lost their breasts and their lives.
This is an attempt to sing their song.

In preparation for the surgery, I had been handed a booklet titled The Patient’s Rights. The anesthesiologist now came over, introduced himself and, using his thumb as a support, began to snap his middle finger hard against a vein in my hand. “I’m good at getting veins to jump out,” he laughed. It stung, but I tried to stay friendly. In July, I had my breast removed. The geese had theirs removed, too, at a slaughterhouse about 40 miles away only a couple of weeks before. Before going in for surgery, I feared they would accidentally cut out my heart. They’re doctors, not butchers, I reminded myself, as flashes of the goose slaughter crossed my mind.

“Pain…heart attack” I screamed loudly, “I’m having a heart attack!” The pain was excruciating as the anesthesia wore off, the painkiller they gave me didn’t work. “Anne, it’s Peter, I’m here.” I heard his voice dimly, as though coming from the opposite end of a long tunnel. It briefly brought me back to myself. That’s right, my name was Anne, Peter was there, it was a comfort, I had forgotten. “I” had become unrelenting pain and my heart was beating out of my chest. I heard Pete say, “The pain killer isn’t working, can you give her something else?” “You don’t belong in here, sir.” I became concerned about the altercation. The intense pain lasted for what seemed forever, though I’m sure it was only minutes before they piped the new painkiller, Demerol, through my veins, which mercifully was effective.

What if I were a goose, no anesthesia, no painkiller, no sympathy, no mate who could help, no leverage, and no rights! Just a callous hand hoisting my fearful body by the neck, forcing my ankles into clamps and hanging me upside down, clamps far too small for my size, not caring if my ankles broke or if I twisted in pain, or if my wings broke, or if I feared that my heart would give out, or if I screamed “Pain.” I imagined the pain, the excruciating pain that wouldn’t be relieved either by a kind voice or a medication. My mouth forced open, my jaw broken, a knife jammed into the roof of my mouth and twisted around because a diabolical slaughterer discovered that this technique loosened feathers. My throat slit and still alive. The pain, the attempt to scream, to seek relief, was met with indifference or ridicule. The clamps were pulled off and I was thrown into a vat of boiling water, ripped into pieces and put into plastic wrap. I ceased to exist in my own mind and in the mind of those who got a part of me, or whatever I was, for “I” was not anymore.

How many times do we hear, “More geese should be sent to slaughterhouses. They kill chickens that way, it’s humane slaughter.” Thirty years before, my great aunt met me for lunch following a job interview I’d had at Cornell University Hospital in New York City. Studying with one eye open and one eye closed, I had gotten my M.A. in Experimental Psychology, miraculously avoiding animal experiments. An eye doctor was looking for someone to work on perception experiments. I was shocked by the sight of cats stretched out in slings; their brains exposed waiting to be occipitally blinded. Jars of monkeys’ heads on the desks of experimenters apparently were mere ornaments. The doctor picked up on my thoughts. “I would blind a million cats to save the sight of one human being,” he said proudly. “I’ll give you until next week to make up your mind. The job is yours if you want it.”

“What do you think?” I asked my great aunt, feeling guilty that I was contemplating giving up my first professional job offer. “It sounds like an Auschwitz for animals. You know they experimented on Jews that way.” Members of my family had been in a concentration camp 20 years before. As I got older, I understood more of the reality of the concentration camp. Beyond the sadism, I felt there was far worse, the indifference to others’ suffering. I called Cornell the next day. “Don’t wait for me.”

Suppose I’d had lunch with someone else. Suppose the person had said, “Don’t be silly, it’s a great job, great place, interesting work, just do it!” But my great aunt led me down another path. She too had been in a sling; she had doctors use her as a human guinea pig. Yes, it made a difference that I was a “Daughter of the Holocaust” as I had been called on a Jewish radio program. My sensibilities were colored by the nightmare through which I lived vicariously. Others in our movement got there by other means. Or, perhaps we have a gene, a compassion gene. Perhaps it’s fluff to attempt to attach a psychological explanation to our compassion. Or, perhaps we’re all born with a compassion gene that gets suppressed with acculturation. “Get rid of them, they are a nuisance.” The words pierce me still. I wonder if those who feel the pain of animals and those who don’t are not two different species.

Several days before the surgery, while debating alternative cancer treatments, not knowing yet that there was no metastasis, and believing I didn’t have long on this plane of existence, the following simple song came to me, and I found myself singing it the night before the surgery. It was for the geese who had been brutally slaughtered and me:

Across the river, there is a mountain
Across the mountain, there is a meadow
Across the meadow, there is an ocean
Across the ocean, there is a forest
Across the forest, there is a desert,
Across the desert, there is a hill
Across the hill, there’s a valley,
Across the valley is where I’ll find you
It’s where you’ll be
Safe and free, you and me

Thank heavens there are organizations that focus on the slaughtering business. We will leave that area of animal abuse to them, but to say that if there’s a hell on earth, it has to be the slaughterhouse. What we know is that ‘surplus game’ will increasingly be converted to food. THE GAME AGENCIES, MY FRIENDS, ARE NOW IN THE WILDLIFE AGRIBUSINESS!

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