“What is that gooey pink stuff?” eight-year-old Dylan asks about the large spots on Franklin’s side.
“It’s medicine,” I explain. “Franklin had an operation, and these are stitches. The medicine helps the area stay clean.”
Lots of questions ensue, of course, from the group of North Park Elementary students, one of three school groups Catskill Animal Sanctuary has welcomed this week alone. I explain that Franklin is an older pig who has lived at CAS since he was a four-pound runt found at a factory farm. Franklin has just had cancerous tumors removed.
I love Franklin a lot… in spite of himself. He’s not an easy pig — a bit high-strung, kinda moody. He once bit caretaker Erin on the leg. He’s not at all like barn-mates Nadine and Peggy Sue, rescued from an animal hoarder. These two are in the main pig barn, the next stop on our tour. They are gentle, laid back and affectionate girls. Visitors are stunned when, as if she’s a sofa, I stretch out on top of Nadine while she rests in her deep bed of straw. More stunned still when they hear her happy grunt. Today, a few brave kids stretch out with her one at a time.
“This is kind of a happily ever after place,” one insightful child says, a big grin plastered across her face.
“You’re right!” That’s a great observation!” I compliment her.
While Franklin is recovering from cancer surgery in a clean, cozy, deeply bedded stall, and Nadine is grunting gleefully as kids relax with her, millions of pigs just like them — with distinct personalities, fierce intelligence, an emotional range identical to humans’ — live virtually their entire lives in metal “gestation” crates just a few inches wider than their bodies. These breeding machines get a few more inches when it’s time to nurse their babies, but not enough to touch them. That’s right: Millions of mother pigs are never allowed to touch their children. Their children, meanwhile, are taken at three-weeks-old. Their testicles are removed, tails cut off, large sections of their ears are cut out, all without painkiller. This is just the beginning of six months of torturous existence before the pigs are hauled off to the slaughterhouse to endure a death that no person of conscience would wish upon another being.
Happily ever after for most pigs? Not so much. In fact, the stress and filth of our intensive confinement of pigs has resulted in an epidemic called porcine diarrhea virus that has wiped out ten percent of our nation’s pigs. It’s why the price of your bacon has risen to a record high in the last year.
Back on our tour, Emmett the rooster is falling asleep in a young child’s arms. Emmett and his friends were rescued from a crystal meth lab and were initially terrified of us. These days, Emmett hangs out where tours gather under a large willow tree. Sometimes, he’ll accompany tour groups a short distance before returning to our gathering spot to serve as Greeter and Spokes-rooster.
I show the children Emmett’s ears. I tell them that chickens, like people, can get ear infections, and explain the function of his rubber comb and wattle. As a beaming boy holds Emmett, a few children give Emmett a neck massage. He blinks slowly and rapidly opens and shuts his beak — both signs of rooster rapture.
“He likes it!” a little one observes.
Yes, Emmett, too, is living happily ever after.
But Emmett is one of the fortunate few. The egg industry grinds up newborn male chicks shortly after birth. Hens are shipped to laying factories and stuffed into “battery cages” with as many as ten birds. They spend their entire short lives in these tiny wire cages. Like mother pigs, their lives are short—under two years—because they’re useless to the industry as soon as their egg production tapers off, and birds age really quickly in such a tortured environment. The chicken meat industry, responsible for over eight billion deaths annually in the U.S. alone, is no better.
I show the children a battery cage. A parent chaperone asks her child: “Does that look like a happily ever after life?”
“No,” says the little girl. “It looks really, really sad.”
IF YOU’D like to leave animals off your plate, whether for a meal or for a lifetime, there’s no better place to start than in our little village!
On Market St., Healthy Gourmet to Go offers weekly vegan meal delivery and take-out service on Monday and Tuesday. On Main St., Dutch Ale House, Tango and Main Street Restaurant offer a number of vegan choices as long as you remember to ask them to leave off the cheese. Ditto at Stella’s Station on Partition St. Hudson Valley Dessert Company offers a hummus salad sandwich, and smoothies can be made with almond or soy milk. The most choices are at the newly-opened Love Bites, with items like vegan omelettes, tofu scramble with sweet potato and spinach, chickpea crepes and much more. Their neighbor, Slices, offers killer vegan pizza, lots of vegetarian ones (but folks, cheese is horrifically cruel and equally unhealthy, so consider trying the vegan version!), grilled seasonal vegetables and pasta primavera. Ask, and they’ll make their garlic bread vegan. Finally, remember dessert: Krause’s and Lucky Chocolates both offer vegan chocolates. Can you say yum?