A recent story came out of Florida where, on May 3 of this year, a landscaper who was mowing lawns on behalf of a company came across a mother duck and her 11 ducklings and deliberately ran over nine of her babies with the lawnmower leaving their body parts, “scattered all over the lawn.” He was charged with nine counts of animal cruelty and is currently in jail on $27,000 bail.
At least two residents ran out to stop him and naturally they were shaken by what they had seen. One resident was interviewed in what looked like her backyard, visibly upset by what she had witnessed. As she sat in a chair recounting to the reporter what had happened, I couldn’t help but notice the stainless steel barbeque prominently displayed in the background. Here was a woman who actively tried to prevent cruelty and bloodshed and was horrified by the landscaper’s senseless actions. Yet I wondered: if she found out that millions of baby male chicks are killed in a similar way every year by a large grinding blade in a high-pressured macerator all because they are male and lack the capacity to breed, would she react the same way? More to the point, would she actively do something to prevent it by refusing to eat chicken?
I have no way of knowing how that woman would feel or how she would respond. I was heartened that she had acted and was speaking on behalf of those ducks but watching her share her story with the gleaming grill in the background was just another illustration of our strange and contradictory kinship with animals.
That same month in May but a few days later, I was in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and a news story flashed across the screen about a fire that had broken out on a transport truck travelling on the 401 highway here in Toronto. The truck was carrying 8,000 live chickens; about 3,000 of them died. I was amazed the story actually acknowledged the fatality of the birds since chickens are generally pretty distant on most people’s radar of animal importance (along with fish and other sea life). What was also interesting was reading a news report of the fire later and seeing what was printed just under the headline but before the main story:
“Firefighters, police officers and paramedics join recovery effort.”
In fact, look at how gently the firefighters in this video from that day are handling the birds. It actually touched my cold, dark heart:
“Recovery effort.” Okay, so “rescue effort” would have been better since the word “rescue” implies life but when I watched the gentle way in which the EMS people placed the caged birds on the ground, they were so clearly aware that they were handling living and breathing beings. Whether they would have articulated that way or not doesn’t matter – their actions revealed it. How it made my heart ache to know that those chickens were being “recovered” only to be driven to a slaughterhouse where they would face a new horror of being torn out of those cages by hand, shackled and hung upside down, stunned in an electric bath, throats slashed and dumped in a boiling vat of water to remove their feathers then having their body parts sliced apart and packaged into Styrofoam trays, sealed with plastic wrap and trucked to a grocery store. Smoke inhalation and being burned alive would have almost been a mercy.
What a bizarre world we live in: live chickens in a traffic fire will be rescued but then driven to a plant to be killed. One occupation saves them, another kills them. A news report publicly acknowledges the death and recovery of live birds on a truck but avoids stating the destination of said truck entirely (which was unmistakably a slaughterhouse transport vehicle). I wonder how many firefighters went home after their shift that day and had chicken for dinner. Did they think it odd that hours earlier they were saving them from a fire and now they were biting into their dead bodies? Just like the woman who tried to rescue the ducklings, I have no way of knowing. But oh how I wish we would wake up to the double-standards we have for animals because they are everywhere.
Animals are either deserving of life or they aren’t. We consistently want to have it both ways: we want them as pets or companions or to look at in a zoo but we also want them as clothing, products and food items. At what point do they become undeserving of life exactly? What determines which of them should live and which ones should die, which ones we feed and which ones we feed to our families, which ones we experiment on and which ones we buy Christmas presents for, which ones we grieve and which ones we hunt? Up to what point do their lives actually matter because I would really like to know.
Humans are the only ones who have set up these arbitrary rules and uses for animals based on our whims, traditions, religions, tastes, fads, desires and personal interests. We alone allow these contradictions to continue and thus, we are the only ones who can fix them.