Ava tells me what's what

Meet Ava:
Ava had a rough start in life. She was born in a hatchery without a mother's wing to keep her warm. The day she was born, she and 499 other baby birds were plopped into US Postal Service boxes. They were shipped as "perishable matter" until a postal worker noticed that 50 were dead. Through a series of lucky breaks, the remaining chicks were placed into loving homes - ten came to Animal Place as adorable, large, cheeping babies. Ava is the kind of bird people eat; she is bred to grow so fast that she is at market weight at the young age of six weeks. Six weeks! Just a baby. Every year, 9.2 billion of her kind are slaughtered. It's a tragic end to a life worth so much more.

To be honest, that isn't really the story I wanted to share but it's important to know where Ava comes from and why she even exists. Ava is more than her birthplace, she is definitely more than "dinner". She is curious and smart and a little on the goofy side. A couple of weeks ago, she showed me a trust that I definitely deserved (okay, I know I should be modest...) but was nevertheless pleased she shared.

I was outside doing final preparations for an upcoming event and I wanted to check out the poultry enclosure. Ava and her buddies were pecking around in the grass, as they are wont to do, when a couple of turkey vultures glided overhead. Chickens have to be particularly aware of their surroundings, including who's flying in the sky. And even though Ava has been bred for a size and weight never seen in nature, she and her kind still know to be concerned about winged predators. So even though the turkey vultures held no interest in the chickens, nine of Ava's sisters ran underneath a protective overhang. Except Ava.

Ava immediately ran over to me and stood next to my leg. She gazed up at me, pitched a nasty glare to the turkey vultures ("Yeah? My human here's way bigger than you!) and started to scratch about in the dirt. I crouched down next to her, reached my hand out, and gently preened her neck feathers for her. She leaned into my palm and sighed. I shook my fists at the turkey vultures, you know, just to show Ava I meant business and was worthy of protecting her. I guess Ava was pleased, for she preened and clucked and went on her way.

It's hard to think of Ava as a "thing" or an "it" or "meat". She's Ava. Lover of wheelbarrow rides, singer of very interesting chicken songs, and hardcore grape addict. It's pretty neat to think she likes me alright too, even though I can't sing, sometimes steal her grapes and feel wheelbarrows were meant for poop and straw, not perching chickens. She forgives all that - she knows I'll kick turkey-vulture butt any time, anywhere for her.

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

Humane Holidays: Thanksgiving

Every day should be a humane holiday, where everyone chooses compassion and generosity. And every day can be a humane one by deciding where our money goes, what we put into our bodies, and how we treat ourselves, our fellow humans and the nonhumans of this earth.

This Thanksgiving, start a new tradition by serving a vegan meal prepared with love. We've put together a small menu and some suggestions on what to have at a vegan Thanksgiving.

To see the menu, please visit our website: http://www.animalplace.org/1newweb/thanksgiving.html.

Scratch my back Etta

This is Etta. And me (I'm wearing purple). Our best guess of Etta's age is around eight or nine. In sheep years, that is reaching the esteemed period of Ancient. Five months ago, Etta arrived with seven other animals from a slaughterhouse. She was skinny and nervous, avoiding people at all costs. Who could blame her?

Etta earned her name through what we call "Better Living Through Singing". Etta has a deep, resonating R&B style voice that booms across the sanctuary. We like to think that her namesake, Etta James, would appreciate Etta the sheep's lyrical style and would be honored. Or offended, since Etta the sheep cannot hold a tune and really only has one song to sing called "MEEEHHHHHHH". It's a catchy tune, really.

After Etta opened up her voice pipes, she also discovered a burning desire for back massages. Etta may not be queen of R&B but she is empress of R&R. There is no sheep who loves a back rub like Etta. When you enter her enclosure, she'll stand at attention, gaze intently at you, sing her song "MEEEEHHHHH" and amble over. If you do not immediately offer up your hands for a massage, she will lean into you, ram her head ever so gently into your stomach and sing for you "MEEEEEHHHHHH". Sometimes she gets right in your face and stares really hard, trying to convey the obvious - where's my back rub? Who can resist such charm? As the picture shows, not me.

Why did this lyrical genius end up at a slaughterhouse? It is hard for me to understand. I cannot imagine cooking her up and eating her - she is a being unto herself, full of her own sheep thoughts and sheep feelings, wanting to do her own sheep things. How could I deny her that for something I don't need, like her flesh? And even if I liked the warmth of her wool, there is nothing natural about it nor do I need it to survive. Etta's ancestors and her wild brethren have hair - it keeps them warm in the winter and naturally sheds in the summer, allowing the animal to remain cool. Humans bred domestic sheep to have constantly growing wool. It must be sheared to keep from growing and growing and growing. When that wool (or its lanolin) stops being useful for scarves (or lanolin-related pursuits), the sheep stops being useful to the farmer. Not a very healthy relationship for the sheep.

Etta doesn't opine on these matters, unless they relate to whether the neck massage takes precedence over the lower back shiatsu (they generally don't). She lives in the here and now and perhaps the "where is my back rub?" future. There is nothing to remember and nothing to forgive because all that is good is now, here in this moment of physical bliss. I can't help but enjoy the moment too, even if Etta doesn't return the favor of a back rub.

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

The Mighty Quinn

This is Quinn. He is wild-born, but something happened that left him orphaned and near-death. A wildlife rehabber noticed the sickly bird and intervened, took him to a vet and nursed him back to health.

A tame turkey in the California wilderness is not a safe turkey, especially not near a "holiday" that celebrates gratitude through the suffering and slaughter of another life.

So Quinn is now at the sanctuary.

I like Quinn a lot. He is tall and lanky, a bird made for flight and speed. He talks, urgently, inquisitively and intensely. If I had my way, I would sit and talk with Quinn all day. He does not speak like the other turkeys - not because he is wild, but because he has missed out on the passing down of songs from parents to offspring, of the sharing of trills between friends and siblings. His calls are louder, more urgent and lack the the subtleties of the other turkeys.

When I do my (poor) imitation of a mother turkey's trill, he cocks his head to the side, stretches his neck out, takes a deep breath and then screams at me. I'm not sure if he's saying "You're not my mother!" or "Your turkey talk sucks!" but he's curious and pauses always after his yell for my response. I don't know any other turkey talk except that one trill, so we bandy back and forth like this for a few minutes before he decides to see what the real turkeys are talking about.

And if there is one thing turkeys are most adept at it is talking. Their vocalizations are varied and many, their clucks, trills, whistles and gobbles all convey some sort of turkey thought, emotion or opinion (they are VERY opinionated). Sometimes it's obvious - the loud toot toot of an angry turkey hen, the full-throated warble of a courting turkey tom, the indignant yelp of a turkey hen who does not want to be petted, the soft trill of a content hen as she preens...sometimes the turkeys talk for the sake of gabbing or discuss stuff only turkeys really care about (or that humans are too inept to understand). I've seen turkey hens stand up tall, fluff their feathers and begin to wax eloquent on some very important subject. It does not matter that no one is listening for she has something to say and, darnit, she's going to say it loud and clear.

Quinn has missed out on some very important lessons. But he's interested in learning. He stares intently at the turkey hens and watch as they talk. He studies the two old tom turkeys, Leland and Tom, as they puff out proudly, gobble and croon to the girls. He even takes time to check out the chickens and see if they have anything interesting to say (according to him, they don't). And he watches the people as they come and go, clean, talk in a foreign tongue, and he's curious.

While Quinn will never know what it means to be a free turkey in a flock of his peers, he will have an opportunity to live his life in his own turkey way.

Remember the turkeys this Thanksgiving. The wild ones who are brutally shot and stolen from their friends and families. The domestic turkeys shoved callously by the thousands into transport trucks, exposed to freezing temperatures and shipped to a slaughterhouse. The millions upon millions of birds who never know the warmth of their mother's wing, the joy of preening in the sunlight or the simple pleasure of choosing whether to eat the grape or the cantaloupe. They need us now more than ever - this Thanksgiving, show your gratitude by eating a turkey-free dinner. Extend that gratitude throughout the year by switching to a vegetarian diet.

Quinn screeches and toots his thanks. Or what I'll currently label as his "thanks".

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

Prop 2 Passes!

You have spoken loud and clear - Yes on Proposition 2! In a landslide victory for the animals, you resoundingly passed Proposition 2, giving more room to the 19 million hens, calves and pigs protected by this measure.

To everyone who spent their mornings, evenings and weekends gathering signatures to get this on the ballot - thank you.

To all the volunteers who leafleted, phone-banked, told their friends, families and coworkers to vote yes - thank you.

To the people who got endorsements and donated their money to getting ads aired - thank you.

To the dedicated, tireless campaign team - a huge thank you for all your hard work.

To you - the voter - thank you for giving a voice to the voiceless.

And to the Humane Society of the United States - thank you for making this happen.

This isn't ending the cruelty inherent to farming, only not eating animals does that. But it is allowing animals enough room to engage in the most basic of behaviors - turning around, stretching their limbs, lying down and standing up. Let's continue the fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and continue promoting veganism, compassion and better treatment of farmed animals.

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

Many Thanks!

While we all wring our hands and worry over the elections, especially the (no doubt positive) fate of Proposition 2, I'm posting some gratitude.

A big Thank You to the following:

SFVegan.org for coming out and making vegan pizza for our volunteer appreciation party. Nearly 20 of our dedicated volunteers (who deserve a big Thanks of their own) came out to make sure the chickens and bunnies were healthy. Only after some free labor did we celebrate their awesomeness. SfVegan.org makes a mean pesto pizza - I think our volunteers and staff went through six and could have gone through more but there was this thing called dessert. Thank you SFVegan for being so kind and generous with your pizza-making skills!

Sugar Plum Vegan for donating a platter of mouth-watering vegan desserts for our aforementioned volunteer appreciation party. When I say mouth-watering, I mean it. The Creamie Sandwich Cookies make Oreos look like pixie-sized wimps. Seriously. We enjoyed the Blondies, Gluten free chocolate chip cookies and chocolate dipped macaroons.

McFarland Designs: Every month a charity is chosen to receive 5% of McFarland Designs' sales. For October, Animal Place received $500 toward the purchase of the new 590-acre sanctuary. Not only is McFarland Designs a vegan jewelry maker but its founder is a wonderful friend to the animals - she adopted a total of eight chickens (one of whom is named after me, yay!) from Animal Place. She's adopted ducks and will be welcoming two turkeys from another sanctuary as well.

DaisyWares: A dedicated animal rights activist and lover, DaisyWares founder Roni donates 10% of her store's proceeds to Animal Place. Her jewelry is fantastic (I have a pair of the faux pearl earrings, go faux, go!) and her vegan chapstick is tasty (I mean literally). Check out her shop for some inspirational vegan gifts.

For those of you who have voted or plan to vote within the next three hours (in California, anyways), thank you. If you're in California and haven't voted yet: Think compassion, tolerance and kindness. We won't tell you how to vote on the 11 other propositions (except to again think "tolerance") but we definitely encourage you to vote Yes on Prop 2.

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

World Vegan Day

Today is World Vegan Day and we hope you abstain from all animal products today, tomorrow and in the future...but definitely today!

A vegan diet is the kindest diet for the animals, healthiest for your body, and the most sustainable diet for the planet. Take a veg pledge for the future of our non human brethren, humanity itself and the planet.

For more information on World Vegan Day, visit the website: http://www.worldveganday.org/