It's 9 o'clock on a chilled Saturday morning. Karen Davis, her shoulders a little hunched, balancing a helmet of black hair on her brow, is addressing a crowd of about 40 Humanists of Spokane, most of them retirees, in the back conference room of the Old Country Buffet. Davis is the founder and president of the United Poultry Concern in Virginia, and the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. She was invited by the Humanists to speak about the health risks and moral implications of factory farming. She does a decent job of it, and the white-hairs seem receptive and awake.
Chickens, turkeys, ducks -- they're all mistreated, forced into cages, beaks torn off, reduced to their biological functions. Ten billion animals are slaughtered each year in USDA-inspected facilities -- 9 billion of those are birds, 8.7 billion are chickens. OK, we get that.
But Davis really lights up when she ditches the facts and gets anecdotal, waxing fondly about her experiences raising fowl. This is also where she loses us. She raves about the intelligence of her turkey companions; an elderly humanist turns to a friend and mouths the question "intelligence?" She talks about how she used to eat lunch with the chickens near her home. She was moved by their faces, pressed against the fence in anticipation of her arrival. She was moved by the "sadness of their lives." She compares a chicken's tendency to resist eye contact with humans, to the same tendency in abused children.
It might be less funny if we weren't sitting in the Old Country Buffet, which is to poultry concerns about what Detroit is to environmental ones.
An hour into her talk, I get up to leave. The Humanists are still listening patiently, but I am weary of chickens. I doubt that Karen Davis knows what they're thinking. Plus, my stomach's a little queasy. The restaurant's too-plump sausage links are doing a number on me. And I just realized why the eggs taste so funny. They kind of taste like blood.
It's not just chickens hogging the press lately. Here's a wrap-up of other animal abuse stories that have crossed our transom here at Critter Watch.
Wolf activists have howling after President Bush since the administration ran a television ad depicting wolves as terrorists during the presidential campaign. The ad's message: a vote for Kerry is a vote for these menacing, snarling, wild creatures. Though no wolves have responded, the International Wolf Center in Minnesota quickly came to the animal's defense.
"Wolves suffer when the most powerful office in the world associates them with such a widely feared and reviled symbol of evil," the group said, adding that wolves instinctively stay far away from people. Wouldn't you?
A Little Fishy
Skippers beware, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has officially adopted a new cause in its animal welfare efforts. The Fish Empathy Project was recently launched to convince people that guppies have feelings, too. "No one would ever put a hook through a dog's or cat's mouth," said Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan outreach for PETA. The group has begun demonstrating at seafood restaurants and is urging people to take fish out of their diet -- quite a reach, since most experts agree it's one of the mainstays to a healthy diet.
"Fish are so misunderstood because they're so far removed from our daily lives," says Karin Robertson, Empathy Project manager. "They're such interesting, fascinating individuals, yet they're so incredibly abused." PETA has not responded to questions about including fish in peoples' daily lives, such as "Take Your Fish to Work Day" and the proposed "Make Friends With a Fish" campaign.
Jaws for Sharks
In early November, four teenagers broke into the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., and killed and tortured two sharks and a ray. You read that right: They dragged a nurse shark, a bamboo shark and a cow-nosed ray out of their tanks, then pounded and stabbed them to death with plastic poles.
The kids were arrested the next day. No word on a motive yet, but blogger Mack Reed has already given them a sentence: "I'm all for a tough-love trip to SeaWorld, where we whet Shamu's appetite with a little squid, smear chum in their hair and toss 'em in."
The Great Chihuahua Caper
Finally, right here in Spokane, we got news last month of a series of puppy heists from area pet stores. On Nov. 8, someone broke into the Pink Poodle Grooming Parlor in Spokane and made off with three gaunt Chihuahuas, four pugs and a Jack Russell. The next day, burglars broke into Spokanimal C.A.R.E., stole $10 from a collection jar and, obviously frustrated, tore an empty cash register out of the wall. The day after that, Spokane resident Lacey Meacham (and an accomplice) strolled into the Evergreen Pet store in Spokane Valley, stuffed an $800 Chihuahua into her coat and walked out. She and the pooch were apprehended later that day. Police opine that Meacham may have participated in the Pink Poodle purloin, positioning her as a repeated puppy-pinching perpetrator.