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J is one of my closest friends. He was rescued at six weeks old from a man attempting to kill this innocent ball of fluff, eyes still baby blue. I constantly ask myself how anyone could be so cruel. He is an individual. He has a soul. J knows his name, will come when called, and is constantly climbing into my arms and asking for chin scratches and snuggles. He always has his mouth on everything and is extraordinarily proud when he finds something shiny to gift me-going so far as to pull my jewelry off so he can plop it into my hand. He’s a nervous little guy, constantly cocking his furrowed head and looking to others for protection. But who could blame him, with a past like his? Of course, he narrowly escaped the fate that meets 50 billion of his brothers and sisters every year.
The tragedy of the story is, until that statement I could’ve been telling the tale of a beloved dog have most of you by your heartstrings. I’d have your eyes and ears and sympathy. You’d want to punish the man that’d lay hands on this little soul.
But it just so happens that Jer is a chicken. Though he possesses the same curiosity, the same lust for life, the same right to live as YOUR best friend, he was, born into the wrong body, the odds stacked against him. J was bred to grow exponentially faster than his wild counterparts.. In order to be eaten as a child and pull a greater profit. Junglefowl (wild chickens) can live to 30 years of age but his slaughter weight at only six week nears theirs at full maturity. Though he is no longer in danger of slaughter, this sweet boy will face a host of problems from early onset arthritis and lesions in his feet from bearing the weight of his ginormous body to poor circulation and cardiac failure from his inability of his small heart to pump oxygen through his massive body. He grew up in a metal warehouse where he watched thousands of others meet their demise as their legs gave way to unnaturally large bodies. He watched humans like me toss them in the garbage. Their monetary loss was little in the profits of the masses. It took time to earn the love of this little one, and I often worry what he recalls of his past.
I’ve probably lost quite a few readers at this point. I get it, I really do. Veganism, my abstaining from torturing of J’s kin, is foreign to you. You probably find my accurate but haunting descriptions of his life before we met over the top. You probably find my humanizing extreme. But J has protected from others who tried to harm me, has come to my comfort when I cried. J is every bit as much a friend to me as the dog you come home to every night. His language is not as universal as dogs—most haven’t taken the time to learn it. But J cares deeply, for myself, for his friends. He is as capable of love as the cat rubbing against your face as you read this.
And when you jest and shove the burnt, dismembered parts of his family in my face, forgive me if I cannot “take a joke.” This gentle friend of mine, this boy who’s brought me so much light in times all else in life seemed dark, who forgave me for unspeakable sins committed by my kind, could so easily have been the “food” sitting atop your plate. His rescue is an anomaly, but his kindness is not. Through my work with sanctuaries I’ve met thousands of chickens. They fiercely protect their families, but given time and love they are more than willing to accept humans into their own.
J is just one being amongst the billions of genetically modified, severely abused, and disregarded victims of our taste buds. Dairy cows, laying hens, farmed fish, sows birthing pork…all must face a lifetime of cruelty for products you consume within minutes and never give a second thought. When you dangle them in front of me, laugh, tell me I’m “missing out” all I can see is the life that was lost for your snide remark.
Compassion is a journey and each of us is on our own. I cannot force it upon you, but please do not hold the death of my best friend over me and ask my why I cannot take a joke.