Falconberg describes her Hall of Shame of human barbarism towards animals, and imagines a world free from the killer apes that foolishly believe they are the crowing achievement of life's evolution.
God made the animals for their innocence, and the plants for their simplicity, but man He made to serve Him in the tangle of his mind.
— Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons
IWASN'T PLANNING to write anything about Eight Belles, the only filly in this year's Kentucky Derby, who broke both front ankles after crossing the finish line and had to be euthanized on the track. I've written on horse racing before, and also on the slaughter plants, where the discards go.
Then I was stirred up to write another animal article by a solemn moment. I was walking in a wooded area near my home at dusk a few days ago and saw a baby bird on the ground. His parents mock dive-bombed me — typical behavior — as I tried to get a closer look. My vet says leave the baby on the ground alone — his parents will take care of him. But this one looked really sick, all huddled down, and barely breathing. While I debated what to do, Nature took care of it for me. The baby was still, that absolute stillness the way animals are when they're dead, not just sleeping.
There's a clock tower near this wooded area. Its bells have a mournful sound. As I was walking home, the bells sounded. Tun boom, tun boom, tun boom, tun boom. Eight o'clock. I've been troubled by Eight Belles death all month.
Then I came home and The Weather Channel was showing a documentary on Balto and Togo, the two dogs who helped bring diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska back in January 1925 to avoid an epidemic. It seemed time to put another animal article on the page, to get rid of my sadness.
That serum run was a 700-mile trip, where relay teams of dogs fought through 100 mph winds and 50 below temps. Togo was the lead dog for the team that covered the longest distance of the trip; Balto was the lead for the team that ran the last leg into Nome. Some of the dogs had their lungs "scorched out" by the extreme cold. Under conditions this difficult, one modern-day musher on the show said, you simply have to "surrender" to the wisdom and experience of the lead dog. He has in his care not only the lives of all the other dogs, but that of the human in tow as well.
Sadly, Balto and six of the team's dogs ended up discarded and neglected at a kind of roadside 'dime' zoo. A Cleveland businessman named George Kimble saw that they were ill and mistreated and was so outraged that he raised the money to bring them to his city, and to give them a good home during the last few years of their life.
I thought I'd toll the belle for a few animals. Like the ones who died during the serum run to Nome, and the ones who die or are injured in the yearly exercise in human vanity called the Iditarod. And for Balto and his companions tossed away at a roadside zoo.
My second belle to toll is for the Russian space dog Laika, sent up in 1957 with no re-entry plan for her. They sent her up there to die. They lied about what happened, saying she died painlessly after a week in orbit. In truth, seven hours after launch, there were no life signs coming from the capsule. She had died of overheating and panic.
Personnel gave her cute nicknames before sending her to her death: Little Curly Haired One, Little Lemon. The night before she was slated to be sent up, one of the scientists took her home to play with his kids. He said he felt sorry for her. "I wanted to do something nice for her: she had so little time left to live."
The human mind is sick beyond belief. This fake kindness to Laika is like the scientist who sets a beagle in a lab on fire for burn experiments and then goes home to play with his golden retriever. This is like the Department of Defense scientists who blow-torched the skin off of a pig (no anesthetic) and then gave the desperate animal a drink of water. (You can see footage of this DOD experiment in Earthlings, an animal-rights film written and directed by Shaun Monson and narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. It is the greatest animal-rights film ever made — click here.)
At least Laika had a happy ending in science fiction. A number of writers have had her rescued by aliens, discovered in her capsule and adopted — have had her traveling to other planets and leading a long, wonderful life. She even showed up on Doctor Who.
Belle number three is for that poor DOD pig.
Belle number four is for those sad, miserable, fragile little battery-cage hens. They especially touch my heart since they are so small and defenseless. For those who do not know about the battery-cage hen, she is the source of all those supermarket eggs labeled 'farm fresh.' Silent Suffering on the Mercy for Animals website is one of the best videos on her.
As soon as she hatches from her egg, there is no mother hen in sight to shelter her. Instead, along with thousands of peeping others, she is 'sorted' on a conveyor belt by rubber-gloved factory workers. Her male counterparts — useless to the egg industry, and not genetically enhanced to be 'broilers,' the chickens humans eat — these tiny peeping fluffy males are either shoved into plastic bags to suffocate or wood-chipped, alive, for pet food. (The American Veterinary Association considers wood chipping, alive, a humane method for killing chickens. I dunno. Have they seen Fargo ? I'm not sure I'd want to be fed head or feet first into that frightening inferno of metal and pain…)
The tiny peeping fluffy female next goes to the de-beaker. When she is just a few hours old, and should be snug under a mother's wing, she has the tip of her beak sliced off by a red-hot blade — so that she will not peck her fellow prisoners to death when it comes time for her permanent confinement in a battery cage, where she will reside for her whole life crammed in with several others in a space too small for her to even spread her wings.
In the videos of this de-beaking, the chick's little eyes look bewildered with the pain. Severed nerve endings in that area keep her in constant pain for the rest of her short life.
Other kinds of pain vie with the hot misery in her mutilated beak. On the Mercy for Animals website, we see undercover footage taken of a typical battery-cage warehouse. A worker is stomping and stomping on a struggling bird who has escaped her cage until he kicks her into the manure pit beneath the cages. Another worker takes a near-dead bird and spins her violently around to break her neck. When he can't do that, he throws her, hard, against a wall. We later see her still feebly kicking in her efforts to die.
Even one bird treated like this is too much, let alone the millions of laying hens whose suffering is commonplace.
When it comes time for new hens to be 'inserted' into their cages, where they will live with 7 or 8 other birds in a space the size of newspaper, the workers simply shove and stuff them in as if they were insensate things — the process is "forceful and violent," says MFA. In the videos, the noise of the hens screaming and crying is a constant background.
The hens spend one to two years in this battery cage, which is about ten rungs below the hell of a concentration camp. The MFA footage is without mercy. We see insanity, birds driven crazy, sick and dying birds, ones with no feathers and bloody patches from rubbing on the wire of the cages, ones with deformed bleeding feet from standing on wire constantly (no soft mercy of bedding for these disposable little girls). The eyes of the birds are hopeless, dead, and dazed with pain. We see one little de-beaked girl with a horribly prolapsed uterus from being forced to lay such an abnormally large number of eggs.
"Not one single time did I see any vet," says the MFA worker who went undercover to get this footage. If the hens manage to escape, they are too weak and injured to stand — having broken wings and legs. They are just left in the aisles to kick and die slowly, unless a worker comes along and uses the animal as a football for fun.
Maybe most pitiful and grotesque of all are the eye injuries: lacerated corneas from the manure fumes — helpless attempts to rub their eyes with their wings in the small space — huge swollen sores and abscesses around their eyeballs.
'Spent' hens, those too worn out to lay any more, are yanked out of their cages roughly, sometimes breaking legs and wings in the process, and thrown into metal bins as if they had no more feelings than pillows. These 'lowest' of birds with tough stringy meat go into baby food and chicken noodle soup. If you have ever wondered why the chicken in that bowl of 'comforting' soup is like a piece of dead matting, that's why.
I have often wondered if maybe these hens end up as whatever is processed into those breaded squares in the McDonald's Happy Meal?
All of this torture is the norm — just like those downed cows being electric shocked in their ears on the mainstream news were the norm. 'Banality of evil' run rampant.
Belle number five for the cows. All those Happy Cows in California who are nothing but. The green sunny fields of the TV commercial, with the cows contentedly chewing their grass — this does not even vaguely resemble the confinement in barns on concrete, the tasteless pesticide-laden feed, and the cow herself, a manufactured, sick, grotesque milk-making machine speeded up on growth hormones.
In a recent book called Brain Trust, author and scientist Colm Kelleher says that mad- cow disease in the U.S. originated in a Maryland biological weapons lab where scientists used diseased remains of New Guinea cannibals to see if they could pass the brain-wasting disease from species to species. "They started injecting the ground up brains… into every species they could come up with… chimpanzees, mice, rats, guinea pigs, sheep, deer," says Kelleher. "We know there were several escapees… during this process."
I have only seen the cows out of control and slipping and sliding around and looking helpless from this disease. I hate to think of pigs and rats and mice and chimps doing the same.
Belle number six. Back to pigs. A photo on the cover of The New York Times shows the commonplace cruelty of "hogs" (the Times word for them) in a factory farm, piles of them huddled under heat lamps on slatted floors in a bleak, featureless warehouse. Not a blade of grass in sight. Not even one ball to play with for 'enrichment,' like the fortunate lab pigs get. Not one comment by the Times that maybe this is not an acceptable way to treat pigs. "All the banality of evil that's fit to print."
Belle number seven is for Sarah. One of my rescue hamsters from a long time ago. A victim of the pet slave trade, she looked cute in PetSmart, so a family bought her and then she bit the kid she was bought for. So she was tossed away by the family, ignored in the garage in her cage, with some food and water put in periodically. When I got her, the cage was impacted with several inches of urine and feces, and Sarah's feet had burns and sores on them from standing on this.
I immediately took her out, put her in the tub, tossed out the cage, found a box for her, and took her to my vet for treatment. After that it was a great diet of veggies and fruits and muffins and nuts and lots of time out to run around and a little wheel for when she was in her new (much more spacious) cage.
Hamsters are very unsuitable to give to children. They bite. Unlike rats, who are highly social, hamsters are solitary. In nature, they come together only to mate.
Little Sarah always looked a bit dazed. She would play in her wheel and run about the house, but she would also just sit still for long periods of time and stare at nothing. Hamsters are small, nervous, very active, so this stillness was unusual. She would even fall asleep on my shoulder, like a small fur rug — very unusual since hamsters are not much in the way of shoulder sitters. As she slept, I would pet her little head, and stroke her tiny ears, and call her MunchkinPoo and Fluffkin.
She didn't live very long after I got her. Just a few months. But at least I did my best to make her happy. I feel useful when I rescue an animal.
In the 1930's, the first hamster was discovered in the Syrian desert by a British scientist. With her was a nest of babies. He brought them home with him, and from her, this Ur Hamster, all those now in captivity are descended. I apologize to you, Ur Mother, for what we have done to you and your progeny.
There aren't enough belles to toll for all, so I'll save the last one for those who need it most. Us. Belle number eight is tolling for us. Since we've wiped out a quarter of the Earth's species in the last 30 years and are dead bent on bringing about the next mass extinction, I think we need a toll.
I love the idea of an Earth without us. In geological time, our planet is 4 billion years old and we've only been around about 6 million. When the Earth finally gets rid of us, it will only take a blink of geological time (maybe a few million years) to repair the damage we have done.
I am not really desirous of my individual consciousness living on. I rather like Carl Sagan's poetic idea of 'starstuff.' I will still be around, all those millions of years down the road, as a little pinch of a star somewhere. Or maybe I will be reincarnated. On some perfect, soft, gentle morning, 4 million years down the road of time, I will be a small rodent-like furry little body, sunning herself on a rock, under a golden-green tree, by a deep blue lake.
I will bask in a stream of warm cosmic consciousness, on that rock. Without a human in sight.
Copyright © 2008 Suki