Florence the turkey has thrived since she came to live at Karen Davis’ bird sanctuary on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. She’ll be an honored guest at Davis’ annual vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. JOHN H. SHEALLY II/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
By LINDA MCNATT, The Virginian-Pilot
© November 25, 2004
MACHIPONGO — Sssshhhhhh.
Don’t mention the T word around Florence today. It might upset the plump, white turkey.
Here, at her home in this tiny, rural town on the Eastern Shore, Thanksgiving is just another day at the bird sanctuary.
Florence will give her thanks at a celebration on Sunday, three days after her kind have been feasted upon all across the country. In fact, she will be an honored guest at a vegetarian dinner at the sanctuary that is also home to several ducks and more than 100 chickens. Florence is the lone turkey.
“Oh, we’ll let her come in the house and set bowls of food and water on the floor for her,” said Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns and an avid animal activist. “That way, people can get to know her.”
Davis, a former English professor at the University of Maryland, believes that everyone should get to know their feathered friends better, especially the kind that often meet their end at processing plants.
But none of that for Florence.
The quiet, curious turkey was one of three rescued from a plant in Maryland when she was a youngster, or a poult, as adolescents of her breed are called. The turkey, Davis said, was on display in a cage at the front of the building with a hen and a gobbler.
A friend of Davis’, another fowl lover, asked the owner of the plant if she could adopt the turkeys after the holidays and find proper homes for them.
Florence and her cage mate, Boris, were sent to live with Davis at her bird sanctuary almost five years ago. But Boris died two years later of a respiratory infection typical of mass-produced birds.
Florence, however, has flourished.
“She’s very hardy,” Davis said.
Turkeys are meant to roam – something Florence gets to do at the 7-acre bird sanctuary, Davis said.
Her love of fowl began in the mid-1980s after she met a chicken she named Viva – left behind at a chicken hatchery because she had deformed legs. Viva had the run of the house, Davis recalls, perching on the kitchen sink and pecking holes in a rubber sponge for sport.
Even before that, by the early 1970s, Davis had changed her eating habits and become a strict vegetarian. Her diet doesn’t include any animal products.
In 1990, she started United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in meat production. In 1998, she looked for a small farm and found it among the poultry processing plants on the Eastern Shore.
Many of the chickens at the sanctuary were rescued from local highways after falling off trucks on the way to the plants, Davis said.
At the sanctuary, Florence gets along just fine with the chickens but is especially fond of the ducks.
In the fenced yard , Florence takes dust baths, flopping her wings and feathers in the dirt, and sun bathes. She appears to enjoy her status as the only one of her kind on the farm.
For a turkey, she’s rather quiet, Davis said. Florence prefers to observe and listen, cocking her head one way and then the other to consider the world around her.
This Sunday, she’ll be the center of attention. For the past several years, Davis has opened her home and her farm after the holiday for a not-so-traditional potluck vegan meal.
The Pennsylvania native has had anywhere from 15 to 50 people join her, she said.
The celebration is open to the public. Davis asks that those who want to come bring one vegan dish to share.
“Or, come anyway,” she said. “There will be plenty of food here.”
They’ll be eating things like Mrs. Gobble-Good’s Golden Brown Pie, a recipe made of lentils, carrots, celery, onions and diced potatoes that Davis includes in a brochure she hands out about the plight of turkeys produced for meat.
And i f you happened to have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner today , it might be best not to mention it at this feast, especially if Florence is within earshot.
Reach Linda McNatt at 222-5561 or email@example.com
© 2004 HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. http://www.upc-online.org