By Karen Davis, PhD, President
Photo By: Frank Johnston - The Washington Post
Karen Davis surrounded by her sanctuary friends
Who was it that said, “I’m so low down I declare I’m looking up at down”? That’s rather how it was when I decided to start an advocacy group for chickens in the late 1980s, and was told by some that if I was going to “do” farm animals, I had better do pigs, because people weren’t “ready” for chickens.
All the more reason to start an advocacy group for chickens, yes?
The plight and fate of chickens is terrible but word is getting out. I know for a fact that thousands of people care deeply about chickens, and I know it is possible to get people who never thought about chickens before to care very much. I’ve seen this happen because United Poultry Concerns is at the forefront of making it happen.
For example, I persuaded a journalist who had never heard of “forced molting” – the egg industry’s practice of depriving hens of food for 10 to 14 days, causing them to lose their feathers, in order to manipulate the production of eggs – to do a cover story about this for The Washington Post (4/30/2000). Another Washington Post writer did a feature story so compelling about United Poultry Concerns that the article, “For the Birds” (10/14/05), won a distinguished Ark Trust Genesis Award in 2000 for spotlighting animal issues. And now, at the conclusion of 2005, UPC has been honored by Utne magazine for the outstanding quality of our quarterly publication, Poultry Press.
When I talk about change regarding chickens, I’m not just talking about media attention, but about attitude. Nobody ever says to me anymore that people “aren’t ready” for chickens. Attention is finally being paid to the largest number of abused warm-blooded animals on the planet, both in the animal advocacy community and in the public domain.
To see chickens beginning to be vindicated after the long reign of oblivion and denigration they’ve suffered since the mid-20th century, when these earth-firstiest, earth-thirstiest of birds disappeared from the landscape, is enough to make me weep. Which is exactly what I did a few years ago in an airport, engrossed in a book called The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken (1995) by avian specialist Lesley Rogers.
The emotion that shook me at the airport derived from Rogers’ saying such things as, “it is now clear that birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates” and “With increased knowledge of the behaviour and cognitive capacities of the chicken has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source.”
These were the words of a scientist. I wished then, as I do now, that I could inscribe these words into the minds of every generation to come. It was this driving impulse that led me to start United Poultry Concerns after meeting a chicken named Viva. From the moment I pulled her out of a muddy shack in Maryland and saw her face, I knew I had a story to tell that would never let go of me. I have lived to see the day when chickens are starting to receive some attention, and for this I am grateful. With the help of our members I look forward to the year ahead for what we will continue to do for these birds to whom our hearts have