20 November 2023

I'll Miss Karen Davis As One Of My Favorite People And Favorite Activists Of All Time

Karen Davis passed away recently after selflessly dedicating an enormous portion of her life towards bettering existence for countless others.

NOV 16

Karen Davis & Rainbow

Karen Davis was the Founder and President of United Poultry Concerns, an organization that educates and advocates for respectful and compassionate attitudes and behavior towards domesticated birds. Although Karen’s focus was on domestic birds at home with her bird sanctuary in Virginia and afar wherever birds were being abused and killed by humans, she has always been a fierce and unremittingly dedicated advocate for all animals who’ve fallen prey to human domination, ignorance, and ill will. Karen passed away on November 4, 2023 at her home and sanctuary in Machipongo, Virginia at the age of 79.

The last time I saw Karen in person we discussed death and how we were both looking forward to the time when that would come for us. Although we each lived with purpose and could find moments of joy, we were daily repulsed by the fact that so many individual beings are willfully restricted via human choices from experiencing any degree of joy at all throughout their entire duration of existence. When I heard that Karen died I was sad that this world was now without such an amazing and unique human, but I was happy for Karen to finally get her ending and to know that she was aware that she lived a long and full life that left behind an incredible legacy of beautifully articulated, truthful, thought-provoking, consistently compassionate, and still relevant books, articles, podcasts, videos, speeches, and more.

I’d like for this article to highlight some of her amazing writing. She spoke on behalf of the animals with candor, passion, and brilliance. The quotes I will share below come from the three books of hers that I have read. All of her books can be purchased on the United Poultry Concerns website. I’ll be using images I’ve taken from 2015-2022 to accompany her quotes. I’ve never been a well known photographer, but I’m grateful that Karen was aware of my work and that we were able to collaborate on a bunch of projects before her passing. We shared a lot of perspectives in common and both had a mutual love for the other person’s work.

Several months before Karen’s passing I released a video called True Sanctuary with Karen Davis. Until our interview I had never heard anyone discuss the philosophical and practical meaning of a sanctuary in such a lengthy, profound, and inspiring way. I was delighted to have Karen’s participation for my video project and I’m thrilled she got to see and share this video before she became incapacitated. The video made her very happy and if I remember correctly she described it to me in an email as “perfect,” which she deserved much of the credit for since it was her words that made the video so remarkable. You can watch the video below.

All of the quotes below come from Karen Davis.

True Sanctuary video

“…the largest class of innocent victims on earth.”

Dead, featherless chickens lying side by side being roasted by people with handheld torches

Over 50 chickens (previously used for egg laying) with slit throats killed and “processed” by two people at the choose-your-own and kill-your-own animals slaughterhouse called Jeffries Chicken Farm in Inver Grove Heights, MN. What had the birds ever done to deserve so much disregard and destruction?

“...the human manufacture of animal suffering is so pervasive that many people find it hard even to regard the slaughter of animals as a form of violence.”

A young boy who assisted in slaughtering this chicken for the Kaporos ritual in Queens, NY holds them upside down as they bleed to death. A fascinated and smiling young girl standing just feet away, protected with plastic gloves and a modified trash bag over her clothing, looks over as the violated life drains from this innocent bird. The chicken had been thrown into one of the upside down orange street cones, but jumped out while experiencing severe pain.

“Since virtually everything that is done to farmed animals is in some degree cruel, painful, injurious, and degrading, the only way animal farming can proceed is by placing the entire enterprise beyond the law, shielded in a false jargon of ‘humane treatment’ and ‘animal welfare.’”

A chicken crushed between two cages

Animal Welfare Approved Mary’s Free-Range Chickens stacked in metal crates on a flatbed transport truck outside of a poultry slaughterhouse in Las Vegas, Nevada. Every truck delivering live chickens for the purpose of killing them will contain chickens who are injured, dying, and dead - whether the birds are coming from a place with meaningless labels like “Free Range” and “Animal Welfare Approved” or not.

“No federal laws protect chickens in the United States, and state anti-cruelty laws typically exempt farming practices that would be illegal if the animals were companion dogs and cats. Birds are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act and from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.”

Fully intact chickens (some recently dead and some still alive) in a rendering trailer on top of piles of body parts of thousands of other chickens from earlier in the day. All these chickens were from industrial egg farms. This facility in Butterfield, MN has also been shown by the Humane Society of the United States to allow hundreds of birds to be boiled alive in a scalding tank each day and PETA has exposed them for allowing thousands of birds to freeze to death while still crammed in the truck crates. The facility has faced no legal or financial consequences.

“...animals are forced to conform to human constructions that are alien and inimical to animals, whereby they sustain a genocidal assault on their identity.”

Cornish Cross chickens, the breed used for their flesh, lined up in front of each of their exploiters at a county fair poultry judging show in Texas. As you can see, the chickens aren’t restrained by any tools or equipment, but they are inherently restrained by their enormously overgrown bodies that are only approximately 42 days old. Their young and developing limbs can’t nearly support the weight of their freakishly large overgrown baby bodies.

“There is no clear evidence that the sight of suffering evokes sympathy or protest in the majority of people, and the first shock of seeing suffering can wear off. Even if it doesn't, people can choose not to look."

Karen Davis & Rainbow

A chicken tossed off of a roof in the freezing winter cold in Ridgeland, Wisconsin over a huge crowd of enablers at the annual Pioneer Days event. Whoever catches each chicken can do anything they want with them. Many of the chickens suffer from frostbite and lose their feet or some other essential part of their body.

“The animals are dominated by humans. Their food is chosen, their social, familial, and physical environment is controlled, their reproductive organs and activities are manipulated, and the length of their lives is determined by humans. They can be abused at will based on economic ‘necessity.’”

Animals are viewed as a means to an end for us. Humans prioritize their own lives, feelings, and interests over others, no matter how trivial and easily avoidable the harm being done to others is. What most people care about above all is the cost, convenience, texture, and taste of what they purchase and ingest - not the ethics of what they choose to ingest. A man in this Canadian grocery store looks over at the roasted ducks with their heads still attached, but their organs and guts removed. The way the ducks hang are not too far different than how they hang when they are shackled at the killing center before they lose their lives.

“…look at the faces and eyes of the animals and observe their body language. Notice their voices. The idea that human beings cannot logically recognize suffering in a chicken, or draw meaningful conclusions about how a human being would react to the conditions under which a caged hen lives, is ridiculous. There is a basis for empathy and understanding in the fact of human evolutionary continuity with other creatures that enables us to recognize and infer, in those creatures, experiences similar to our own. The fact that animals are forcibly confined in environments that reflect human nature, not theirs, means that they are suffering much more than we know in ways that we cannot fathom. If they preferred to be packed together without contact with the world outside, then we would not need intensive physical confinement facilities, and mutilations such as debeaking, since they would voluntarily come together, live cordially, and save us money. The egg industry thinks nothing of claiming that a mutilated bird in a cage is ‘happy,’ ‘content,’ and ‘singing,’ yet will turn around and try to intimidate you with accusations of ‘anthropomorphism’ if you logically insist that the bird is miserable.”

hens crowded in a cage

Chickens awaiting slaughter at a killing center in St. Paul, MN. They are kept crammed with no access to food, water, or protection from the weather. Their wide and terror-stricken eyes are one of many behavioral indicators for how they feel.

“There are no ‘individuals,’ no drama on which to focus, only a scene of abstract suffering. Their pain is not even minimally grasped by most viewers, who are socialized not to perceive animals, especially ‘food’ animals, as individuals with feelings. These onlookers have no concept of animals as sentient beings, let alone as individuals with projects of their own of which they have been stripped, such as their own family and the comfort it brings, which was their birthright in nature.”

Chickens being sold at a weekly “livestock” auction in Enumclaw, Washington. People fill the bleachers and the floor and watch as birds scream and cry out after they are pulled out of boxes and held up obnoxiously by their fragile wings. Most people come to the auction with an interest in purchasing animals to exploit and kill, but some come just to hang out and pass the time.

“The fact that animals are suffering and dying for appetites that could be satisfied in many other ways makes some, perhaps many, people uncomfortable, though not necessary because of guilt. People get annoyed that you're bothering them, trying to curtail their freedom and uncover a guilt that they may not feel, or don't feel strongly enough, so that some end up feeling ‘guilty’ because they don't feel guilty, just vexed that they're being victimized.”

A chicken at a pop up petting zoo in Washington stares out at the line of incoming humans, mostly parents and their children. Instead of parents showing their kids the truth and darkness of what happens to the chickens they and their peers are fed, which would be highly relevant, they instead show their kids a more well off chicken with some freedom of movement; ultimately indoctrinating their children with a sanitized and inaccurate view of how chickens are treated and kept.

“It has been said that if most people had direct contact with the animals they consume, vegetarianism would soar, but history has yet to support this hope.”

(when Karen says this I believe she means vegetarianism in the sense of not consuming anything that humans take from animals, not just their flesh)

Visitors at the Minnesota State Fair over at the “Hen House,” a series of battery cages where hens spend their whole life in far worse and filthier conditions than what is shown to the public. The fair purposely uses less chickens per cage than there would typically be as well as hens who are healthier and cleaner than the norm. Even as good as they try to make it look, the chickens still have little room to move and aren’t even able to spread their wings or express any of their natural instincts. They still stand on wire and have no stimulation other than the same food pellets they eat all the time. The Hen House area tries to promote the idea that the caged system is what’s ideal for chickens since that’s how the majority of chickens used for their eggs live, but in reality it’s just what’s most ideal for exploiters and their profit motives.

“Why do we praise technology for developing substitutes for crude practices in other areas of life while balking at its uses to eliminate slaughterhouses, which technology can do?”

People seem to want better technology and innovative alternatives when it comes to nearly everything except for our use, abuse, and killing of animals. Although plant-based products that have similar traits to their animal-based counterparts have gained more popularity, most people still want to continue eating “the real thing” and abstain from products that don’t come from confinement buildings and violence.

“One morning I stood outside the Perdue plant along the highway, and happening to look down at my feet I saw, beaten into the dirt, hundreds of little chicken faces, small decapitated heads and impressions of previous little faces that must have toppled out of dump trucks as the driver turned the corner to bear these waste objects off to a landfill or rendering plant somewhere."

[Talking about the Tyson and Perdue chicken slaughterhouses on route 13 near her sanctuary]

Chicken heads, feet, and feathers on the ground in the parking lot of a slaughterhouse in Minnesota. The slaughterhouse owner and workers know this sight wouldn’t ruin anyones appetite so they don’t bother doing anything about it.

“Seeing animals in industrialized settings such as factory farms encourages the view that animals are inherently passive objects whose only role in life is to serve the human enterprise.”

One of multiple windowless warehouse-style buildings on a single property in Virginia full of tens of thousands of baby birds who grow rapidly to be turned into flesh and sold at grocery stores and restaurants. Like a sea of humans, all of these birds are unique individuals.

“Factory-farmed chickens are alienated from their own societies. Their species life is distorted by crowding and caging, by separation of parents and offspring, by the huge numbers of birds crowded into vast confinement buildings, and by the lack of natural contact with other age groups and sexes within the species. By nature, chickens should be living in small groups within larger flocks that spend their day actively foraging, dustbathing, sunbathing, socializing and raising their young in a sunlit, forested habitat.”

A caged egg farm in Oregon with numerous sheds that are longer than a few football fields each, full of what seems like never-ending chickens. The chickens who are able to survive will live in these conditions for 1.5 to 2 years and then be gassed to death onsite or hauled off to a slaughterhouse.

“The forced labor of chickens on factory farms is internalized forced labor. Like everything else in their lives, including their lives, the work imposed on these birds in invisible. This is because, in addition to its being conducted inside total confinement buildings, the work has been built into the chicken's genome with the result that the bird's body is locked in a state of perpetual warfare with itself and with the essential nature of the chicken as such. A former chicken farmer captures something of the cruel and unnatural burden embedded within these birds when she writes that ‘the sign of a good meat flock is the number of birds dying from heart attacks.’”

As chickens get closer to their slaughter age of about 42-days-old more of them begin to perish from heart attacks, respiratory diseases, starvation and dehydration from not being able to walk to the food and water, and more. Some chicken exploiters teach their children how to count by counting the dead bodies they find during their walkthroughs.

“In the most encompassing sense, factory-farmed chickens are alienated from surrounding nature, from an external world that answers intelligibly to their inner world. There is nothing for them to do or see or look forward to, no voluntary actions are permitted, no joy or zest of living. They just have to be, in an excremental void, until we kill them.”

A chicken dying on top of a pile of manure. They have nothing to do except wait to die.

“This is the world that we have made for chickens to live in. Some people feel threatened by the prospect that in recognizing and upholding the dignity of other living beings, we betray our own dignity as a species. It should rather be asked how the human species gains dignity by creating worlds such as this for anyone to live in.”

Chickens at a small “humane” farm inside a crate before they get pulled out to be pushed into a kill cone and have their throats slit. The frightened and panicked chickens huddle together and face away from the murder scene that will inevitably and imminently involve them too.

“Farmed-animal production is and always has been based on manipulating and controlling animals’ sex lives and reproductive organs. Their bodies are up for grabs for farmers to do with as they please.”

A female turkey being held upside down by their young exploiter and felt up on their breasts and other body parts by a judge at the Austin Livestock Show turkey judging event. These birds grow unnaturally large and would never be able to reproduce naturally. Workers at different facilities forcibly rape male turkeys for their semen and rape female turkeys to impregnate them.

“In my opinion, the abusiveness of the whole ordeal includes using the defenseless bodies of animals to produce babies whose life is only or mainly to suffer, and whose only reason for being alive is to be made dead.”

A turkey being killed on a small “humane” farm near Thanksgiving. Their whole life was only to get to the point of this day and then into a human’s body.

“I see the ability of chickens to bond with me and be endearingly companionable as an extension of their ability to adapt their native instincts to habitats and human-created environments that stimulate their natural ability to perceive analogies and fit what they find where they happen to be to the fulfillment of their own needs and desires.”

Karen Davis and one of her many loved and adored residents at her United Poultry Concerns sanctuary. I visited this beautiful sanctuary twice and this was on my first visit.

“My experience with chickens for three decades has shown me that chickens are conscious and emotional beings with adaptable sociability and a range of intentions and personalities. If there is one trait above all that leaps to my mind in thinking about chickens when they are enjoying their lives and pursuing their own interests, it is cheerfulness. Chickens are cheerful birds, quite vocally so, and when they are dispirited and oppressed their entire being expresses this state of affairs as well. The fact that chickens become lethargic in continuously barren environments, instead of proving that they are stupid or impassive by nature, shows how sensitive these birds are to their surroundings, deprivations, and prospects. Likewise, when chickens are happy, their sense of wellbeing resonates unmistakably.”

Karen loved being around her rescued birds and getting to see them thrive and be protected from the cruelty of most of our species. I think being around so much happiness helped her a lot to continue to be so prolific throughout her career. It should be noted that in some of the quotes above Karen mentions “factory farming” but she was just as opposed to the smaller places that exploited animals and eventually considered all exploited animals used for food purposes to fit under the term factory farming.

With deep love and admiration to the incredibly talented, dedicated, and compassionate Karen Davis. I’ve never personally known a human ever before who left such an incredible legacy behind.

Thank you by the way for never bringing more humans into this world and for prioritizing your life around caring for already existing life that was in need of advocacy, protection, and love!

-Unparalleled Suffering