Are Farmed Animal Sanctuaries at Risk?
By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns
In this article I want to raise a concern about a possible peril confronting farmed animal sanctuaries in the United States. I’ve been told by several farmed animal sanctuary founders recently that there is a movement of sorts to reduce or eliminate funding for farmed animal sanctuaries. It goes without saying that a loss or reduction of funding will prevent countless chickens, cows, turkeys, pigs and other abused and neglected animals from ever finding a safe haven. I say “countless” animals, because the number of animals affected by this trend, if indeed it is a trend, includes all the animals now and in the future whose fates will be sealed because there is no place for them to go after being rescued. If this happens, rescues in turn will most likely diminish.
All of us who run farmed animal sanctuaries are painfully aware of the plight of roosters who are routinely abandoned or turned in to animal shelters by backyard chicken-keepers who either don’t want them or are prevented by local laws from keeping them. Add to these roosters all those who are confiscated in cockfighting raids. There is no place for them to go. Defunding farmed animal sanctuaries will increase the already vast number of doomed roosters. Defunding will be one more contributor to their suffering at the hands of humans.
There have always been people in the animal advocacy movement who disparage farmed animal sanctuaries as a waste of money that could be better spent on other animal advocacy projects. Nearly everyone has their idea of what “works” versus what doesn’t in their opinion. Often they select one particular strategy they believe works, rather than conceiving of a plurality of strategies, campaigns and projects working in concert to liberate farmed animals from abusive human attitudes and behaviors. This is not to suggest that every strategy or tactic or philosophy is of equal value. What it does suggest is that it can be very hard to tell what “really works” either by itself or within the larger context of animal advocacy and activism.
The particular peril facing farmed animal sanctuaries appears to be a “movement” of sorts based on the principles of Effective Altruism. (See www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_altruism.) As defined on Wikipedia, Effective Altruism is a philosophical and social movement that advocates "using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis." People who pursue the goals of effective altruism, called effective altruists, “often choose careers based on the amount of good that they expect the career to achieve or donate to charities based on the goal of maximizing impact.”
Nothing is wrong with that necessarily, except that its exclusive focus on measurable results, metrics, statistics and data ignores benefits and positive outcomes that do not easily reduce to utilitarian, “measurable” criteria. By these criteria, farmed animal sanctuaries, individual animals, leafleting for animals, personal actions for animals, vegfests, choosing to be an ethical vegan, or not – all of these are child’s play – girl’s play! – compared to the hefty utilitarian calculus. This, in my view, is yet another example of stereotypically male-oriented thinking about which I wrote years ago in a critique of the environmental movement in Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the Feminine Connection:
I have been impressed by the realization that a few men have virtually "decided" what experiences count and even exist in the world. The language of western science--the reigning construct of male hegemony--precludes the ability to express the experiential realities it talks about. Virtually all of the actual experiences of this world, expressed through the manifest and mysterious characteristics of all the different beings, are unrepresented in the stainless steel edicts of experts. Where is the voice of the voiceless in the scientific literature including the literature of environmental ethics? Where do the "memory of suffering and the truths of subjugated knowledge" fit into the domineering construct of our era?
Our own sanctuary for chickens, with occasional turkeys, ducks, and peafowl over the years starting in the mid-1980s, confirms my belief that a good farmed animal sanctuary offers a unique opportunity not only to save a portion of otherwise doomed creatures, but to learn from them and educate the public on their behalf.
Direct experience conveyed through storytelling, photographs, video footage, and sanctuary visits provides an informed challenge to the misinformation about these animals spread by the animal farming industry intent on convincing people that chickens, cows and others so categorized have nothing in common with “wild” animals or “our pets,” and that farmed animals are merely passive, brainless “food” in the making.
Among the many important thoughts about a successful farmed animal sanctuary presented at our conference on this topic in 2000 was this one by VINE cofounder pattrice jones, who at the time was running the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary in Maryland. Pattrice said, “I think giving sanctuary is an important form of direct action. It’s an action that actually does something about a problem. If there is no direct action of this kind, you get either demoralized doing animal advocacy work, or you become abstract—abstract as a defense against demoralization. Will our educational efforts make a difference? This is purely speculative, but saving that chicken is saving that chicken.”
Disparaging a focus on “individuals,” be they our fellow animals or people taking personal responsibility for their food and other moral behaviors, has always beset not only the environmental movement, but also elements of the animal advocacy movement. The danger is a sensibility of sterility and emotional detachment from our flesh and blood kindred. An insistence on Systems and Species versus the individuals who compose these otherwise empty categories, as if the one and the many were mutually exclusive, diminishes our commitment and facilitates betrayal.
I will close with a reminder that it was my discovery of a crippled and abandoned hen named Viva that led me to start United Poultry Concerns in 1990. By my saving Viva, she in effect saved me and thereby saved many other chickens through my advocacy for her and for all chickens and the spreading effects of this advocacy. My knowing her led me to do volunteer work at two farmed animal sanctuaries before starting my own. By knowing Viva, I contributed to the newly developing advocacy for farmed animals including rescuing them and providing for their care and protection and public education in sanctuaries. In this way, Viva had an altruistic effect on many people. I don’t know how many people, but many.
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domesticated birds including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds - From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl published by Lantern Publishing & Media. Karen hosts a podcast series titled Thinking Like a Chicken - News & Views!