a guest post by Sandra Higgins BSc (Hons) Psych, MSc Couns Psych
Director, Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary http://www.edenfarmanimalsanctuary.com/
Matilda’s Promise Animal Rights & Vegan Education Centre http://www.matildaspromise.org/
The Compassion Foundation of Ireland http://www.thecompassionfoundation.org/
Maeve, Morgana and Marian arrived at Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary on a snowy winter’s night in December 2010, just before they were due to be killed for the Christmas meat market.
They were the first live turkeys I ever met. They looked so gracious and beautiful, like young brides in their wedding gowns.
We always feel good at Eden when we are able to rescue someone from horrible conditions or an unnecessary and painful death. Yet, before long, the one we have rescued shows us that it is not us who has done them a good favour: it is they who do us the favour. The turkeys Maeve, Morgana and Marian were no exception. Before long, we began to see that they were individuals, each different and special in her own way. We watched as they foraged, dust bathed, groomed, explored, and interacted, and we saw that their days were filled with purpose, and their lives mattered very much to them.
Every time we went outside we would hear the thud of their feet as they ran across the sanctuary to greet us. We began to see their enormous capacity for social engagement, with each other and with us. They seemed to enjoy our company and they showed us such lovely affection. We fell utterly in love with them, crossing the species barrier in a way that made us wonder how it had ever come to exist. When they ran to us for a hug and we felt their hearts beating in their warm bodies, and witnessed how they relished the comfort of our embrace, we were doing something right and good.
I began to see aspects in them that I had never thought of in association with turkeys: dignity, elegance, beauty, fun, curiosity, intelligence. I also saw how utterly vulnerable they are, because of their innocence and the affection they show to the very species who harm them. I saw how vital their relationships with each other are to them. I have watched them become very distressed when one of their friends is taken away from the sanctuary for veterinary assistance at times of illness. I have also witnessed their joy when that turkey returns home unharmed. I have watched them grieve over the death of a friend and I saw no difference in their expression of grief and the grief that I myself was feeling over the lost life.
One of the most important aspects of themselves that Maeve, Morgana and Marian demonstrated to me was turkey language. We have become so used to thinking that other animals do not have a language, and sometimes we feel compelled to speak on their behalf because we imagine they cannot speak for themselves. But turkeys do have language: they have at least thirty different vocalisations and each sound means something different. They use language deliberately, with intention to communicate, in the same way that humans use language. I began to understand that it is not fact that turkeys and other animals lack language but that we lack the ability to understand their language. But we have in common a shared body language and the language of emotion. When we listen to them we do not have to speak for them: they can speak for themselves. I made the film to let Maeve, Morgana and Marian speak for themselves.
I felt privileged to live with and get to know these turkeys and to communicate with them in a meaningful way. It would have been negligent of me not to share my experience with others. I hoped that if people saw turkeys in the light in which I saw them, as sentient beings whose lives matter, there was hope that they would stop seeing them as food.
Armed with a 2 megapixel camera on my mobile phone, a very small budget, and a lot of love and hope, I made the film You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Hugged a Turkey (see link at bottom of this post).
Maeve, Morgana and Marian have all died now, each death attributable to the manner in which their bodies were bred for the meat industry. I had not fully lived before I met them. Having known and loved them I remain in deep gratitude to them for what they taught me, and I will always cherish their memories.
Because I made the film others can share in the legacy of their lives, their love and their teachings and the hope for a compassionate, just, vegan world is not in vain.
Watch The Film You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Hugged a Turkey