Animal Rights, Ecofeminism, and Rooster Rehab

pattrice jones is an ecofeminist educator, activist, and writer. She is the author of Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies and co-founder of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center.

Founded in a rural region of Maryland dominated by the poultry industry, the sanctuary provides a haven for hens, roosters and ducks who have escaped or been rescued from the meat and egg industries or other abusive circumstances, such as cockfighting. Not surprisingly, pattrice and company take things further than your average sanctuary. “We work within an ecofeminist understanding of the interconnection of all life and the intersection of all forms of oppression,” she explains. “Thus we welcome and work to facilitate alliances among animal, environmental, and social justice activists.”

As the sanctuary begins a move from Maryland to Springfield, Vermont, I thought it would be the perfect time ask pattrice a few questions, via e-mail:

Mickey Z.: What led you to such work? Why hens, roosters, and ducks?

pattrice jones: We found a chicken in a ditch. Seriously. Miriam Jones and I (then partners, and still family) were both experienced social justice activists when we inadvertently landed in poultry country, having moved “back to the land” with Green Acres dreams of going off grid. At the time, it was not uncommon for birds to flee to freedom by jumping from transport trucks, and “growers” for the poultry industry would sometimes let us rescue birds they were supposed to cull (the industry has since tightened its transport and security procedures.) One bird became two then five then thirty-five… within six months of finding the first bird, we incorporated the sanctuary.

MZ: Fortunately, there are many animal sanctuaries but I’m curious to know more about what you call the ‘gendered form of animal exploitation.”

pj: That first chicken was a rooster we originally mistook for a hen. I had to work hard to feel the same way about him once I knew he was a rooster. He was the same tenderly friendly bird he’d always been, but all of those “rooster” ideas — cocky, aggressive, etc. — were interfering with my ability to see him clearly. That got me thinking about the ways that people project gender stereotypes on animals and then read them back as evidence that traditional sex roles are natural, a process I have come to call the social construction of gender by way of animals. So, when we got an urgent call about 24 roosters who had been living together peacefully but all other sanctuaries had turned away under the theory that so many roosters cannot possibly get along, we said yes. Besides livening up the place, that colorful crew inspired us to try to figure out a way to rehabilitate roosters used in cockfighting, which we have done.

MZ: What do you mean when you say “rehabilitate roosters”?

pj: Roosters confiscated from cockfighting operations used to be automatically euthanized, on the presumption that they were too aggressive to ever live peacefully with other birds. But that’s the propaganda of cockfighting enthusiasts, who argue that they are just watching roosters doing what comes naturally. In fact, chickens — like the wild jungle fowl from which they descended and to whom the birds used in cockfighting are very nearly genetically identical — naturally live in flocks in which multiple roosters coexist peacefully. Roosters in the wild fight to the death only against predators, not against each other! They sometimes will have highly stylized fights with each other, but these are not the pitched battles to the death that we see in cockfighting.

MZ: Why do fighting roosters fight?

pj: Raised in isolation and constant frustration, they never learn the social signals by which roosters resolve their conflicts and figure out their places in flocks. Prior to cockfighting bouts, they are often injected with testosterone and methamphetamines. In the bouts, they face opponents who, like themselves, have had their combs shaved (so they look more like a hawk than another chicken) and their spurs augmented by sharp blades. It’s kill or be killed. What we do is give former fighters the chance to learn, by observation and gradual participation, the social skills they need to coexist peacefully with other birds. We give them a safe space from which to do this and, over time, recover from the trauma to which they have been subjected.

MZ: Your approach with the roosters sounds like a logical, compassionate strategy for any living thing that has undergone trauma.

pj: Right. We all — or at least all social species — need the same things when we’ve been traumatized, including safety or sanctuary and the chance to restore the relationships (with others and within ourselves) that have been strained or severed by trauma. I talk about that, for people, in my book Aftershock. In relation to animals, I’m happy to be working with Gay Bradshaw of the Kerulos Center and other members of the new International Association for Animal Trauma and Recovery; we’ve all been thinking hard about how to apply what we know about trauma and recovery among people to the task of helping animals who have suffered human-engendered trauma.

MZ: So now you’re bringing this approach to a new location?

pj: Our move to a larger property in Vermont, a small state with 33 factory farms serving the dairy industry and adjacent to Maine (the home of the infamous DeCoster egg factory) will allow us to expand our bird rescue capacities and also expand our activism to include dairy, which — like cockfighting — is a gendered form of animal exploitation.

MZ: How can readers help and get involved?

pj: Because we were founded in one rural agricultural area and are now moving to another, we depend entirely on support from afar to fund our programs. Because we are a small and chronically underfunded sanctuary, even small donations make a big difference. And we fall all over ourselves with gratitude for those who can afford to give more and do. Folks can find donation information on our website.

If you live in a big city, another way to help out with money is to hold a vegan pot luck fundraiser at your house. Eat, watch a movie like Peaceable Kingdom or Chicken Run, and then pass the hat for the sanctuary.

In terms of volunteering, folks who live near our new location in Springfield, Vermont might want to pitch in on coop cleaning and grounds maintenance. We need folks in our original locale, on the Delmarva Peninsula, to occasionally help out by driving local birds to sanctuaries in Maryland and Virginia. As we expand our rooster rehab program, we’ll be needing folks up and down the east coast to sign up to sometimes drive birds to us from wherever they might be confiscated by authorities after a cockfighting bust.

We need everybody to have a look at the information and ideas on our website and then subscribe to our blog so that they will receive action alerts as we continue and expand our efforts to fundamentally reform food and agriculture while building bridges among social justice, environmental, and animal liberation activists. We’re going to be coordinating a new, explicitly feminist, campaign concerning dairy later this year. Watch for it!

You can e-mail pattrice at: gro.sdribevarbnull@yrautcnas.

Website: http://www.bravebirds.org

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

19 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Dawson said on June 8th, 2009 at 9:08am #

    Is this a spoof? Birds do not have limbic brains, Mickey. So, the claim that birds can experience emotions is a very, very big stretch, to say nothing of how long they could possibly remember their “oppression,” let alone feel it as a passing flash. Memory of oppression requires not only a limbic brain, but a neo-cortex, too.

    “Activism” is no substitute for the truth.

    And telling people you’re hosting a chicken-liberation party is as ridiculous as it is stupidly wasteful of time and energy that might be spent to some meaningful effect in a world of war and exploitation and ecotastrophe.

  2. Lisamarie said on June 8th, 2009 at 9:22am #

    I live near Houston and the vegan organization that I’m part of, Society of Peace, already has a vegan potluck planned for next month. Therefore what I could do is, first I’ll post this article on Facebook and MySpace, and at the picnic I’ll collect donations and send them in.

  3. Lisamarie said on June 8th, 2009 at 9:35am #

    First off Mike, animal issuse ARE human issues, as what we do to them affects us ALL whether we choose to acknowledge and understand that or not.
    Second, chickens have been found to be VERY intelligent and can count and solve geometric problems that some humans can not.
    Who are WE to say they can’t experience emotions? Because they don’t talk? Well going by that theory we could say the same thing about some people too then, as there are some humans who also can’t talk and do certain things that others can. Just because a being, human or otherwise, can’t tell us what they think or how they feel is not grounds for dismissing the ability to feel as being non-existent in them.
    I’m sure there is research out there to support this, and there is a new book out called “The Emotional World of Farm Animals” by Amy Hatkoff, which as accounts of scientific proof that animals feel emotions as well as experiences from those who have lived and worked around farm animals.
    Therefore, before your sense of human “holier than thou” chauvanism takes over your ability to open up your heart and mind to the possibility that there ARE things about animals that we may have never stopped to think about that are worth learning, perhaps you should look into these things first and educate yourself!

  4. Michael Dawson said on June 8th, 2009 at 10:50am #

    Lisamarie, I’ll be happy to debate you, any time, any place, on this topic.

    Brain structure is absolutely related to emotional and intellectual capacities and meanings. Mammals have emotional lives. Birds do not, except in the most minimal sense or in the fantasies of anthropomorphizing animal lovers.

    Notice another thing about Mickey’s report? I doesn’t say that roosters stop fighting. That’s because they don’t. Roosters are hard wired to fight, and lack the higher brain matter to stop. They may stop fighting to the death (which, in an honest accounting, would mention the use of metal spurs as a human-imposed tool). They do not stop fighting.

    But poultry and homo sapiens are miles and miles and miles apart in brain and behavioral capabilities. That’s just a fact of life.

    None of which means that all animals are fair game for any treatment you can think of.

    P.S. Nobody would deny that mammals have feelings. They have limbic brains. So the term “farm animals” is not the proper category, no matter how much you wish it were.

    This kind of stuff about poultry is just a huge embarrassment to those really interested in making a better world. How many poultry liberators are FBI agents? In a country doing 100-plus reports a year on Cuba alone, you have to wonder.

    Even for mammals, animal rights is about priority #77, if that. Not all “activism” is a good idea.

    Have you heard what Gordon Gecko said to Bud Fox in the steam room about WASPS? Think about it.

  5. kalidas said on June 8th, 2009 at 11:14am #

    Dear Lord, I’ve been asked, nay commanded, to thank Thee for the Christmas turkey before us… a turkey which was no doubt a lively, intelligent bird… a social being… capable of actual affection… nuzzling its young with almost human-like compassion. Anyway, it’s dead and we’re gonna eat it. Please give our respects to its family. ~Berke Breathed

  6. Danny Ray said on June 8th, 2009 at 11:28am #

    Great God Almighty, those are chickens for the love of mike. They do not make a break for freedom from the trucks, some dumbass leaves a cage open and they fly off. End of story. Don’t make it seem like the great escape.

  7. Mickey Z. said on June 8th, 2009 at 11:44am #

    Dawson, I don’t know you but this line speaks volumes:
    I’ll be happy to debate you, any time, any place, on this topic.

    Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out…right down to the order of priorities.

  8. Barry99 said on June 8th, 2009 at 5:54pm #

    Animals don’t feel pain! Only humans use tools! Only humans are capable of rationale thought, counting, and have an awareness of past and future.

    Old canards die hard.

  9. Sheila Velazquez said on June 9th, 2009 at 7:31am #

    Does pattrice support a free-range lifestyle for her birds? Are hers free or confined? Does she think chickens and eggs should be organically raised? I have a flock of such birds, and believe me, with the cost of organic grains and all the materials necessary to care for and protect a free-range flock, I would be bankrupt (not just in the red) if I kept my roosters, or nonproductive hens for that matter, into retirement. While they are part of the flock, they live like queens with a few kings, but this project is so far removed from reality that it blows my mind.

  10. Michael Dawson said on June 9th, 2009 at 11:47am #

    So, Mick, all activism is equal in your book?

    Animal rights barely matters, is — at best — an extremely circuitous route toward learning about the world’s problems, and is a strategically stupid place to spend oppositional energy.

    Poultry rights, meanwhile, don’t exist outside people using them as a substitute for psychotherapy.

    None of this fits with your efforts to brand yourself as Mr. Activism, I realize. But the world is in real trouble, and what to do and what NOT to do next is a very serious question, if you’re doing more than playing ego games.

  11. Michael Dawson said on June 9th, 2009 at 11:49am #

    Barry99, what canards? Animals, including birds feel pain. But only mammals have emotions. See the difference?

    If you don’t think there’s a huge, huge gap between humans and poultry, you are simply an irrationalist.

    Irrationalism is not going to save the world.

  12. Barry99 said on June 9th, 2009 at 12:33pm #

    Michael – What canards, you ask? The canards I mention, that were part and parcel of science and popular culture for a score of decades or more.
    I think it is sufficient that animals feel pain, I don’ ask that they also be emotive. Having said that, I know that anyone who has had a parrot knows what makes her parrot HAPPY – and the parrot shows it.

    I hardly think this discussion is about saving the world.

  13. mary said on June 9th, 2009 at 11:57pm #

    Any cruelty inflicted on a sentient creature whether bird or mammal leads to greater crimes and inhumanities. How could the torture take place in Abu Ghraib and now in Bagram? How can we allow the incineration of another human by the remote control of a drone? How can we allow animals to be penned in metal cages on concrete floors? The process is continual and one smaller crime leads to another greater one. My mother said ‘If you want to live and thrive, let a spoder run alive’

    Read Thomas Paine’s Corner if you want more on animal experimentation and animal rights.

    PS The use of the word ‘canard’ here is amusing me. The French for ‘duck’ of course.

  14. Michael Dawson said on June 10th, 2009 at 10:44am #

    Mary, you are wrong. Strong belief is not evidence.

    Personally, I’m a vegetarian, but for health and environmental reason, not some animal rights quackery.

    Killing a chicken by chopping its head off is certainly cruel to the chicken. It has zero, nothing, nada to do with war crimes.

    Grow up.

  15. Michael Dawson said on June 10th, 2009 at 10:49am #

    P.S. to Mary: There is also an immense difference between apes and chickens. Sentience has nothing to do with it, unless by sentient you mean emotional and cognitive, which then limits the term to mammals.

    Ants are sentient. Do you have funerals for the ones you step on or drive over?

  16. Barry99 said on June 10th, 2009 at 11:54am #

    Michael- As many birds have excellent memories, they surely can have a memory of oppression and who caused it. That’s pretty basic to survival.

    And surely there must be some behavioral space between funerals for ants and intentionally stepping on them, no? You are not suggesting are you, that people who are against cruelty to non-mammals must want to hold prayer services for the dead? Can’t it be that those who are against cruelty to animals believe such cruelty reduces human sensitivity to suffering in general?

  17. Suthiano said on June 10th, 2009 at 12:13pm #

    “Killing a chicken by chopping its head off is certainly cruel to the chicken.”

    If only!

    Factory farms practice all sorts of perverse methods of “raising” and slaughtering animals for the sake of efficiency.

    Go stand in a hog farm while the jerk pig after pig up by one hind leg and send them upside down and screaming along a conveyor belt of death, and then tell me something like the equivalent to a massacre isn’t taking place… but industrialized for the sake of capital, and so going on day after day after day………

    Swine’s back on the menu! (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jTkkEKE5LtPih_5Jcc-3MpD0gOYQD98NVRIO0)

  18. kalidas said on June 10th, 2009 at 5:45pm #

    “In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. And, in a population that is all educated, and at about the same level of physical refinement, it is practically impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig… I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse.” H. G. Wells, vision of the future in “A Modern Utopia”

  19. veganimal said on July 18th, 2009 at 1:26pm #

    Thanks for your compassionate work pattrice!
    The mockery from people like Dawson here only shows how important it is to speak out against these dominant human supremacy ideas.