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Introducing.... Rose!


October 16, 2016


Introducing... Rose!

On Monday night, we walked into hell. On a busy street corner, men were grabbing baby birds, flipping them upside down, and slicing their throats. Behind them, a truck sat on the sidewalk, filled with crates stacked upon crates of more babies. When I immediately began sobbing at the horror of the sight, a dozen little boys gathered around me, mocking and laughing. Someone shouted, "Kill it right in front of her!" He swung a baby by her wings.

When I composed myself (read: put up all the mental walls to not truly see the reality in front of me), I joined about 50 activists who stood protesting the slaughter. Tensions ran high, but I tried to remain calm. I walked among those swinging the birds, telling them:

They feel.

They feel pain.

They want to live.

They are fighting for their lives.

*You* have a choice.

Some responded, "Yes, I have made my choice."

I told them the birds didn't have a choice in having their lives taken from them.
One girl, maybe 12 years old, spoke with me. She said a lot of people were listening and having their minds changed, and she herself was torn. I asked her if she would do it if they were cats or dogs. "Definitely not," she answered. I told her the birds are no different. I showed her the background of my phone, my profile picture here on Facebook, in which I'm hugging my late love, Tabitha. I told her my best friend died in January.

"And tonight, you have the choice not to take someone else's life," I told her.

"But what do I do? I already have a ticket!"

David instructed me to ask her to still use her ticket to get a bird, but give the bird to me instead of killing her.

"I'll give her a safe home," I assured her.

"Okay, I'll find you."

I returned to the protesters, hopeful but not optimistic.

Just five minutes later a figure ran toward me through the crowd and shouted, "Here!" As she and I ran our separate ways, I called out a stunned "thank you," clasping the trembling, feathered body in my arms.

Vanessa and Steven led the way to their car as I hid the small survivor behind my protest sign, shielding her from the crowd filling the street, killing her kin.
Once in the car, she continued to tremble in my lap, but slowly accepted pets and water. Vanessa and Steve returned to the protest, convinced one more man to spare a baby rooster, and then drove us home.

***

Today, Rose sits contented in my lap, preening herself and my arm. Out in the expanse of our backyard, she chooses to stand beside me. When I go to put her to bed at night, she cries out in panic and runs after me toward my bed, until I sit with her as she falls asleep.

She still bears the marks of the life she escaped:

Badly infected feet from days spent in filth and crammed into a crate.

A too-big body for a six-week-old, still-peeping chick.

Anxiety from her history of trauma.

But she is one of the lucky ones. Though she was specifically destined to be part of a religious ritual, her fate was to be no different from the 263 baby chickens killed for "food" in the United States each second, an incomprehensible 52 billion globally each year. The only difference for her? She was seen. And a child had the power to save her life.

***

After I ran to the car, my partner Jay spoke with the girl. He told her how brave she was and asked if she wanted to be an animal rights activist. She told him her parents are extremely protective, that she doesn't even have a cell phone or email address, but she cares about animals.

I think about cultural conditioning and how a common justification for violence is tradition. I think about the insular community of a religious sect and the isolation of a young girl, shielded from the larger world by her parents, how steeped in that tradition and communal norms she must be. But still, when she had the choice to act with compassion, she was able to defy her upbringing and make that choice. Even when standing amongst a defiant crowd. And if she could make that choice, can't we all?

Can't we say that tradition is not enough to justify needless suffering,
traditions are not maintained by those they victimize, but by those they profit,
and that traditions can be created anew, traditions that are humane and just?
Standing in my lap today, Rose--named after the little girl who spared her life--shows me we can.

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