One day while walking on a New York sidewalk, a couple stopped in front of me
and embraced. I noticed that as the woman held her partner, she peered over his
shoulder, with her eyes affixed to the reflection that they cast in a large
plate glass window adjacent to where they stood.
I changed my path and made an effort not to walk between the couple and their
reflection in the window. It seemed as if the woman wanted nothing more than to
capture this reflection and emotional embrace in her memory. Who was I to
stand--metaphorically (and literally)--in the way of that?
Their Moment Triggered Something in Me
Walking past that couple on the sidewalk triggered me to reflect on my own
cherished memories. Some memories were obvious in their bliss--like the day I got
married, or the day my son was born--but others were more nuanced and I spent
the rest of the evening considering those. Until that moment I had never
considered that some of my most profound memories have been bottled up, never to
leave my lips for fear of state actors holding me accountable.
I began to feel like a bloated water balloon, still affixed to a running tap:
bursting was inevitable, and I was already leaking…
At the park with my dog Morgan and my son Daniel
One day shortly thereafter I was taking my son and our dog Morgan for a walk to
the park. Morgan's eyes are starting to glaze over with age, and it's only in a
vast open field at the rear of the park that I let her off her leash. In the
field she does not have any risk of running into anything and every time I
unhook her leash, she dashes off, running as fast as she can, usually in a giant
figure eight pattern. On this day she did the same but unexpected to me, in that
very moment, seeing her run free and unhinged my balloon popped. I found myself
crying and adrift in a whirlwind of emotions.
I thought to myself of just how many days I spent talking about negative things
(state repression, court cases) or reciting bewildering and often disheartening
statistics about human consumption of animals, and just how few days I spent
talking about freedom, about liberation, and about this beautiful and deeply
spiritual idea of animals as individuals.
I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of these individuals.
Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur
Renee was a rhesus macaque monkey. Renee had spent 11 years in confinement, her
health was ailing, and her future uncertain. She was never experimented upon,
but rather was listlessly awaiting experiments at another facility. I sat for
two hours in a thunderstorm before jumping the gates to the compound where she
was held and bringing her to sanctuary.
Every year I think about Renee. I'll never forget how Renee, despite being in an
animal carrier, still managed to tear up the back seat of my mother's car. I'll
never forget about how her prolonged poor health rendered her barren, and I'll
never forget about how her inherent desire to be a mother made her the perfect
guardian for an infant monkey who ended up at her sanctuary a year later. I'll
never forget this selflessness in Renee. Renee gave something priceless to that
little monkey and moreover, years later she would give me something priceless.
Albeit not Alice this brilliant little one (who too, was rescued from
vivisection) bares a striking resemblance to her.
Alice was born at a breeder for vivisection and lived for six months in a
holding pen for reserve research animals, en route to testing facilities. I
opened Alice's pen and carried her to safety. I had to run over a mile and a
half with Alice before reaching our exit vehicle and while I was running, Alice
threw up on me. Before getting in the car with Alice I put her down. I saw her
sway and then land on her side. She was motionless for nearly a minute. In this
moment of desperately trying to understand what was happening to Alice my
comrades and I began to yell at each other. We fumbled to find her pulse; we
thought the worst and my friend to my right began to cry. Then, almost as fast
as she fell down, she sprang back up, wagged her tail and licked me in the face.
We would later learn that Alice had an ailment that impacted her equilibrium,
but would ultimately live a long, happy and healthy life.
This was the first time in Alice's life she felt anything other than concrete
under her feet. It was overwhelming for both her and us, because in that moment
we both received something very special.
"It only made sense to intercede"
Oscar was also born into a facility that bred waterfowl for vivisection. Oscar
would have but six months before he would end up on a necropsy table, unless
someone interceded. It only made sense to intercede.
In our months of advance recognizance, we took notice of Oscar. He had a limp,
one leg was shorter than the other, and he was only partially covered with his
plumage. He was at a disadvantage from the peers with which he shared his
installation, yet we'd watch as every night he and a dozen others would pile
together to keep warm. On the night when we freed Oscar from his confines, he
rode on a truck with hundreds of those peers.
Our trip was nerve-racking. We hoped to reach the sanctuary by sunrise. The
temperature outside was in the 50s but the back of the truck was 80 degrees and
climbing. Every stop we made to open the back of the truck to allow cool air in
was another risk of being caught and every moment above 80 degrees was another
risk to the safety of the birds inside. When we arrived, the walls of the truck
were wet with condensed sweat.
We met the sanctuary owner. The man was a saint, and I felt guilty that he
actually thought my name was Holden Caulfield. He led us to where we could
unload our friends, an adapted Quonset Hut reminiscent of a miniature airplane
hanger with a greenhouse top and an exit to an adjacent field and pond.
Oscar's friends, in a brilliant chorus of noise and motion, ran en masse toward
the pond and dove in. It was so brilliant, it almost felt choreographed. But I
quickly became concerned and asked the sanctuary owner if the transition from a
hot truck to the cold waters of a Pacific Northwest pond were dangerous. He
acknowledged these concerns and suggested we wade out into the pond and begin
clapping our hands to wrangle our friends back in. Slowly, they made their way
from the pond back to the warmth of the hanger, shaking the water off in what
looked like celebratory dancing, but then we saw Oscar…
Oscar was stumbling on himself and his breathing was erratic. He was not shaking
the water off.
We dried Oscar with towels and moved him to an adjacent warm space by himself.
We wanted him to feel safe; we wanted him to feel loved; we wanted him to
recover from whatever shock he was experiencing, but he did not. Oscar died that
I have never been able to forgive my recklessness of that day. But I also know I
will never be able to capture in words the awe of seeing Oscar and his friends
celebrate their first day of freedom. Oscar and each of his friends gave me
lasting inspiration and insight into the very act of being alive and free.
This is a Thank You Letter
This is a letter to Renee, to Alice, to Oscar and to the 281 other beings I
removed from abuse. In freeing you I learned things not only about you, but also
about myself. I learned that fear of repression for what many consider my
criminal acts, although tangible and real, is only as strong as you allow it to
be. I learned that giving an individual a new option for a new future--one free
of abuse--is not only liberating for those freed, but also for those doing the
freeing, and this feeling stays with you, forever.
Years later I, too, would find myself in a cage,
incarcerated for my tenure as a radical activist. And while prison is an
overwhelming and at times terrorizing experience, I found myself when there
calling upon my memories of the efforts I made to free others. I found something
comforting there, something that made me realize that those days when I restored
someone else's freedoms were the freest days of my life. No matter how large or
how small, each of these individual situations mattered…