Anyone that has ever spent quality time with a cat or a dog knows that they each have individual personalities, likes and dislikes. Most of us know how easy it is to tell when a dog wants a treat or a cat wants a cuddle. We find ways of communicating and understanding each other. It’s obvious how extremely loyal dogs are and how clever are cats, when the evidence is right there in front of us. However its not as easy to speak about other animals because we just don’t know them.
When I interned at Farm Sanctuary I lived on the farm for a solid month, spending my entire days with animals that I hadn’t had any previous experience with. I was responsible for looking after a wide range of animals that I typically hadn’t know as anything other than food at the supermarket. My days (and evenings) were spent taking care of rescued cows, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and turkeys.
The turkey was one animal that was completely foreign to me. Before this time the only turkey that I had seen was in the middle of the dining room table at Christmas. The live version is captivating! Turkeys are crazy prehistoric looking creatures with bulgy eyes, long ostrich necks, and rubbery bright red and blue skin on their heads down their necks. I almost jumped over the fence the first time a turkey came charging at me with puffed up feathers gobbling like a hysterical witch. Their appearance and actions where so new and unusual to me, I was at first a little uneasy around them. I suppose to feel nervous and uncomfortable around those that are different from us is a typical human trait.
After a few short days at Farm Sanctuary I found myself being drawn to one of the male turkeys. His name was Phoenix. Each morning as I brought him his breakfast he would come frantically running at me tripping over any hen that got in his way. He downed his bowl of food in seconds flat then backed up and watched me until I left. I found myself staying in his pen for longer periods. I even started making special visits when I had spare time. The more time that I spent with Phoenix the more I enjoyed his company. We were slowly becoming friends. If I bounced pellets in the palm of my hand he would gently take then one by one. I learned that he loved to be scratched through the soft feathers beside his bum. Once I found the sweet spot he would shake his head uncontrollably while biting at the air. I learned from Phoenix that when turkeys are happy and excited instead of waging their tails, the colour of their heads turns bright blue and they shift their weight from foot to foot. When they want to get attention they puff themselves up as big as they can and strut around in circles.
As I got to know Phoenix I could tell that I was starting to grow on him as well. It seemed everyday he would bashfully come to sit just a little bit closer than the day before. One day he put his face right into mine. I was scared for a second thinking that he was going to nip off my nose. But he didn’t. After a quiet minute of looking right into my eyes he rested his forehead onto mine. He was telling me that he trusted me, and was looking for love. Well he got it; my love for him seemed to fill my entire self. By the end of my term at the farm I loved that turkey just as much as any cat or dog I had ever known. A face that had once been alien and strange to me had become familiar and beautiful.
For the past two years I have visited the sanctuary in New York whenever I got the chance. The main draw was always Phoenix. I never could wait to see my sweet gentle friend. The amazing part was that he remembered me too and always seemed so happy to see me again. At the sound of my voice he would proudly spread his tail feathers, strut around in a few circles before settling in for some quality time of strokes and bum scratches. The last time that I visited Phoenix he seemed to be as excited as I was (and I sure get excited). I saw him from afar and called out “PHOENO!” as I ran over to him. His head jerked up in recognition and he started waddling around with all of his feathers standing on end.
I sat down in the grass beside him and he fumbled to get closer. His legs and feet were not doing well. Because of his extreme weight (he like all turkeys raised to be eaten had been genetically modified to be much bigger than what is natural) his legs and feet were now deformed and painfully ridden with arthritis. He was having trouble walking but he was determined to get onto my lap. I couldn’t pick him up because he was just too heavy. He eventually managed to climb right onto my lap and plopped himself down. It was as though he claiming me for his own and I was thrilled.
I believe in love at first sight (to some extent). There is chemistry between us that attracts us to others without reason. This chemistry exists between people, between animals and between people and animals. Sometimes I come across an animal, or person that I just feel comfortable around, and find them easy to love. I can’t explain what it was about Phoenix that had me so smitten, but I was. He was a handsome gentleman that had learned to trust and forgive the cruelty that he had been exposed to earlier in life.
I recently received the news that Phoenix had to be euthanized because his legs and health had finally given out. I was devastated. I still am. The world just seems less complete with the loss of a dear friend. However I am so very thankful to Farm Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to get to know and love him. Also for giving Phoenix 5 wonderful years under their care. Almost all of the 300 million turkeys that are raised for food in the US every year are slaughtered at 14 weeks old.
To read the story of how Phoenix originally came to the farm click here.