What a Turkey

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.


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