Six years ago I was on a nationally televised show and the words “They deserve it” fell from my mouth.
When I said “they” I was talking about chickens, because as a child a rooster’s spur pierced my face as he landed on my shoulder. I used this as an excuse to eat chicken, although I wasn’t eating other meat at the time. “They deserve it” — words that would haunt me, if they hadn’t been the catalyst to my change of thinking. After that show aired I stumbled upon a video about factory farming. Although I grew up on a farm, I had no idea how “they” were treated, outside of what I saw and lived. Six years later, I can tell you, NO ONE deserves to be treated that way, ever. That video showed men swinging screaming birds, stepping on their necks, handling them with no care, kicking living birds away to remove the bodies of dead birds in a shed so huge and full that it seemed unreal, as unreal as the treatment these animals endure.
Obviously, after seeing that things had to change for me. I couldn’t be that person who sat idly by. I had to do something. So I did. I started out as the absolute worst advocate for animals, and in that first year of veganism I likely caused more harm than good. I was angry — for the animals and for the people in an industry whose jobs make them turn to monsters between the hours of 9 to 5. I was furious that I’d bought into all those pretty commercials touting happy, smiling animals. Everyone needed to know what I now knew — and I shouted it.
Unfortunately, shouting isn’t all that effective, so I started picking up books about change and how to make it happen. I don’t shout any more: in fact, I smile more often than anything. When someone makes a joke about bacon, or juicy chicken, I smile and say, “Oh, I know, I used to love that [animal product] too, and then I had a chance to play with [said animal, not on a plate, but at a sanctuary],” and I gush about Gloria Goat, or Jimmy Cow, or Velma Turkey, or Dino Rooster, or Bob Harper Pig, like they’re my dog or cat. I’ve also probably got a photo or several that I’m sharing as I talk.
This year was one of those birthdays that you have to do something big, only I don’t like parties and I generally don’t do much celebration type stuff. Now, I’ve been walking by this slaughterhouse with my dog, Arcot, ever since we’ve lived in Brooklyn. Arcot and I were even invited in for a tour one day, and Arcot-who eats vegan, but will pounce on nearly anyone smaller (less Peke, my cat) was frozen. There were two walls of chickens, and chickens on the floor, and he just kept looking at me wondering what this place was and why we were there. For a long time we diverted our walks because it was sad to walk by, but we’d still walk by now and then, and every time the man there always greeted us with a smile. He adored Arcot, he told me once that it was too cold for a dog, and I should get a coat for him, so he’d be nice and warm.
The day after my birthday — because the slaughterhouse was closed on my birthday — I walked in and asked if I could have one chicken, but I was told I’d have to come back because the owner wasn’t there. I went the next day, and lo and behold, the owner was the man who always smiled and said hello. I asked him for one chicken for my birthday that I’d take to a sanctuary. My voice was that voice you get when you’re talking through tears, and I was trying so hard not to cry. He said “Alive?” “Oh! Yes, please alive. I’ll take her to a sanctuary.” “Give me just a moment” — and I just kept breathing, wondering what he was doing in the next room. He came out of the room with a small box. “Big or small?” I couldn’t answer. Choosing one meant not choosing another, and I just wanted someone to make it out alive. He picked a small white bird, and we left the slaughterhouse together.
The next week I went to thank the owner and show him photos of Dani, the hen I took to Skylands Animal Sanctuary and Rescue, in Wantag, New Jersey. I brought doughnuts and they thought I wanted payment; I literally said “Oh, no payment… How about another chicken?” Six vegan doughnuts from DunWell saved another life! They gave me another chicken, and Dani and Nikki will now live forever happy at Skylands with other chickens and rescued farm animals. I went back to the slaughterhouse again, thanking them, and showing them more photos of Dani and Nikki. One man said, “You love chickens” another said, “Where do they live? What do they eat?” These men know these animals as a product, not a personality. I’ve planted a seed, and that’s the best birthday gift ever.
If at any time I’d shouted, shamed, or even just been rude with the owner at the slaughterhouse, those lives would be gone. Dani and Nikki would be on someone’s plate. I totally understand being angry; I get that reaction because I’ve felt it. I also remember being the one making jokes about eating animals because they taste “sooooooo goooooood.” I ordered veggie burgers with bacon. Yeah, I was that omnivore. But not anymore.
I’ll leave you with is this quotable quote, from the Netflix series Derek staring Ricky Gervais: “Kindness is Magic.” For two little girls with feathers, it was, and it is.
Danielle Legg, LVT, VLCE, is an assistant extraordinaire, vegan super nanny, and a licensed veterinary technician. She loves her dog, her cat, every farm animal she meets, and vegan sweets, sometimes in that order, sometimes not. Danielle can be found at the park with the children she cares for, at Dun-Well Doughnuts, at Champs, or on her sofa getting some serious cuddles from Arcot and Pekoe, her most wonderful dog and cat. You can also find her on the intwebs, on Twitter and Instagram @ThisGirlisVeg.