<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

We have new babies! 

Yes, someone was a sorry lowdown S.O.B. and dumped a litter of kittens in the woods. As we were heading down the road to the riverbank to do our vigil for Cindy Sheehan and to honor and remember the fallen, we noticed a little orange kitty face peeking out of the weeds at us and mewing. And, of course, we immediately went over to pick that baby up to bring it home. Laura scooped that baby right up and cuddled it, petting and comforting the scared and confused little furry baby face.

Then we saw others. More shy than the first that were not as easily caught. Laura was able to catch another one and handed it off to be carried home like the first as she desperately tried to catch the third. We had no idea of how many of them there were, but all we saw was three. All orange striped babies. Just weaned.

It took us several days to get the last one, and by that time one of the first ones had already died. They were absolutely covered in seed ticks that were draining them dry. We were trying desperately to keep up their strength, giving them that kitten formula for orphaned kittens and getting the ticks off, but that one was just so covered in them that we just could not save it, despite the fact that there were three of us working in shifts to try and help.

We had been waiting for some kind of a sign that Princess was still hanging around, and we like to think that this was her way of showing us that she is - sending us babies and taking one back for herself to mother and love. Some might think that sounds crazy, but if you had ever known Princess the way that we did, you wouldn't brush off that possibility so quickly.

Some of you have probably noticed that we have not really done much of anything for the past few days except for answering the personal emails from some of you who wrote us to say kind words about our loss of Princess. This has been extremely hard on Laura, and she is still grieving over her.

So, when we found these babies, the first thing we thought of was that Princess had sent them to us to care for because Laura loves babies as much as Princess does. As terrible as it is for someone to dump helpless babies in the woods, at least they had Princess to guide them to us to be helped and loved. And the one who died was held in loving arms as that little spirit finally went away and the heartbeat stopped. At least that baby didn't die alone in the woods.

Here are the babies:

They are now realizing that we mean them no harm and actually come to us to be loved and petted. The ticks are almost gone off of them, so they are both doing well.

These we won't try to find homes for, but will keep them, especially since we believe that Princess sent them to us. There is one more interesting part to this story. within an hour of the one baby passing on, the remaining one that we hadn't been able to catch was guided into our yard, past all of the dogs, and seen right off in the yard of Laura's mother's porch. We were quite relieved for both of them, as we did not want the surviving baby to be all alone anymore than we wanted to have the one left in the woods to be eaten by coyotes, owls, or other predatory animals. So, we further believe that Princess guided that baby over to us and to safety.

Whether or not you believe any of that is up to you. We do. And we can just picture the bright smiling face of Princess watching over that baby and those she guided to safety.

Thank you, Princess. We still miss you terribly, though.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My Thoughts and Feelings About Princess 

**NOTE** If you haven't read Laura's post below memorializing Princess, please scroll down and do so before reading this one. It will make much more sense to you that way and mean more to you than if you don't. I wrote this post yesterday morning, but I wanted Laura's to go up first, so I decided to wait and post mine today as a follow-up to hers.--Virgil
We don't know the number of our tomorrows. That was never made more apparent to me than yesterday afternoon at a little past 4:00 p.m. when I found Princess.

I lost a part of me that I will always miss and remember.

I sit here now with my coffee at 5:00 in the morning after a mostly sleepless night. I hear the first crows of the roosters in their yard on the other side of the flower bed from the kitchen window, and I wonder: Does some part of her still linger to hear them too? I think probably so.

Princess came to me as a part of a package deal, I guess you would call it, during a bitterly cold winter 5 1/2 years and another person ago. She and her "mommy" Laura came to me at a time in my life that was so dark and lonely that I still shudder to remember it.

I am a changed man this morning, and that is partly thanks to her, our best friend, Princess.

She spent the first of my many happy days sharing her life with me, she and Laura both teaching me to feel and love and, yes, finally to cry again. She helped me to find the man in me that was lost as a boy and hidden for many years. I am a much changed and better person this morning, and for that I owe her a huge debt.

It was a long road that we traveled together, filled with good days and some not so good. One of recovery for me. One of quiet unconditional love and sharing for her.

This morning, for the first time in years, we wake and walk our own paths, apart for a time. But only for a time. The day will come when we walk together again, and then it will be forever.

Remember, as you read this remembrance and soul-baring post, that you don't know the number of your tomorrows. None of us do. So make each one as special as you can. You don't know which one is your last.

I love you Princess, my friend, and always will. I thank you for the time and love you shared with me and will cherish your memory always.
Posted by: # Virgil / 10:47 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, August 15, 2005

In Memory of Princess 

(Today's post is written by Laura, as I could never write this and do it justice. As you read on, you will understand why I say that. So, forgive us if we take a couple of days (or longer) to get over this. It was quite a blow, to say the least.

Yesterday afternoon one of the most dreaded things happened to us. We always knew it was coming, but never expected it to happen nearly so soon, especially not before we got our house finished and a special place of honor fixed all for her.

Our most loving and beloved dog, Princess, mother and grandmother to some of our other dogs, passed out of this earthly plane and into the next.

There are no words to accurately describe the heartbreak I felt discovering this awful and tragic occurrence. Virgil and my mother were torn up as well. We all cried and said our own blessings and prayers over her as we buried her. I even took a pair of scissors and cut off the end of my braid of hair to bury with her. It was all so sudden and unexpected that we just weren't ready. I spent most of the rest of yesterday in shock and utter grief, not eating (still haven't, other than a handful of crackers), and I still just start crying at the drop of a hat whenever I think of this (And, of course, I am crying even as I type this.) or even just out of the blue, for what seems no real reason at all. Except that I loved her. A lot.

As a current rescuer and as a no-kill shelter volunteer during my teens, I have had the honor of knowing many animals of many different species through the years, both as a child and as an adult. But, as much as I cared about them all and loved each of them, none of them ever touched my heart - my spirit - the way that Princess did. There are a few of you who have met her in person, others who have only read about her or heard me talk about her, but I knew her better than anyone. And vice versa. She was with me before I moved up here to Arkansas, as I brought her with me as a young puppy to enjoy the river and the woods and the long walks we took together. She was always with me, if not physically, at least in spirit, no matter where I went. And she was always waiting for me when I reuturned if I couldn't take her with me. She was my dog, and I was her human. We bonded. Deeply. Very deeply.

I have never shared as deep a bond with any animal I have ever had the pleasure and honor of knowing. She would have laid down her life to protect me, and I would have done the same for her. The bond we shared was deep - very deep. She knew when I was talking about her, even if I never mentioned her name. She would just pick her head up and look at me and smile in her way whenever I was discussing her, as if to tell me that she knew and that she loved me as much as I loved her. This happened even when I was inside and she was outside. She would just look at me through the window to let me know that she knew. That is how close we were. It was an almost (if not actual) telepathic bond. When I say close, I mean close. I don't use that term lightly, especially not in her case. I raised her from a puppy, and we spent more time together than apart. She even went camping and canoeing with us.

She was simply a part of the family. A very loved part of it. I still can't believe that she is gone. I still look for her smiling face, but it is not there. And it never will be again, at least not in the way that it was. I can't hug her, see her bright shining eyes full of love, her wagging tail, or anything like that ever again.

My heart is just completely broken.

To fully appreciate how wonderful and special she was is hard for me to explain in mere words on the Net, but I can give you a few examples that should give you at least an inkling of this fact.

She, like I, is (I can't say was, as I believe she still feels this way, wherever she is) extremely fond, loving, and protective towards babies. Babies of any species. Human or non-human. I read a term today calling nonhumans "Godlings." That description would fit Princess completely. Princess just loved babies. All babies. As do I.

To give you a few examples, any time we had a dog bear a litter of puppies (before we got everyone spayed), she always had to have her hand in raising them. It didn't matter who the mother was. She was there, laying next to them and offering her milk-less breasts for them to suckle, licking the behinds of those who needed cleaning up.

She tried to mother kittens, whether the mother cat wanted her help or not. And when she didn't, Princess' feelings were terribly hurt, and you could see the confusion and hurt on her face as she wrinkled it up and frowned with desperation to help mother those babies. She truly could not seem to grasp that any mother would take her love and maternal desire to help as a threat. She would look then at me with sad eyes as she retreated from the room and left the mother and her kittens alone, but never stopped checking on them, hoping for a chance to be able to lie down with them and love them anyway she could.

But perhaps the most interesting case of this came from an ill-thought-out gift to a 2-year-old child of a baby chick as an Easter present from a friend of mine. No child should ever be given a baby animal so fragile as a baby chick. No matter how much you supervise the situation, disaster is likely to happen. And, yes, just as I knew would happen, within days, a terrible and dramatic end came for that innocent baby chick. All I can say is that, luckily, it was quick. I needn't go into details.

But before then, on the day that the baby chick arrived and we set the ground rules of never picking up the baby, never taking her out of her box, etc. without an adult around and all, as we worriedly set up the comfortable box in our living room for the new addition to our family, here came Princess to check out the new baby. Looking very alert and maternal as she always did when there was a baby around, she peered into the box to examine the baby chick.

Well, not long after, I came back into the room to check on her and she wasn't in her box. Of course, the first thing that I thought was that said 2-yr-old had disobeyed and gotten the chick out of the box to play with, despite my warnings and explanations of how fragile and easy to hurt baby chickens are. But then I turned around and saw her. Guess where she was? Yep. She was with Princess.

Princess had apparently taken this baby out of her box to watch over. She had crossed her front feet and placed the baby right there in the triangle that made in front of her face and was watching her intently, determined to mother her and protect her from harm. I determined this by the fact that the chick's feathers were wet and was worried about whether or not Princess had unintentionally hurt her, being as fragile as she was.

I shouldn't have been concerned. Princess seemed to know exactly how fragile our new family member was and had used her mouth to ever so gently pick up that baby chick and carry her to where she thought she would be the most safe - between her crossed front legs and right in front of her face where she could watch her every move. I remember being surprised that a dog as big as a German Shepherd could use her mouth to pick up a baby chick gently enough to avoid the least bit of harm. I couldn't help but smile at the loving nature of my most beloved friend and her love she carried in her heart for babies of any species. After that, you could always tell when Princess had done it again by finding the baby with wet feathers as she grew and was found spending more time roaming outside of the box around the living room.

It was a sad, yet necessary, day the day I took Princess in to be spayed, knowing that she would never again have the joy of bearing babies again. She was always so proud, with her eyes shining, as we shared in the birth process together. I gave CPR to quite a few of the ones that were stillborn, with Princess looking on, and us both being so very happy when the new life finally came through, the tongue pinked up, and the tiny little cry finally escaped the mouth of the newborn, with me then handing the new life to her to clean up and put to her breast to suckle for the first time. As necessary as it was to keep her from being a part of the overwhelming overpopulation problem, it was still sad to take something like that away from Princess, knowing that she loved having babies so very much.

I needn't have worried nearly as much as I did. She attended the births of more babies right alongside me, licking butts, stimulating amd cleaning up new arrivals until I finally ended up being able and getting the rest of my female dogs spayed. (Thank you to the generous sponsors of Warm Hearts of Montgomery County, AR, Dr. Page, and PETA for making those surgeries possible! You have prevented untold numbers of unwanted dogs coming into this world. I can't thank all of you enough for your help in making this possible!)

There are no more babies born to this household anymore, and so we are not part of the overpopulation problem anymore, and are actively trying to help stem the tide by persuading others to spay or neuter their animal companions. It is especially necessary in our county because there is no shelter, as we have mentioned before on this blog site and in many other conversations with other activists. The only hope that dumped dogs have is people like us who take them in, nurse them back to health, and do our best to find homes for the ones we can and keep the ones we can't.

The point of this whole post, though, is to show to those who would argue against the fact that animals have feelings and emotions every bit as strong as ours that they are wrong. It wasn't instinct that kept Princess from killing that baby chick and trying instead to protect and love her herself. It wasn't instinct that had her watch over human babies here, never leaving their side as they slept and played.

It was love. Deep, strongly felt, emotional love.

Goodbye for a while Princess. We buried your physical body yesterday in a place of honor next to your former mate and one of your sons with a beautiful headstone, but we know that your spirit will always be with us. I long for the day that we will be reunited. May you find peace and never suffer from anything ever again. And, if you feel like it, drop in and say "hi." I will keep my spirit open to receive yours should you wish to communicate with me, as I know is possible, thanks to the likes of Kim Sheridan's and Rita Reynolds' writings, among others. (We'll write their books up and link to them in another post, as this one is solely about Princess.)

Until you and I are reunited, you will be sorely missed, as there will never be another dog who could possibly take your place in my heart. You were the most special dog, the most special nonhuman, the most special Godling, I have ever known and the most loving, and I have known many through the years. May the spirit to spirit bond we shared never be broken.

With deep, abiding love, along with quite a few tears, I bid you farewell, but never goodbye, until we should meet again.

I love you Princess.

And I always will.

You will never, ever be forgotten.
Posted by: # Virgil / 2:34 PM 2 comments Links to this post

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Wrapping Things Up - the End of the Blogathon 

I have to say that I have very much enjoyed taking part in this event, as has Laura, and most especially that we were able to help such a worthy cause. It's not every day that we get an opportunity to take part in something like this, and we were very happy to have had this opportunity.

I could think of no more worthy and needy cause than Eastern Shore Sanctuary and the birds they take in. Kudos to pattrice and Miriam for the work that you both do.

On the other hand, I am very tired and glad that it is almost over. This has been a very long night with a LOT of hard work, coffee, and bleary eyes, and I must say that I am glad that it has come to an end so that I can sleep.

I am very glad for all of the contributions made and personally thankful to those who opened their hearts and wallets to make it all happen. I hope that we can all come together and do this again next year.

For the animals--

Virgil Butler
(and Laura)
Posted by: # Virgil / 7:00 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Morning at Our Sanctuary in the Woods 

Although our morning is busy, just as pattrice's is, things are a bit different here than they are there. We still have this post to get out and one more, and we will have accomplished our mission! We will have successfully completed the Blogathon!

But, as with hers, we have the roosters crowing in the background, as they have been for a little while. We get daylight a little later than she does, so ours weren't awake quite as early as hers were. But you can hear them out there now, crowing proudly and doing great!

We just wish that we could let them out of their houses and yards to roam freely the way that she does, but that just can't happen until we get the expansion area built that will keep the dogs and other possible predators out. Unlike the facilities we have built so far with scrap lumber and only having to pay for the wire and nails, we will have to buy a lot of high fencing for this project to give them the room we will need for expansion, so this next project will cost quite a bit more and be much more of a task to complete. But, we will do it, one way or the other. I mean, the chickens rent exactly going to quit showing up, and they can live for at least a decade, so we will definitely need more room than we do now. Besides we really want them to have the opportunity to roam freely, which they have not been able to do.

Little by little we make progress here. We take in whoever shows up needing us and then do the best we can with what little we have got. Pretty much the same way pattrice and Miriam started out.

Meanwhile, we will keep plugging along, doing the best that we can to educate people abut the subject of factory farming. Oh, but you ought to see some of the shocked faces around here when we inform them that we don't eat meat! Hilarious! But, we also hope that we plant a little seed to give them something to think about. Because around here, unless you are one of the community of Seventh Day Adventists, then people just don't understand at all. It gets even worse when they find out that we don't buy dairy products or eggs. You ought to see some of the faces we see out of the corners of our eyes as we carefully read labels in the store and discuss whether or not to buy the based on what is in them. We often wonder what they think. It's just such an alien concept around here.

Now, we can hear the dogs barking in the background, defending us against who knows what. They take their job very seriously. There are now 10 of them on this place, though only four of them are "ours."

Out here in the woods it is so peaceful. We can't imagine anywhere else we would rather live, despite the harassment we get from some of the local law enforcement and Tyson. Listening to the breeze gently blow through the big pines and always hearing the soft, subtle sound of the river flowing, it is a peaceful place. It is a place of healing and sanctuary for all who come here.

One day perhaps the cops will leave us alone to go about our business. After all, we are hardly hurting a soul. if not, well then, that's jut part of the sacrifice we must pay to live here and do the work we do.

We still don't suffer anywhere near as much as the various farmed animals across this country, so it's not so bad.

Well, just about time to post this and wrap things up.
Posted by: # Virgil / 6:30 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Another World Is Possible 

(This will be the last guest editorial from pattrice as we begin to wrap up the 'thon. It's been a very long day and night spent constantly working to blog away for a good cause, but we have almost made it! It took lots of effort and lots of coffee, but we have really been inspired by all of the interest in our blog since this whole thing began. And we really love that even the so-called "little people" can and do make a difference in the world. Even if most of you don't know it, there are many people working very hard every day with little or no recognition for their efforts. Hopefully we have helped to change at least some of that. Our last entries will be our own and will be more personal, so stay tuned.)

The 2001 Rome Social Forum convened on the site of a former stockyard and slaughterhouse. Standing on the cobblestones of a courtyard populated by bellowing ghosts, I could feel the fear of frantic animals every time I looked at the series of iron gates leading to what must have been the building for killing. Inside that building, rusted hooks and trolleys menaced from above as one French feminist, one Italian anarchist, and I from the USA struggled to understand each other's ideas about ecofeminism despite our language differences.

In the other building were the speeches. I gave one about factory farming and was cheered by people used to thinking only about human rights. Outside later, I shivered in the chill of the advancing night as young punks hurried to set up the communal sleeping area. Enjoying my warm coat and my belly full of vegan pizza, I hoped that the young activists all would be similarly warm and well fed that night.

Seeing a Partito Comunista Rifondazione official, I stepped up and introduced myself. I knew that this cheerful and hearty man recently had given a speech denouncing egg factories. Even though the speech was to other communist party members, he did not limit his remarks to economic problems like environmental despoliation and the displacement of family farms. Instead, he focused on the suffering of the chickens, describing the plight of the caged hens in such poignant terms that strong men were moved to tears.

"Thank you," I said as I showed him photographs of former egg factory inmates living at our sanctuary in rural Maryland. He looked sad as he saw what the factory had done to the beaks and bodies of the birds but brightened as subsequent photographs showed the hens looking healthy and happy after several months of good care.

English was not his strongest language but he knew how to say the most important thing. Pointing to a picture of a hen perched in a tree, he sighed and said "free."

The slogan of the Social Forum movement is "Another world is possible."

In my future Utopia, all of the slaughterhouses have been converted to forums for peace and freedom where we bridge differences to build a green future without ever forgetting the mistakes of the past. The young people have ensured that everyone has a place to sleep. The communists understand that animals also are alienated from themselves by capitalism. Delicious vegan pizza is always right around the corner.

And all of the birds are free.


Pattrice Jones operates the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center in a rural region dominated by the US poultry industry. The sanctuary was a founding partner in the Global Hunger Alliance, which Jones coordinates.
Posted by: # Virgil / 5:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post


(This is yet another contribution from our friend, Gary, at Animal Writings. If you haven't yet checked out his blog, you really ought to. He has a great way with words. We also met at the UPC Forum, so I had the honor and privilege of speaking with this wonderful, intelligent, and dedicated person who really loves animals.)

Here is his latest and last contribution, as we are almost through:

Imagine a conversation 200 years ago: "No slaves at all? Not even one or two per plantation? That's an extreme point of view..."

It won't be too many generations before breeding an animal with the sole intent of killing and eating it seems extreme to most people. Perhaps in 100 years. Maybe 70 years in some parts of Europe.

Of course, the conditions in which we raise the animals are extreme. The crowding is extreme. Denying animals any food or water on their last day of life, packing them into sweltering hot trucks and sending them off to be slaughtered is extreme.

To the animal being killed, typically at a young age and after a severely deprived life, the impact of our eating choices is extreme.
After all I have seen and participated in through the years, I have to agree. Killing and eating animals in unnecessary, so there is really no reason or excuse for it anymore. It's cruel, unconscionable, and just plain wrong.

That may sound strange coming from someone like me that grew up on a farm where we raised and slaughtered livestock, then caught chickens, and then did even worse. I hung and killed them for over a decade.

But the good thing about this is that if someone like me can change so drastically and with so little effort in such a relatively short amount of time, then so can everyone else. It's just a matter of desire and compassion, mixed with a little knowledge that has been denied to most people.
Posted by: # Virgil / 5:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Fellow Blogger for Eastern Shore 

Only today we were made aware of another person who decided to blog for the same charity we are. We thought it was high time to give her credit for her hard work to help them out. Her name is Heather Singer, and she lives in Reno, NV, so she had to get up even earlier than we did.

Her blog is quite a bit different from ours, but she is blogging for the same charity, so we thought she deserved a bit of a mention here, especially since she did the same for us on her own site.

It's been a lot of work to stay up all night and think of things to write about, constantly working away to meet the deadlines. You have to at least give her credit for doing that. It's hard work, and she doesn't have someone sitting next to her, keeping her company like we do. She even had to deal with her Internet going down. But she has gamely kept on blogging away, and for that, she also receives a Cyberactivist Award. Congratulations, Heather, for making it through the night!

Go, Heather! It's not much longer now! Only two more hours to go! You go, girl! You can do it! Even if you are as tired and bleary-eyed as we are, all ready to fall over and sleep for the whole day. It's still nothing compared to what those animals suffer, as you well know. It's the least we can do for them and those who work hard and tirelessly to save them.

Until the next post...
Posted by: # Virgil / 4:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Another Guest Editorial by pattrice 

It's five AM and the roosters have started to crow. Actually, the first scattered crows started about a half an hour ago but it's only now that the sustained crowing has started. It's an hour until sunrise yet but some of the roosters start crowing just before dawn. That's the origin of the saying "up with the chickens."

I'm a night person and a city girl by birth (I grew up in Baltimore), so I never imagined that I would be getting up with the chickens every day. Yet here I am, up and out of the house at sunrise six days a week (my partner Miriam handles the seventh).

The roosters who start crowing the earliest are the feral ones who choose to sleep in the trees rather than in any of the coops. You can see pictures of chickens in trees and other sights you usually don't see at the Eastern Shore Sanctuary picture gallery at http://www.bravebirds.org/pix.html

The birds start their day at sunrise and end it at sunset. We've had to learn to pattern our days the same way. The times of sunrise and sunset change throughout the year and our schedules change along with them. I like that. I feel much more in tune with the rest of the natural world because the timetable of my day is set by the sun rather than the clock: Up at sunrise, check on the birds at midday, check again in the late afternoon, close the coops at sunset. Of course there's a whole
list of chores associated with each time (as well as plenty of periodic chores) and those often are no fun. But there's something good about doing basic things that need to be done according to a natural schedule.

You can read an account of a full day here at the sanctuary at http://www.bravebirds.org/day.html

That was written a few years ago, so some things have changed. We have three coops and a lot more birds now. But one thing never changes. No matter how I feel in the morning... no matter what troubles have been worrying my mind... no matter how upset I might be about this or that, when I see those formerly caged hens flying (yes, flying) out of the coop in the morning, everything is okay. It's a great way to start the day.
Posted by: # Virgil / 4:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Sanctuary Work 

There is a tremendous amount of work involved in operating a sanctuary. Even a small one like ours. One like Eastern Shore is definitely more complex and time consuming. With several hundred birds to care for, the hours are long and the work exhausting. I cannot imagine the amount of time and effort that goes into each day's activities, not to mention the expense of caring for that many birds. (Though I figure beore all is said and done, I will find out.)

These people need so much, not only in monetary contributions, but also in volunteer work. What would it hurt to spend a few hours a week helping out? I know that if I found myself up there for any length of time I certainly would give of my time to help out.

No sanctuary nearby? Then what about a shelter? Almost every community has a shelter in desperate need of help. It may not be glamorous work shoveling poop, but it must be done. Just as loving petting and love must be given. Take it from me and Laura that the effort is well worth the reward.

The point that I am trying to make here is not only money is needed, but also time and effort as well. The same situation exists at all sanctuaries, especially in the cold winter months. So, if you can't afford to help in dollars, then give some of your time. I'm sure that pattrice (or whatever sanctuary is nearest you) would very much appreciate it.
Posted by: # Virgil / 4:00 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Economic Diversity - the Cure for Rural Areas 

I just got off the phone with pattrice, and she had a definitely good plan for at least some of the money that has been raised by this Blogathon and which I think would be a great idea for my community as well as hers.

It's called economic diversity. The idea is to invest money i more than one industry.

Here in my area as well as in hers, poultry seems to dominate the economy. When, or if, something should happen to this industry (and they have threatened to pull out and move more than once if things didn't go their way - in fact they are already talking about moving south of the border if regulations get too strict), the whole economy of the whole community would collapse.

A very good case in point was the ice storm here in Arkansas and several other states back in 2000. The economy became so bad that you couldn't even buy food or gasoline. What little there was was rationed while more was trucked in for days Many businesses have never recovered. They probably never will.

Economic diversity would have lessened the impact substantially. This is a great idea and should be implemented nationally. I hope she succeeds. Hearing about this ambitious and wonderful project just makes me want to help all the more. It may very well save many rural communities from complete devastation.

I sure wish that we had such a program implemented here. You go to the unemployment office to look for a job, and unless you are skilled, like a nurse or something, all there is for you to do is work for Tyson. That's certainly no option for me, even if I wanted to do that! Ha ha!

Seriously, though. We need more. I mean, this is literally putting all your eggs in one basket. Dumb idea, but what does Tyson care? There are always other communities, even countries, to move into. They can even convince the local officials to bid against each other for tax abatements to get them to locate in their area, promising all of these jobs. Sadly, what these communities don't realize is until it is too late and they are in debt and have sent all this money is that there is no more money coming into the area - there is just more leaving it and falling into the hands of the rich fat cats who run the company. It's really sad.

Look. No one, and I mean no one wans to catch chickens for a living any more than they want to hang or kill them. they do it because they are desperate and there is nothing else steady for them to do. But, if you come in and give them real choices, they will ultimately choose to flock to them in droves. It has been proven in communities where this has been implemented. It can be here and in pattrice's area, too. Someone just has to start it. People are willing to work and work hard. working at Tyson should prove that.
Posted by: # Virgil / 3:30 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Another Guest Editorial by pattrice 

I remember when I was growing up there used to be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals. Back in the day, the struggles against animal abuse and child abuse were linked. Many, many of the earliest animal protection organizations also were devoted to protecting children.

What happened? Why did that change? Somebody should study that. In the meantime, we need to get back to a unified understanding of violence. We need to see that violence against women, children, animals, and the environment all are linked.

At the Eastern Shore Sanctuary, we think that the problems of animal abuse and child abuse are linked. We wish that animal welfare associations would get back to taking action for children and that child abuse agencies would get back to taking care of animals too. Or, at least, we'd like to see them working together.

We can all do that in our own way. Those of us who are primarily animal advocates can make it our business to speak up for children whenever we can, making it clear that we are doing so as animal advocates.
I couldn't agree more, pattrice. Violence is violence. whether it is directed at animals, children, or even destruction of the environment the whole planet calls home, it is wrong and should be stopped. One of my goals has been to reach out to other organizations and find that common ground on which we agree, putting any differences we may have aside to reach it. If we did this, with all of the different organizations out there, we really could make a difference. A big one! And so much faster than working alone on different issues when they are all truly interconnected.
Posted by: # Virgil / 2:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Becoming Involved 

When I first became involved in the animal rights movement I was astonished at the scope of it all. Coming form a rural background such as I did, I was never exposed to groups like PETA and UPC. This was all very new to me, and needless to say, has taken some serious getting used to.

At first I had to find my niche - where I fit into it all. Tht was pretty easy. My experience was factory farming, poultry in particular.

Secondly, I had to find a group in which I fit. There really was none that I knew of, so I started my own - Activists Againt Factory Farming. Well, two now, actually. I finally started a second group at Care2 as a discussion group after the first one at Yahoo became more of a newsletter group as our membership evolved. Some people are members of both.

I had some help some help, though. Billye Thompson, in particular, was and still remains a dedicated supporter of our work. We couldn't do nearly as much as we currently do without her help. Our groups have taken off like rocket sleds on rails, especially the one at Care2. I hope those of you who read this will consider joining.

Also, I would like to mention pattrice jones at Eastern Shore Sanctuary. pattrice really impressed me when I met her at Karen Davis' UPC Forum. They really seem do dedicated to what they are doing, and I hope you really do see fit to help them out. You can still help them both out, even after this event is over, so please do. These sanctuaries really need the help and many times don't get what they need and deserve. I give my word that any contribution you make will be well used.
Posted by: # Virgil / 2:30 AM 0 comments Links to this post

My Activism 

I have to say that since my activism has begun, I must say that I have met some of the most dedicated and warmhearted compassionate and open-minded people I have ever met in my life. The energy they give off shines like a beautiful ethereal light that envelopes you with a warm hug. Some of them actually do physically hug me.

But, one of the best things is that, despite all the personal differences we all have in our lives and in our thinking, coming from all walks of life and being of all age groups and diverse economic backgrounds, every single one of us seem to come together for one single purpose.

The good of the animals, human and non-human alike.

I must say that I am very proud to be a part of this historic movement and look forward with great anticipation for what the future will bring.

Because any sacrifice any of us have to make, any hardship we have to face, pales in comparison with what the innocent animals suffer at the hands of humanity.

I look forward to the day when that ends. I hope to see it in my lifetime, but even if I don't, I know that there will always be a growing number of people fighting to help the oppressed, the innocent, the suffering.

The animals.

Bless you all who do what it is that yo do to help them.
Posted by: # Virgil / 1:59 AM 0 comments Links to this post

My Dream 

This was actually contributed by Gary over at Animal Writings, as he wanted to be a part of this, but didn't find out about it until too late. He has a wonderfully-written blog that I follow and read consistently every week. It's that good. If you have never been there, check it out.

Anyway, here is a contribution he wanted to make to the 'thon:

I have this dream that all the animals stuck in our horrible food system, with no way out, could have a one-day holiday. That's all. One day where the chickens could forage in the grass, and roost in a tall tree branch at night. The hens would have comfortable nests and they could lay their eggs in privacy. The roosters would assume their protector roles, crowing to greet the dawn and keeping the flock safe. The chains would be removed from the veal calves, and they would walk - or hobble - to their mothers. The milk cows would accompany their calves to a green pasture where they would eat and rest. Mother would bathe her son. Someone would go around and unlock the pigs’ cages. For the first time in their lives, they could feel the earth - they could walk. They'd cover themselves with mud, to cool off. Then they'd take the most wonderful naps in beds of straw. Upon waking, they'd go outside again and have fruits and melons and squash and other vegetables to eat.

The foxes in the fur-farm cages would not believe it when the cage door opened. First they'd take a few cautious steps, on legs that hadn't been used in months. But that wouldn't last long. They'd break into a run. They'd play chase games, as young foxes do. For one day, they'd stand proud. The minks would scurry to the river to see what water felt like. The rabbits - oh my, would they hop. They'd dig in the grass and eat lush greens. They'd run through hollow logs and jump and twirl in the air. When they got tired, they'd flop on the ground to rest, and then do it again.

The ducks would finally get to swim. And fly. Like airplanes taking off and landing, their strong wings would lift them in the air and guide them back onto the water.

It would be a glorious day.
Wouldn't it, though, Gary? And wouldn't it be even better yet if they never had to go back into those filthy horrible places after only that one day...
Posted by: # Virgil / 1:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Violence and Innocence 

They say it takes one to know one. For a large portion of society I wonder if they really realize how true this is.

For myself and others like me it is very true.

You see, as a child, as I mentioned before, I was abused. Sometimes very severely. So I know all too well what it feels like to have someone bigger and stronger viciously and brutally attack you for no other reason than to get their kicks or maybe because you forgot to clean the stove or clear the table or even a myriad of other nonsense reasons.

For whatever reason, the damage is inflicted.

Sometimes I wonder if that's how the animals feel. I wonder if they wonder, "why?" "What did I do to deserve this?" Ever see that look in an animal's eyes as they are "disciplined?" I know I have.

Sometimes I want to show these abusers just how it feels to be helpless and at the mercy of some cruel, sadistic, so-called human.

But, then I am reminded of the fact that violence only breeds more violence.

I suppose the only clearcut answer is hope and education. I mean, what else is there? If you react to violence with more violence, have you not just justified the very action you wish to stop?

These are just a few things to think about the next time you feel like losing your temper when you witness injustice. It doesn't mean you have to stand there passively doing nothing. By all means, take whatever measures are needed. Just make sure that they are indeed needed and not simply a knee-jerk reaction.

Goodness knows, those of us working to spread compassion need to spread peace. We don't need to become part of the problem we are trying to solve, thus spewing out more negativity. Positive, loving, compassionate, and healing thoughts are what this world needs to bring it back into balance.

And we need all of the light-bearers we can get doing that work.

Just something to keep in mind. I know that I have to do so, and Laura helps me to do that. I am so glad I have her. She may drive me nuts at times, but I wouldn't trade the world for her. She keeps me sane and acts as my conscience when mine fails me temporarily.

I hope that each and every one of you have someone like that in your lives. Someone who can love unconditionally and with an open heart, no matter how many times it may be broken.

She is one of those light-bearers, and I am glad that we found each other. Apart, we were a mess, but together we are a team. We balance each other out and accomplish things we never thought we could.

This post is dedicated to all of the light-bearers out there. May you all find the strength within yourselves to keep on. The world desperately needs every one of you and more.

Posted by: # Virgil / 1:00 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Guest Editorial from pattrice 

It's nighttime here at the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and, as usual, I am up late writing. But tonight is different than other nights because tonight I am not alone. Tonight I know that Virgil and Laura are down there in Arkansas blogging for us and that all of their wonderful sponsors are with them in spirit.

Sometimes the hardest part of doing sanctuary work is feeling alone. It's nice to feel less alone tonight. I appreciate the material support that all of the sponsors will be providing to the birds but I am also grateful for the moral support that I am getting from all of you right now.
Well, I can tell you that we are enjoying the support of everyone, too. We have had some very nice emails and comments written. I don't know why comments aren't showing up on my blog. Blogger shows them enabled and all, but they don't show up. What's even more weird, though, is that three people have managed to comment anyway. Hmmmm.......If anyone knows the answer to this particularly weird problem, please share. Because Laura and I don't know anything about website design. That's why we chose Blogger in the first place. All of the other little extras put on there have come from help from friends or very specific directions from the ones wanting us to host a banner or something. Anyway, until then, I am just relying on emails to get through to me for those that don't know the secret code to unlock the comments.

We are getting pretty tired now and have drunk an entire pound of coffee since this started! We are still bleary-eyed and yawning, though. But, we are determined to see this thing through. Every time we start to feel the urge to rest our heads for just one minute, we pop back up, grab another cup of coffee, and think about the birds crammed in those filthy warehouses and battery cages. Then we think of the lucky ones that made it to Eastern Shore Sanctuary. Doesn't stop the yawning and the bleary eyes, but it does keep us motivated and awake.

Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in reading what I have to say. And a special thanks to those who have supported this effort, either materially or morally. I am sure the birds would thank you, too.

At least the ones still alive and not going through the scalding tanks and being eviscerated right now. But, I would like to think that they are with us in spirit.

No amount of work I could ever do would make it up to all of the innocent birds I was a part of killing. But I hope that my efforts have made a difference and that they know that there are those fighting for them. At least I like to believe so. Especially the spirits of those who are no longer suffering.

This post is dedicated to the billions of those.
Posted by: # Virgil / 12:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Health March 

I read about this earlier in another newsletter I get from VegSource. What a great idea! Y'all need to come to Arkansas, too! I'll join in if you do.

If you follow the link above, they start out with a few facts:

--In the past 20 years the U.S. has gone from first in the world for life expectancy to 19th in the world for women, and 29th for men (behind Slovenia).

--The U.S. has the most expensive health care in the world, which the majority of its citizens cannot afford. We are the only country in the developed world, other than South Africa, which doesn't provide health care for all of its citizens.

--Chronic disease in the U.S. has an excessive impact on minorities and the poor, with rates of cancer, arthritis, coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension nearly double in African Americans than in the white population.

--Costly illnesses trigger about half of all personal bankruptcies, and most of those who go bankrupt because of medical problems have health insurance, according to findings from a Harvard University study released in February 2005.

--The U.S. Congress and President Bush recently signed legislation making it nearly impossible for individuals to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills.

Not very good so far, huh?

Well, it gets worse.

I won't quote the whole thing here, but I want to point out something very important here that they bring up.

Professor Marion Nestle PhD M.P.H. is Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University. She managed the editorial production of the first, and as yet only, Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health in 1989.
In her book Food Politics, Nestle says that on her first day on the job, "I was given the rules: No matter what the research indicated, the report could not recommend 'eat less meat'...because the (meat producers, whose bottom line) might be affected by such advice would complain to their beneficiaries in Congress, and the report would never be published."
No subsequent Surgeon General's Report has appeared, even though Congress passed a law in 1990 requiring that one be issued every two years. Why? The answer, according to Nestle, is food politics. She points out that "saturated fat and trans-saturated fat raise risks for heart disease, and the principal sources of such fats in American diets are meat, dairy, cooking fats, and fried, fast, and processed foods." Any advice of federal policies that sought to decrease consumption of these foods would cause the sellers of these foods "to complain to their friends in Congress," who would in turn prevent the report from being released to the public.

So, what to do about this? Well, it just so turns out that they have a great idea that really appeals to me, being as I am a big fan of people power and all. They intend to "take it to the streets." Yep! They want to provide the information to people that has been denied to them by the government and demand that things change.

They plan to march in Mississippi all the way to Jackson, stopping along the way in all of the small towns and such, because
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it is the fattest state in the Union; one-quarter of its population "is affected by childhood or adult-onset diabetes." Last year the CDC gave $1 million to help educate in Mississippi schools about health. It has given no such grants to any other state.

If necessary, they will take it to more streets in more states until Congress starts to listen to the people they are supposed to represent rather than to those who give them large campaign contributions. I think this is wonderful. It's time for people to get more involved and take back OUR country!

So, if you live in Mississippi, or really close, join them. If you want to take YOUR country back from the rich fat cat corporations currently running it (and many others around the world) then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Get off your butt and start fighting back.

Because the way things stand right now, if you are not part of the solution, than you are part of the problem.

This brings yet another favorite quote of mine I stole from a good friend's signature quote.

Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
-Elie Weisel
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:59 PM 2 comments Links to this post

The Killing Question 

I have been asked by more than one person how I an justify killing men in combat yet have a problem with killing chickens. Again, there is not a simple answer to that, but I will try to answer it.

The first man whose life I took in combat affected me in ways no words can possibly describe. It was really quick, though, and happened wihtot reallt thiking on my part. It was really more of a reflex action based on training I received.

The simple version, though, is that he was trying to kill me. He was armed and willing to use his weapon to take my life if I didn't take his first. In the end, I knew that it was either him or me. No real choice there.

Not so with the chickens. These poor chickens are held in metal shackles upside down. All they can do is wait for the inevitable, which if they are lucky, is a killing blade. The less fortunate ones are scalded alive. Now, you tell me who had the better chance.

Who was more innocent and helpless?

The guilt and shame I feel today is not for the men I met on the battlefield. They made the choice that put them there, right or wrong. No, the shame I feel is for the millions of lives I took from helpless individuals who couldn't even get away, much less pose any sort of threat to me.

Answer your question? I hope so.
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post

The Link Between Domestic Violence 

pattrice wrote me after reading what I had to say about the high rate of domestic violence associated with the people who were involved with violence in their daily/nightly jobs at the plant.

Fist off, I guess I should say that I also was abused as a child. Terribly abused. Worse than I feel comfortable talking about it publicly on this blog for the world to read. I am dealing with that in my psychological treatment, among other problems.

Anyway, she sent me a link to a story that pointed out that
child abuse numbers are "staggering" here on the Eastern Shore, where poultry is the main industry.

In our county, the article says, 11% of children in school -- that's one in ten -- have been abused.

And those are just the ones they know about!!!

Coincidence? I don't think so! As Virgil has been saying, once people stop having empathy for animals, they stop having empathy for children. And vice versa. People who have been trained to hurt helpless creatures without giving it a second thought are going to go home and hurt the children in their care.

I totally agree. I have talked with others who work in this situation that agree that the numbers of people who abuse women and children also abuse companion animals. The worst thing of all is that many of these women stay with their abuser because they are worried about the safety of their companion animal. There is a definite link there.

I also find it more than a coincidence that I have had two different researchers from two different parts of the world contact me and ask about whether I knew of any research showing that slaughterhouse workers were more likely to commit domestic violence. Sadly, I wasn't. But one of those guys was interested enough to start a study on the problem.

Let's just hope that he can come up with some data soon. Many innocents are suffering right now that most people never think about when they think about factory farming. Most AR activists focus solely on the animals. And they are, by far, the worst abused. But, they are not the only ones abused.

Think about that a bit the next time you stop at a KFC for a bucket of chicken. Chances are that not only did the chicken suffer horribly, but so did some human somewhere - maybe even an innocent child.
Posted by: # Virgil / 10:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post

A Short Bit on My Feelings on the Latest PETA tape of Tyson 

Not too many weeks ago I received a videotape in the mail from PETA. It was a 5-minute clip from the Tyson slaughter plant in Heflin, Alabama investigation. The reason I asked for and received this tape was to analyze it for one of my presentations at AR2005.

As an added bonus, I also managed to get articles printed in The Agribusiness Examiner and the Organic Consumers Association completely tearing apart Tyson's arguments against the investigator. (I always love doing that.)

But, that's not what this post is really about. What I want to convey is how it made me feel. I expected it to affect Laura much more than me. I was very wrong. Laura sat through the whole thing numerous times, working the remote control for me, back and forth and back and forth, and was visibly moved, but not nearly as much as I was. That was surprising to me, as I had already seen so much of this that I really didn't expect it to have that kind of effect on me.

I left the room and cried my eyes out. I had no idea that it would affect me in such a way.

You see, what I saw on that tape was myself just a few years ago not caring or even trying to be humane. I could not believe that I had been such a person.

Well, never again. I have a lot to make up for, but I also have a lot to be proud of, too.


(A much longer version of how this tape made me feel was written back when I first viewed this tape in preparation for the conference and when I wrote my letter that turned out to be an editorial in the above-mentioned sites. If you are interested, you an go back that far to read it.)
Posted by: # Virgil / 10:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Other Worker Safety Problems - Drugs 

Drug abuse is a real problem all over the plant, but especially in the live hang/catcher departments. The reason for this is simple - line speeds and demands on workers greater than are physically possible under normal circumstances. So, in order to keep their jobs, people resort to chemical help.

It may come in the form of OTC drugs, such as mini-thins (ephedrine hydrochloride). diet pills, or yellow jackets. Or it may come in the form of illegal drugs such as crystal meth or fraudulently-obtained prescription drugs. Also, in some cases. steroids have been used.

Basically whatever it takes to keep up the furious pace is what people will do.

At any rate, this problem creates yet another serious safety problem. It is a well-known fact that the poultry industry has one of the highest rates of on-the-job accidents of all industries. It is my belief that a large part of this is due to on-the-job drug use.

The industry claims to test for illegal drug use. I know this to be somewhat of a farce. I was tested during my job application and never again in the 10 years that I worked there. As a matter of fact, when so-called "random testing" was being done, I was warned ahead of time and sent home.

They only use drug tests on those they want to get rid of or don't want to pay worker's compensation for when someone is injured. Otherwise, they could care less as long as yu show up and do your job.

Some drug policy, huh? They don't care about that any more than they care about safety or quality or pollution. They care about production - the bottom line. And they will do anything to achieve it, no matter what that is or how illegal it may be. They are in it for the money and for no other reason. Nothing else matters.

Not the workers and especially not the chickens. Ahem. Pre-processed and post-processed product. I almost forgot that they aren't considered to be living, feeling beings in the industry. They are nothing but "product."

Well, the chickens here and at Eastern Shore and the many other sanctuaries around the country are chickens. They are individuals with names and personalities all their own. They are no different from the ones shipped off in trucks to be killed for food. They were just the lucky ones who found caring people to take them in. That's the only difference.
Posted by: # Virgil / 9:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post

My Personal Experiences and Witnessing of Extreme Dangers at Tyson (cont.) 

Did you know that I was prohibited from telling anyone about all the sick chickens
we were running that were making us all sick? I was threatened with my job for
even telling my doctor, who was treating me for the illnesses I picked up from the
handling of sick chickens. Luckily, at the time, my wife spoke up anyway, defying
Tyson to do something about it, and told the doctor what was going on. Then, he
was able to give me the correct antibiotics for what I had been exposed to. Of course, he was appalled that we were running and shipping sick birds, but he couldn't tell anyone, either, because of confidentiality laws. So, Tyson got away with it over and over again. And still does.......

BTW - this occurred shortly before I lost my job down there. In fact, it was probably the illness coming back on me from repeated exposure to the pathogens that I was sick with when they fired me. I had missed 2 days and gotten my doctor's excuse, but of course, you all know that they didn't even want to see it. I still have it, though, along with the letter from the hospital sent by certified mail informing me that I needed a CAT scan on my sinuses. Unfortunately for me, that never happened because I lost my job and insurance that week, so I still don't know the long-term health effects I will have to endure from working with such a
high number of infected birds.
(posted here)

The dump was one place in particular where I saw two guys get nearly killed. They were under there working on something underneath the dump at startup time. The
maintenance guy had his little tag on the switch, and the supervisor just ran up there and turned the dump on anyway. He just started running cages up. If the maintenance guy hadn't ducked his head in time, he would have had it crushed between two cages of chickens.

In another situation, the guy got his leg broken when it was trapped between two
cages for the same reason. The only difference was that he was working on the roller bed instead of under it.
(posted here)

One of the most dangerous situations for somebody working on back dock was to try
to train a new-hire to kill.

To begin with, our killing room was a real small place. It was about one step from
the wall to the line. From the killing machine to the wall of the blood trough was about 3 steps. Now, I'm not a little guy, so with just me, the room was comfortably full. But, you add a new-hire with a razor-sharp knife, it gets overcrowded real quick.

The whole idea for me, as the experienced killer, was to teach him what to look for. That is a bit more complicated than you might think. In order for a chicken to bleed out in the short amount of time that it has, it must be cut squarely across both carotid arteries and the jugular, but not all the way through the spine.

In order for me to teach him all this, I had to put him between me and the killing machine, look over his shoulder, and try to tell him (mostly with hand gestures because of all the noise) what to cut, then catch whatever he doesn't. Most new-hires had a tendency to try to chase the line, so it worked out that their knife would come across my arm. There was no protection from it. I have been stabbed by a new-hire across the line that way. I have been badly cut once across my arm.

There is one time in particular that I remember when this guy stabbed himself in the neck. He reached for this chicken with his grabbing hand and the chicken pecked him on the arm when he grabbed for it. It made him mad. So, he drew his knife back to stab the chicken. When he drew it back real quick he stabbed himself in the neck with it. It scared everybody when they saw it, but especially me because he
only missed my throat by less than an inch when he drew that knife back.

New-hires were dangerous because Tyson pushed them too hard. They were constantly afraid of losing their jobs and the killing room was an impossible job anyway. They would just go wild with their knives, mostly because they were chasing the line trying to catch 3 or 4 chickens in a row that they had to kill. Of course, they would be nervous with new-job jitters. Although, they would concentrate on the chicken, they would not notice what else was going on. I actually saw one run
headfirst into the wall of the blood trough one time.

It was difficult to find somebody that could function in the killing room. We might keep 1 out of every 10 new-hires that went in there. Even the ones that were willing to stay had a problem with it, whether they admitted it or not. Almost all of them, without fail, went through a period of getting sick when they first came in there. Some of them would get violently ill. If you happened to be standing between them and
the bathroom when that happened, you had to watch to make sure you didn't get a knife in your guts.

It's also extremely hard to teach them to stay on the line when the chickens start spraying blood all in their face. Because of the positions of the chicken's throat
and your face, every time you cut one's throat it is going to squirt you with two streams of hot chicken blood right in the face. If you don't get two distinct
jets, then you haven't cut it right. I have never seen a new-hire that could do it without turning his face.

The killing room is particularly bad when you get a load of chickens that weren't pulled off the feeders in time. Every time you cut their throat, you are going to have blood and partially digested food coming out the hole. It will run down your arms and your hands. When the chickens flop, they will sling it on you. I have never
smelled anything that stank any worse. I have been puked on by 4 or 5 new-hires in a situation like this. It is not uncommon.

I guess it is quite obvious that this is not the type of job people do because they like it. I suppose it is also obvious that it is stressful and nasty. It is also violent and dangerous. However, all of this could be helped if it wasn't so fast-paced. The constant drive for production at any cost means literally that - at any cost.

I am glad I don't have to do this anymore. I am even more glad I will never have to do it again.
(posted here)

Can you believe that I did this for so long? It shows how desperate people around here are for work, though, doesn't it? There is always someone ready to take that job, no matter how bad it is. And they never let you forget that. That's why they prey on places like this. They always will because nowhere else will you find people desperate enough for work to do this.

It feels like another whole life to me now sometimes. Other times, when I write about this kind of thing or talk about it, it is like I am standing right back there in that plant, complete with all of the noise, stench, frustration, etc.

Man, I am glad I don't do that anymore. I may be financially-challenged, but I believe it is safe to say that I will never work there again! Ha ha!

We may have it tough, but I am not doing a job I am ashamed of and that is this dangerous. I certainly am not ashamed of my work anymore. It's something to be proud of. I an hold my head up high now. I am making a difference in the world that helps to make it a better, more compassionate place for all species, human and non-human alike. What better way is there to spend a life, even if you are harassed?

It's worth it. And, hey, somebody's got to do it, now don't they? Why not me?

Why not you? Can't you do at least something to make at least a small difference in the world? I bet you can. In fact, I know you can.

But, the question is, will you?
Posted by: # Virgil / 9:28 PM 1 comments Links to this post

My Personal Experiences and Witnessing of Extreme Dangers at Tyson 

After reading the Human Rights Watch report, I was so glad that someone was finally willing to investigate this problem and do something about it that I wrote them. I used excerpts from some of my posts here. Since I know that you all don't have time to wade through them all, I thought that I would just simply share with you most of what I wrote to them. Remember that this is just one small plant and what one worker saw.

The most relevant posts were made back in August, September, October, and November of 2003.

Many of the problems were due to a lack of maintenance, but most were due to the drive for profit and an attitude of just not caring. To give you an idea of a few of the things posted there, I have copied and pasted a little of it:

Most people don't know that all this business did not start with my desire to help chickens, but to help myself and my co-workers. We were being forced to endure horrible, even illegal, working conditions at the slaughterhouse.

This started out with me trying to get help for the workers from OSHA, due to the huge number of safety violations that would somehow miraculously be dealt with before an OSHA inspection took place. We always had about a week's notice of such inspections, even though such inspections are supposed to be a surprise.

Light switches that would shock an employee, left unrepaired for weeks or months, would suddenly be fixed just before OSHA showed up. I was shocked three times by one of these.

The emergency stop button for the killing machine was too far away from the machine to be reached by the person killing beside it. This machine can grab you and hold you in it while it cuts you. If it were to catch you while you were alone in the room, which is most of the time, you could not get away. I complained about this issue for three years, with nothing being done. It was still this way my last night I worked there. Tyson got away with this by stating to OSHA that there was always someone in the room with the killer, which is a lie. Of course, when OSHA inspected, there was.

The emergency stop button on the hanging line only worked about half the time. If
someone were to be caught in the hanging line, and the emergency stop button failed,
they would be dragged through the stunner and the killing machine. It would work when
OSHA came by, but frequently would not work for a night or two.

We had quite a bit of electrical equipment that should have been waterproofed, but
wasn't because of high deterioration of rubber water seals due to constant exposure
to high ammonia levels. The biggest problem with this was the fact that the cleanup crew used high-pressure (122 psi) hoses to clean all machinery, spraying electrical equipment with the power still on. This led to short circuits and burned wires.

Most of the time, machinery was improperly grounded, especially the stunner. Even
though I am not an electrician myself, my brother is. He works afternoon and nights
as their in-house electrician. He told me that the maintenance supervisor told him
not to replace anything without the maintenance supervisor's (Dwight Billings) approval unless it completely stopped production. Billings told me to quit complaining, that as long as the chickens were running, that was all that
concerned him. I was shocked by the stunner twice, once seriously enough to be sent home. They refused to take me to the doctor, despite my plea for them to do so. Instead, they sent me to drive 20 miles home alone in a rainstorm after I had been knocked unconscious by an electrical shock. This happened, I believe, in '98.

OSHA has regulations on the amount of dust allowed to be in the air where we worked. If the dust level exceeds their safety level, you are to wear goggles and breathing masks. The plant did have these items in abundance in the supply closet for employees to use. However, we were not allowed time to change the masks during production or time to clean our goggles when they got dirty. Therefore, using them was more unsafe than not doing so. The dust masks would get so full of dust we
could not breathe, so we would have to pull them off. The goggles would be so coated
with dust that we could not see, so off they went. If you were caught stepping off the line to clean your goggles or change your dust mask, you could be terminated.

Employees are issued ear plugs, however, if they fall out while you are working on the line, you cannot replace them. Your hands are covered with feces and blood, and other nasty things that you do not dare allow in your ears. You cannot take the time to go wash your hands and put a new set in.

The climate control systems were never a high priority. It was dangerously hot in the
summer (I have seen it 125F in the hanging cage) and dangerously cold in the winter
(cold enough your boots would freeze to the floor while you were working and chickens
would freeze to the belt, thereby pulling the birds apart when you picked them up). The ice on the runway where the trucks are unloaded would be bad enough to cause the
forklift to slide and crash into the side of the trailer and drop cages as well as turn in circles due to lack of traction.

On two different occasions we had anhydrous ammonia leaks. This chemical is used in the chillers that cool the birds down after leaving the evisceration line. There are two huge tanks on top of the plant. Every evening a big tanker truck filled them up. The first leak was considered minor, and they evacuated the plant for the rest of the night. The second caused the evacuation of the entire town of Grannis, and was considered a major one. They had around 30-40 of us helping to clean up this spill without any sort of chemical protective gear whatsoever. We were "volunteered" by
the plant manager for this duty. There was one supervisor watching from all the way
across the parking lot (around 400-500 yards) wearing a respirator. Needless to say, every one of us got quite sick. We suffered nosebleeds and blisters in our sinuses, throats, and mouths. We also had raw spots on our hands and arms. We went to the doctor(s) after this for treatment, but this was done at our own expense, without Tyson's help and without workman's compensation paying for any of it. I, along with quite a few others, missed several days of work over this.

One summer an OSHA inspector came to the plant as part of an investigation into safety violation allegations. Superintendent Bell (who quit a few weeks after this incident) and Sheila Bagley (who was transferred around the same time and given a promotion two positions above the one she held at this time) called me outside on the sidewalk in front of the plant where no one but the three of us could hear the conversation. At the time I was on parole and they knew I had a drug problem. They told me, "if you want to remain free and keep your job, you will go down and talk to the OSHA man and make Tyson look good."

I had to go down there and lie to this man. At this time, I had a wife and baby at home that depended on me, not to mention the fact that I was looking at a prison sentence if I got fired. This conversation with the OSHA man lasted about an hour. He asked about the conditions mentioned above, in particular about Tyson's policy allowing us to take breaks for maintenance of safety equipment and rest periods so that we were not overworked. I was forced to lie to this man and tell him everything was fine, which it clearly was not.

Everyone else that was questioned by this man (that I was aware of) was Hispanic and
their immigration status was suspect. Two of them I knew for sure were illegals, Roberto Garcia and Hernando Vasquez.

I was in the process of trying to organize my fellow co-workers to make a report to
OSHA and come clean about this situation (after I got off parole and got straightened
out on the drug problem) when I got fired. I had already gotten the forms to make
the report to OSHA and was trying to gather signatures to back up these allegations.
Tyson heard about this and started to intimidate the other workers into keeping
quiet about and fired me as the ring-leader to set an example to the rest. It worked to silence them.
(posted here)

One of my biggest problems with the maintenance situation down there was their lack of any pretense of any preventive maintenance of the hydraulic system. I might point out that our hydraulic system's operating pressure was from 1200-1700 psi.
The normal operating temp. for the hydraulic fluid was well above boiling temperature for water. And, I would like to point out that the lead hanger (which
was usually me) worked within 6 in. of a nest of hydraulic hoses. The same hydraulic hoses ran underneath the feet of the dump operator. As far as I can remember, maintenance never once changed out a hydraulic line before it burst. You could clearly see the deterioration day after day.

I once warned my supervisor for 2 weeks prior to a hose rupturing. I pointed it out to him night after night. Anyone could see it clearly separating from its fitting and cracking down its entire length. When it finally did rupture it put a 2 in. wide blister from my hip to my knee. The stream cut clean through my smock, apron, overalls, and my jeans. Had I not been dressed as warmly as I was I would have
gotten a nasty cut as well as a burn. This obviously could have been avoided. And to top it all off, we had to wring the necks of over 300 chickens because they were soaked in hydraulic fluid so the USDA would not let us run them.

Maintenance worked the shift just prior to ours from around 2 p.m. until 9 p.m., with just a skeleton crew on during the shift for emergency repairs. The crew
that worked the afternoon before our shift would leave debris around on the floor and the belt. The objects on the floor are particularly dangerous to the
hangers because we worked under such low visibility conditions and could not see things laying on the floor. It wasn't uncommon to have someone fall and hurt
themselves because of tripping over this stuff. Our dump operator was an older guy, around 50 or so. He once tripped on a piece of pipe and fell between 2
cages on the dump and ended up breaking his leg. It was written up as an on-the-job accident, but it could have easily been avoided.

Leaving debris on the belt was dangerous to both hangers and chickens, especially if it was wire or cable. I once knew of a guy getting his wrist dislocated because a piece of wire got tangled up in a shackle and around his hand at the same time. And it wasn't uncommon to see where a chicken had gotten its head stuck in a piece of PVC pipe, a pipe fitting, or some other foreign object left on the belt, and die from it.
(posted here)

One-leggers can pose a very real danger to the person in the killing room if they are left on the line. The killer's knife is between 7" to 8" long and is razor sharp. I, and others, have received many cuts to our hands and wrists from the killing knives because of the fight that the one-leggers put up to save
themselves. In order to cut bird's necks, the killer has to reach out and grab the chicken by the head, put his thumb on the inside of its beak, and with his pointer finger behind its neck, he rotates his hand to pull the neck tight, all while the chicken is flopping around. With the one leg loose, a one legger can kick
the knife and usually drive the blade right into the killer's wrist.
(posted here)

People got injured down there all the time. There was rarely a week that went by that somebody didn't get hauled off to the hospital for an accident of some sort. There was a steady stream of people through the nurse's station with carpal tunnel, tendinitis, repetitive motion disorder, cuts, burns, abrasions, bruises, etc. Certain conditions common to back dock were getting "galded" (burned from the ammonia on the chickens), "blood rash" or "chicken rash" (looks like poison ivy and can become infected).
(posted here)

Their were several people who were hurt by machinery that someone failed to replace a safety guard on, or that need one, but didn't have one. One woman got her hand caught in the neck-breaking machine and lost 2 1/2 of her fingers. It was always getting clogged up and didn't clean itself out properly, so you had to do it by hand.

There was a guy that got his hand in a skinner in debone one time. It rips the skin off of chicken thighs and drumsticks to be deboned. It mangled his hand
bad enough that he couldn't use it anymore. Don't know where the skin went. It just disappeared into the chicken that went in to become nuggets. I guess someone ate it long ago.

I got my smock tangled up in the drive chain of our hanging belt one time. Luckily for me, I carried a pretty sharp pocketknife. I whipped it out and cut my smock loose before it pulled me into the gears. I still got into trouble for missing shackles and they charged me $15 for the smock I cut up.
(posted here)

(More to come. Gotta make my 30-minute deadline. Keep reading for more)
Posted by: # Virgil / 8:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post

How Dangerous are Meatpacking Jobs? 

Very. As the report I linked to from Human rights Watch pointed out, they are some of the worst and the accidents happen to the most vulnerable, especially undocumented workers.

Here are just a few of the things that have happened just in the past year or so:

(written on 2/17/04 on Meatingplace site)
A worker at an Iowa meatpacking plant was killed last weekend when he fell into a rendering machine and was crushed, the Associated Press reported.

Police said the incident at Pine Ridge Farms, formerly Iowa Packing Co. in Des Moines appeared to be an accident.

Raul Perez-Rojas, 36, was standing on top of the machine when he fell into it on Sunday,police said.

Perez-Rojas was breathing and had a heartbeat when rescuers arrived, but died shortly afterhe was released from the machine, officials said.

Firefighters had to stand on 8-foot ladders to free him.

Fire department spokesman Brian O'Keefe said he was told the machine was normally turned off when employees stood on top of it, the report said. Officials don't know why the machine was on when Perez-Rojas was cleaning it.

(2/23/04, also at Meatingplace)
A slaughterhouse worker in Australia was awarded more than $1.5 million in damages by the New South Wales Supreme Court aftersuing his former employer, Southern Meats Ltd., for negligence.

Abraham Emam, a 48-year old Halal slaughterer, lost his left eye in an accident at the slaughterhouse five years ago. On February 1, 1999,he tripped over a hose left on the slaughterhouse floor, puncturing his left eye with a newly-sharpened boning knife.

Since then he has lost his sight in both eyes, lost his job and his marriage dissolved. Emam was physically and psychologically scarred by the accident, suffering hallucinations in which he had visions of a giant figure resembling the Ayatollah Khomeini forcing his head onto a knife. He currently suffers from depression, panic attacks and psychological disorders.

Medical experts testified the problem was not physical but psychogenic, triggered by psychiatric disorders.

Emam told the court his life has been "like hell" since the accident.

"Leaving a hose on the floor would obviously constitute a realdanger," said Justice Michael Adams. "Had the hose been properly stored, the accident would not have happened.

"The life he led and the aspirations that he had as an individual, as part of a family and in the community have been blasted and he is largely without the personal resources to rebuild," he added.

Adams awarded Emam $1,551,793 in damages, including $375,147 for lostfuture earnings and $361,900 for future care.

Emam, who did not appear in court for the verdict, was "very happy with the result," said his attorney.

(don't know if this link is still active, but you can bet I posted it in the group)
The artile is entitled, "Jobs More Deadly for Mexicans."

Here are a few excerpts:

The jobs that lure Mexican workers to the United States are killing them in a worsening epidemic that is now claiming a victim a day, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Though Mexicans often take the most hazardous jobs, they are more likely than others to be killed even when doing similarly risky work.

The death rates are greatest in several Southern and Western states, where a Mexican worker is four times more likely to die than the average U.S.-born worker.

These accidental deaths are almost always preventable and often gruesome: Workers are impaled, shredded in machinery, buried alive. Some are as young as 15.

Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.

Deaths among Mexicans increased faster than their population in the United States. Between 1996 and 2002, as the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6 million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387. Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.

Why is all this happening?

Public safety officials and workers themselves say the answer comes down to this: Mexicans are hired to work cheap, the fewer questions the better.

They may be thrown into jobs without training or safety equipment. Their objections may be silent if they speak no English. Those here illegally, fearful of attracting attention, can be reluctant to complain. And their work culture and Third World safety expectations don't discourage extra risk-taking.

Simple precautions would save many lives, government records show. "Was not using any type of fall protection," concludes a government report on one worker who fell 150 feet. Says another report: "Untrained worker ... operated the equipment." Another: "Procedure was patently unsafe."

Though he was trained and wearing required safety gear, Jesus Soto Carbajal severed his jugular vein with a carving knife in a Nebraska meatpacking plant in 2000. The blade punctured his chest just above where the protective metal mesh stopped.

Sometimes a worker may misjudge a hazard. That was the conclusion of federal inspectors in the case of Manuel Topete, who punctured his heart when he tripped carrying a borrowed knife at another Nebraska meatpacking plant. He wore no protective gear because his job was to steam-clean meat, not cut it.

Soon after Topete gashed himself, supervisors moved his body and opted to restart the work line at the plant. Co-worker Luis Rodriguez, who described a geyser of blood pumping from Topete's chest, still can't understand it. "The foreman came real fast and turned the chain on. Why?"

Supervisors properly resumed work because they didn't know the severity of the accident, said a spokesman for the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Dakota City, who called Topete's death "a tragic and unfortunate accident."

When Camilo Rojas died at a Georgia chicken-processing plant in 2001 -- his head crushed by a conveyor belt from which he'd tried to dislodge a packing box -- plant officials closed the bloodied production line, but ran two others that day

Criminal charges are rare -- fines more typical -- when employers are to blame. One exception is a California dairyman who faces involuntary manslaughter charges after two of his workers drowned in liquid cow manure.

Jose Alatorre was overcome by fumes as he stood in the fetid stew, trying to fix a pump at the bottom of a 30-foot concrete shaft. His partner, Enrique Araisa, died trying to save him.

Both men were full-time workers but, according to prosecutors, had no safety training. No one told them to ventilate the predictably hazardous air or provided a harness to extract a stricken worker.

"They didn't simply go into the shaft, they got the shaft," prosecutor Gale Filter told grand jurors who indicted the dairy owner. Trial is scheduled for April.

The deaths received a burst of attention in early 2001, but just 18 months later, at another dairy in the same small town of Gustine, a third Mexican-born worker died in the same way.

Mexicans now represent about 1 in 24 workers in the United States, but about 1 in 14 workplace deaths.

"They just don't know that they have rights and responsibilities," Reina says, among them, "the right to file a complaint."

Explaining that right is one thing, enforcing it another. Some of OSHA's own officials say their resources are insufficient and note the agency's own policies generally provide for punitive action only after an accident.

And these are just a few examples.
Posted by: # Virgil / 8:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post

More on the Human Victims of Factory Farming 

Back in February I did a radio show. I discussed the plight of the workers and made a strong case for implementing Controlled Atmosphere Killing. It is available as a free mp3 download here.

There is a problem that bothers me with many activists in the animal rights movement. You see, there is a large percentage of them who view the workers as "monsters" because of the brutality of their job. As I explained before in an earlier post, most of these activists are city people who don't understand that the rural communities that these companies choose to locate their businesses in are places where people live in deep poverty and where there is a plentiful supply of cheap labor willing to do just about anything to feed their families.

Not that there are no sadistic people who work in these places. Most of the people I worked with had been convicted of violent crimes, including me, though I was neer sadistic towards animals. I did attack people who were, though. More than once, too. I sent one guy to the hospital in pretty bad shape, but Tyson covered for me because I was so good at my job.

These plants prey on such people, especially if they are on parole because they know that these people can't afford to complain and lose their jobs or they will go back to jail. They treat them the same way they treat the undocumented workers they smuggle across the borders and supply with documents allowing them to work.

Naturally, such treatment creates great resentment and frustration, which begets violence towards the animals and people, especially their own families.

Domestic violence is a major problem in this area. It can range from simple verbal abuse to serious physical assault and battery. Not all perpetrators of this sort of violence work on live hang, by any means, but a large percentage of live hangers are domestic abusers. I believe that there are several reasons for this.

Number one: They are exposed to very high levels of violent behavior every day/night that they work and even participate in some level of it themselves. They then carry this mentality and desensitization to violence home to their families.

Number 2: The working conditions in these places are terribly bad. It is extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter. My feet would actually freeze to the floor some nights. Dust levels are very high. Maintenance is poor or non-existent. People are expected to work in the dark, in the heat, and withut adequate water, toilet, or personal hygiene breaks. All of this leads to high levels of anger and frustration.

Last, but not least, is the influence on expendability. You are made very aware of how expendable you are from day one. It's either put out or get out. Bottom line. This also leads to anger and frustration. I personally was forced to lie to an OSHA investigator during my time at Tyson or lose my job.

What I am trying to say here is that the bottom line is this: The people may have committed some terrible acts. I am not making excuses for that. All I am trying to say is that it doesn't necessarily make them bad people.

Look at me. I was once considered "the best killer in Arkansas," but now I save chickens rather than kill them. Not such a bad guy after all, huh?
Posted by: # Virgil / 8:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post

More About the Human Victims of Factory Farming and How this Affects us all 

Back in April, there was an article run that really pointed out how badly agribusiness is hurting rural communities, farmers, and families. This article is just one example of the toll this sort of business takes on many lives and communities across the country and, indeed, the world.

It was entitled, "Sweatshops in the Fields: Texas Chicken Farmers" and painted a very sad picture of what is happening in many rural communities.

This sad episode that resulted in several deaths and an injury by gunshot is not the only story of its kind, sadly enough. And, it is a good example of what happens when people lose all hope and get desperate, especially when they feel like no one cares. This incident happened at a Sanderson Farms operation, but it could have been any of the agribusiness giants that have ruined so many lives.

A man, Barry Townsend, devastated by agribusiness, was so upset that he shot people he held responsible for his situation and financial ruin. Then he shot himself in the head. He was only 46 years old and with a family.

My 30 minutes has run out, so this post wasn't as long as I had hoped, but I will talk about the human victims a bit more on my next post.

Until then, read his story. It's the least you can do.
Posted by: # Virgil / 7:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post

COK Releases New Report: Animal Suffering in the Turkey Industry 

Compassion Over Killing is one of my favorite groups simply because they are able to do so much with so few people and so few resources. They have done amazing work, both investigating and getting the media to cover their work, as well as doing great outreach work on the streets. They hand out free vegan food for people to try as they pass out leaflets. They have produced DVDs that have aired in many states on TV and had commercials airing on MTV.

This report is just one more great accomplishment of theirs.

It also brings to mind the speech I heard my friend Jim Mason give at the UPC Forum I spoke at. It is available on video through UPC, as are the ones of all the speeches given, including mine. You can find them here.

But, you can also read a shorter version of what he had to say about working for just one day at a turkey breeding facility online here.

It's not nearly as good as the speech he gave (which was much longer and more informative and interesting), but it is still quite informative and quite sad that we have done this to sentient beings.

But, back to the report. Did you know that turkeys can no longer mate successfully because of what the agribusiness industry has done to them? That is why they are all artificially inseminated. And, it is a terrible job. I hope that you take the time to read what Jim had to say about it. And I thought my job was bad!

Anyway, here are just a few facts from the report:

In the 1960s, it took 220 days to raise a 35-pound turkey. Due to selective breeding andgrowth-promoting drugs, it now takes only 132 days. While this rapid growth hasincreased producers' profits, it has contributed to a number of serious welfare problems,including skeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular disease, as well as chronichunger in breeding stock. Animal scientist Dr. Ian Duncan has concluded, "Without a doubt, thebiggest welfare problems for meat birds are those associated with fast growth."
The most severe of these problems are skeletal diseases, such as hip lesions and tibialdyschondroplasia. One study found that between 7 and 28 percent of turkeys sufferedhip lesions, while 17 to 83 percent exhibited abnormal gait.( In tibial dyschondroplasia, an abnormal mass of cartilage extends across the tibia, causingbone deformity and lameness. Incidences as high as 73 percent have been reported inturkey flocks. Mortality due to skeletal diseases has ranged from 2.7 to 4 percent.
One animal scientist has argued that, due to skeletal disorders, "we must conclude thatapproximately one quarter of the heavy strains of broiler chicken and turkey are inchronic pain for approximately one third of their lives...[T]his must constitute, in both magnitudeand severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man's inhumanity toanother sentient animal."

Of course, there is more. Much more. But, even this small amount of information should make you think twice before eating one more bite of turkey meat. I mean, what we are doing is just shameful. There is absolutely no excuse for treating animals this way. And especially not simply because we enjoy the way they taste when there are so many alternatives available that taste the same and don't involve any cruelty at all.
Posted by: # Virgil / 7:00 PM 1 comments Links to this post

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