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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/7/09

Animal rights, ecofeminism, and rooster rehab

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pattrice jones is an ecofeminist educator, activist, and writer. She is the author of Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies and co-founder of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center.

Founded in a rural region of Maryland dominated by the poultry industry, the sanctuary provides a haven for hens, roosters and ducks who have escaped or been rescued from the meat and egg industries or other abusive circumstances, such as cockfighting. Not surprisingly, pattrice and company take things further than your average sanctuary. "We work within an ecofeminist understanding of the interconnection of all life and the intersection of all forms of oppression," she explains. "Thus we welcome and work to facilitate alliances among animal, environmental, and social justice activists."

As the sanctuary begins a move from Maryland to Springfield, Vermont, I thought it would be the perfect time ask pattrice a few questions, via e-mail:

MZ: What led you to such work? Why hens, roosters, and ducks?

pj: We found a chicken in a ditch. Seriously. Miriam Jones and I (then partners, and still family) were both experienced social justice activists when we inadvertently landed in poultry country, having moved "back to the land" with Green Acres dreams of going off grid. At the time, it was not uncommon for birds to flee to freedom by jumping from transport trucks, and "growers" for the poultry industry would sometimes let us rescue birds they were supposed to cull (the industry has since tightened its transport and security procedures.)  One bird became two then five then thirty-five... within six months of finding the first bird, we incorporated the sanctuary.

MZ: Fortunately, there are many animal sanctuaries but I’m curious to know more about what you call the 'gendered form of animal exploitation."

pj: That first chicken was a rooster we originally mistook for a hen. I had to work hard to feel the same way about him once I knew he was a rooster. He was the same tenderly friendly bird he'd always been, but all of those "rooster" ideas - cocky, aggressive, etc. - were interfering with my ability to see him clearly. That got me thinking about the ways that people project gender stereotypes on animals and then read them back as evidence that traditional sex roles are natural, a process I have come to call the social construction of gender by way of animals. So, when we got an urgent call about 24 roosters who had been living together peacefully but all other sanctuaries had turned away under the theory that so many roosters cannot possibly get along, we said yes. Besides livening up the place, that colorful crew inspired us to try to figure out a way to rehabilitate roosters used in cockfighting, which we have done.

MZ: What do you mean when you say “rehabilitate roosters”?

pj: Roosters confiscated from cockfighting operations used to be automatically euthanized, on the presumption that they were too aggressive to ever live peacefully with other birds. But that's the propaganda of cockfighting enthusiasts, who argue that they are just watching roosters doing what comes naturally. In fact, chickens - like the wild jungle fowl from which they descended and to whom the birds used in cockfighting are very nearly genetically identical - naturally live in flocks in which multiple roosters coexist peacefully. Roosters in the wild fight to the death only against predators, not against each other! They sometimes will have highly stylized fights with each other, but these are not the pitched battles to the death that we see in cockfighting.

MZ: Why do fighting roosters fight?

pj: Raised in isolation and constant frustration, they never learn the social signals by which roosters resolve their conflicts and figure out their places in flocks. Prior to cockfighting bouts, they are often injected with testosterone and methamphetamines. In the bouts, they face opponents who, like themselves, have had their combs shaved (so they look more like a hawk than another chicken) and their spurs augmented by sharp blades. It's kill or be killed. What we do is give former fighters the chance to learn, by observation and gradual participation, the social skills they need to coexist peacefully with other birds. We give them a safe space from which to do this and, over time, recover from the trauma to which they have been subjected.

MZ: Your approach with the roosters sounds like a logical, compassionate strategy for any living thing that has undergone trauma.

pj: Right. We all - or at least all social species - need the same things when we've been traumatized, including safety or sanctuary and the chance to restore the relationships (with others and within ourselves) that have been strained or severed by trauma. I talk about that, for people, in my book Aftershock. In relation to animals, I'm happy to be working with Gay Bradshaw of the Kerulos Center and other members of the new International Association for Animal Trauma and Recovery; we've all been thinking hard about how to apply what we know about trauma and recovery among people to the task of helping animals who have suffered human-engendered trauma.

MZ: So now you’re bringing this approach to a new location?

pj: Our move to a larger property in Vermont, a small state with 33 factory farms serving the dairy industry and adjacent to Maine (the home of the infamous DeCoster egg factory) will allow us to expand our bird rescue capacities and also expand our activism to include dairy, which - like cockfighting - is a gendered form of animal exploitation.

MZ: How can readers help and get involved?

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