Not In My Backyard
The Day My Quiet Cul-De-Sac Turned Into a Bloodbath
By Hope Bohanec, Projects Manager for United Poultry Concerns
I live in a rural area of Sonoma County, California in the small town of Penngrove. It’s farm country and there isn’t much more in the tiny downtown block than a burger joint and bars. But it’s a beautiful, peaceful area. The golden hills glimmer in the distance, and mature, majestic oak trees shade the wild turkeys and deer in our neighborhood. My husband and I have been in this area for over a decade, and while a miniature horse or a goat in a field is a common sight, chickens were not, up until a few years ago. The popularity of having chickens at home has grown, and now we see flocks of chickens everywhere. Across the street, there is a chicken “tractor” (a mobile chicken coop) in a sprawling field. We often see a colorful collection of chickens here and there, wandering and scratching around front yards as we take our evening walk.
So when our new neighbors built a chicken coop in their backyard, I wasn’t surprised, but I was concerned. Our four duplexes share a laundry, and I walk directly in front of this neighbor’s house on a regular basis. He is often outside in a cloud of cigarette smoke. When the chickens first came, I braved inhaling a haze of second-hand smoke to inquire about the birds. He said he got them for eggs. I said, “You’re not going to kill them, are you?” He said no, that he had them just for the eggs. I reminded him that coops need to be cleaned daily and that he should adopt chickens if he was going to get any more, but doubted that he would care one way or the other about something like this as he blew smoke away from my direction.
A few months later, I was walking some laundry out to the machines. As I glanced in this neighbor’s front yard, he and two other men were standing around a tall, green, plastic garbage can. There was a scuffle and I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening at first, until I saw his arms spotted in blood and a big black bird flapping her wings furiously as she was being held upside down by both men in the garbage can. Her large ebony wings beat desperately against his arms. The third man was skinning the sandy colored feathers off another chicken and there was a third little body, colorless, headless, featherless, with her feet cut off, balanced on the top of the garbage can. I dropped my laundry basket and screamed, “What are you doing!?!?!” The neighbor was immediately uncomfortable. He said, “Oh, sorry Hope.” One of the other men looked at me and said, “We’re gonna BBQ!”
I ran back to my apartment and grabbed my cell phone and then back to the scene of the horror and with trembling hands started taking pictures while I pleaded with him to stop. There wasn’t another bird out there, just the three now still and silent. The neighbor said these three were the “old ass chickens.” I assume he meant they were not laying eggs as frequently as the others in his backyard.
Through my tears, I reminded him that he had promised he wasn’t going to kill the chickens. He didn’t say much, just apologized again. He knows my feelings as he sees my vegan bumper stickers every day, and we have talked on a couple of occasions about veganism and not killing animals. It seemed to me like he felt “caught in the act.” I can only hope that he does feel a degree of guilt and not just embarrassment about doing something his neighbor disapproves of.
I was so upset I forgot my laundry basket which sat out in the driveway for hours and I cried my eyes out. It was sickening to witness. My neighbor literally had blood on his hands from taking a precious life not fifty feet from my front door, and there was nothing I could do about it. The fact that these men were executing this repulsive act in a garbage can felt terribly symbolic of how they seemed to feel about these birds. They treated them like garbage and left their heads, feet, feathers, and other parts of their little bodies to be thrown away with the trash.
I called our mutual landlord to complain. He sympathized with me but said only that he would tell the murdering neighbor that he should do his killing in a more private and secluded area of his backyard in the future. I know that it is legal to kill animals who are your “property” as long as you do it “humanely.” But what can be humane about taking a sentient being’s life? And although throat cutting and beheading are considered “humane” methods of killing, they certainly are not. Throat slashing is a painful, traumatic way to die, and it can take agonizing, frightening minutes for someone to bleed out. Killing an animal who wants to live can never be humane. This idea that we can “humanely” take the life of another animal is an outrage. And I am outraged that it is happening in my backyard . . . in anyone’s backyard.
The idea that it is somehow better to “kill your own” baffles me. One argument my neighbor might use is that his bird had a good life and this was her “one bad day.” But what about all the other days of life you are depriving her of? What about all the days of sunshine, eating, dustbathing, playing with friends, and loving being alive? It’s not just one bad day; it’s denying someone a lifetime of experience, robbing them of the full knowledge of life. If we don’t want our human life cut short, how can we justify taking the life of another sentient being who wants to live when it is completely unnecessary and we live healthier as vegans?
Another position that people who kill animals themselves take is that the person is now aware of the process and “knows where their food comes from.” But this is useful only to that person. The animal receives no benefit from this concept. If they took care of the animal, fed and cleaned and provided for this animal, then a bond of trust was formed between the caregiver and the dependent. To turn on someone you care for, and then mercilessly kill them, is a terrible betrayal of trust. In fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal. This phrase is the title of my book on the subject of small scale animal agriculture, The Ultimate Betrayal. For a broader, in depth analysis of this issue, I encourage you to read my book.
I haven’t seen my neighbor since that horrible day, which is unusual as he is typically out in his haze of smoke several times a day. I think he has moved his habit to the backyard so he doesn’t have to look me in the eye. I hope that my reaction made him think deeply about what he did. There is a different energy now when I walk past his place and out to the laundry. It feels somber and sad knowing what occurred there. It’s horrible to live with but only strengthens my resolve to fight for these beautiful birds and help bring about the day when they no longer suffer at the hands of our neighbors.