FREEBIRD . . .
"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?"
By Angel McNall
She was born in a large, noisy warehouse in Southern California. She was an orphan, in a crowded, dirty facility. She didn't have the comforts that an infant usually wants for; she had no mother, no warm, quiet place to lay her head, no soft, clean bedding. Instead she lived with millions of other orphans, all squawking and crying at once, fighting for food, and living in their own excrement. As she got older she didn't fare any better. For the first two weeks of her sad life the light in the warehouse remained on 24 hours a day, and after that it would go off for two hours, and then on again. Then there came a day when the lights never came on. She was living in a strange, dark hell. It was extremely frustrating. She longed to stretch her aching limbs, and maybe even try out her wings, but there was no room for that. Many of her cell-mates were dying every day because they were so stressed out. She was frightened. She lived like this for the first two months of her life.
Then one day, the doors to the warehouse were opened and a strange bright light came streaming in. She was loaded onto a truck. Everyone was very nervous. After a long, bouncy ride the truck pulled up in front of a scary place. The birds that were already here didn't look so good. Their feathers were all rubbed off, and she could see their bruised skin. There were other birds running around on the ground, and they had no feathers. They were bloody and very thin. Was this her fate? She had just arrived at a slaughterhouse in the China Town district of Los Angeles. Death row for her and her fellow inmates. But wait! There were so many things to experience, so many things that she wanted to do! Was what she had experienced so far what life was all about?
For Dave McNall, an air conditioning service tech, the day started out like any other. What happened next, however would change his life. He arrived early at the building where he was to work that day. A few months prior, he had been working on the roof of the same building when he saw an appalling sight. He saw row of cages, stacked 5-6 high, all crammed full of chickens. He saw dead pigs hanging by their feet from meat hooks. There were rows of ducks, turkeys and rabbits all waiting to die in cramped, filthy cages. These sights tore at his soul, and his vegan heart was breaking as he looked at these animals. What could he do? On the morning of December 31, 1996, he was about to find out. While he was waiting to get into the building, he took a walk around the corner. There he saw people lined up around the block. They were waiting to buy freshly killed animals for their New Year's Eve dinner. That's when he saw the truck pull up.
The truck was full of chickens. He went to the fence, and that's when he spotted her. One brave chicken had jumped out of her cage, and off of the truck. She was standing on the ground next to a dead chicken. Many of the others were frightened and bewildered; she was looking for an escape. Her eyes met Dave's, and he had to save her. He went to the truck driver and offered him money. After a few minutes of negotiations, the bird was his for $7.00; she was a dollar a pound. He packed her into a box and took off. Halfway down the street, he realized what he had done. He had saved the life of this chicken, yet where would she live, how do you take care off a chicken? He went to the pay phone and called me. He said, "You'll never believe what I just did!" I couldn't have been more unprepared for what he said. Well, she was ours now, and we would take care of her.
All day at work I was so anxious to meet this chicken; I was so curious. When I got home she was still cowering in the box. She smelled like the excrement of her fellow cell-mates. She was so scared she didn't move and hardly made a sound. We had nowhere for her to sleep, so we put some straw into a large dog carrier and that became her home for the first few weeks.
At first, she did timeshare in the backyard with the dogs. We didn't know how they would react to her. We went to the hardware store and fashioned a chicken coop for her out of plywood and some wire fencing. We didn't know how to build it; we just did the best we could, and it came out great! We filled it with straw, put the dog carrier in there, and she had a nice home. We named her Freebird, and affectionately called her 'Free' for short. We were in touch with the people at Farm Sanctuary, who helped us learn what to feed her, and answered the questions we had. Eventually the dogs got used to seeing her in the coop, and after a few supervised visits, they became friends and were able to be together in the yard.
As Free got more comfortable here we began to learn her personality. When we came home from work she happily jumped into our laps when we sat down. When we walked back and forth across the yard she ran after us as fast as she could. Sometimes we would go camping, leaving her in my mother's care, and when we returned she would greet us with happy chirps. She would even come into our camper while we unpacked. If we left the back door open she would wander into our house and sit on the rug. It gave us a warm feeling when she would stretch out each leg and wing, savoring the experience. She loved to scratch and peck in the dirt for bugs, and then roll around in the hole, coating herself with dirt. She used to take long drinks of water, and then shake her head back and forth. We would laugh when she did it, and the more we laughed the more she did it.
During the first few months, we learned that she had different noises to communicate her needs. If we talked to her she would respond verbally. If she was hungry she made one noise, and if she had laid an egg, she let out a distinct call that proclaimed what she had just done. She definitely knew her name and would come running when we called her. During this time we were amazed that she treated us with so much affection, when prior to meeting us she had only negative experiences with humans. We stood before her with respect and humility, deeply regretting the times when we had been a part of the suffering of her species, and grateful for the pleasure of her company. Apparently, the dogs enjoyed her too; we once saw our pit-bull, Buddy, walk up to Free and affectionately lick her face!
Eventually, we got another chick-en so she would have a backyard companion. We named her friend Liberty, and called her Libbie. Libbie stayed with us a few short months before she died suddenly. Free and Libbie were great friends. As we had never had chickens before, we were amazed to find that they were so different in personality! Libbie was soft spoken, timid, and made tiny noises. Free took Libbie under her wing, and they had great times together. In the brutally hot summer weather they enjoyed wading in their kiddy pool, and standing under their mister. In the evening they enjoyed sitting by the door of their coop before retiring to their respective dog carriers, and often choosing to sleep together. We used to say that they were having a porch visit, like two little ladies. Libbie died in her sleep one night, after staying with us for only three months, and we buried her in the yard. Free sat on her grave for a week.
Free was not without her share of problems, and we knew that because of the type of chicken she was, she she might not be around for very long. For most of the summer she suffered from a foot infection called bumblefoot. We had to apply topical treatments to her feet every few days, and wrap them in bandages. She had such a hard time getting rid of it that we eventually had to take her to the vet for antibiotics. She had to endure two injections a day for quite a while. She was also extremely heavy. The poultry industry genetically engineers broiler' hens, so they become very large at a young age. Even though Free had a natural diet, and got a lot of exercise, she continued to gain weight. Sometimes she would breath hard, and appear to be panting. As the summer wore on we could tell that she lumbered under the weight of her body. In natural circumstances a chicken might live to be 15-20 years old; the average lifespan of a broiler hen is two months, and if they are rescued they could live 1-4 years. By December we could see that she was fading. She seemed tired, and her weight was cumbersome. Walking was a chore, and she could no longer run, she waddled. She laid down a lot. Eventually her appetite started to decrease a little and something just didn't seem right.
One night she seemed disoriented and tired, so we brought her inside and fixed up a bed for her in our laundry room. We were in the other room when we heard a lot of noise. We ran in to see her gasping for breath and struggling on the floor. We went over to soothe her, and talk to her. We held her as she died. As her life slipped away we felt an overwhelming sense of love. It was a warm feeling, like a big hug. We were glad that we could be with her, and that she would no longer have to suffer. She is survived by her friend and companion, Annie, who is a special girl too! (She had learned to come through our dog door!)
There are millions of birds just like Free being consumed every day without a thought. They are living, feeling and intelligent beings. It is up to you as the consumer to make a difference. There are many delicious alternatives to meat and dairy products! When you choose Vegan foods over animal products, you are alleviating animal suffering, eating health-ier, and helping our environment as well.
We teach classes to help people learn how to cook Vegan foods and we also do Vegan catering. If you would like more information, please contact Angel's EarthKind Kitchen at (818) 343-4123 or by e-mail, AnErthKndK@aol.com.
Free's life would have been over the day she arrived at the market, instead she became a great friend. Her life, her story, and the inspiration that she gave us will live forever. We love her and miss her so much, but she must be travelin' on now so that she can truly be Free.
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