On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.
The truck was in Brooklyn. We believe Marsha and her flock were headed to one of the popular “live markets” there, where customers pick out live animals and pay to have them slaughtered on-site. The other animals are kept in cages, forced to witness the grisly proceedings.
So, on the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck. Some of her flock-mates did not survive the fall, however Marsha and 49 others were allowed to go to Farm Sanctuary, who kindly taught them that many humans are friendly and not to be feared, compassionately treated their wounds, responsibly ensured that they were healthy and ready for travel, and then sent half of them to Indraloka.
We call them the Golden Girls because of their beautiful golden feathers. Inquisitive, friendly, and lively, the Golden Girls transformed the once-serene atmosphere of the barnyard into an all-day, everyday joy-fest. Everywhere you look, there are cooing, pecking, preening, chatting, nesting, scratching, dust-bathing Golden Girls. Everywhere.
And, if you are smart enough to sit down to watch, you will inevitably find yourself with a hen cuddling in your lap, another gently grooming your hair, a third trying to fit her head under your hand in an attempt to force you to pet her, and many more watching you with unabashed curiosity.
On a hot, humid day last summer, during a Sheep Shnuggling event, where guests are encouraged to spend the day spoiling the animals (and vice versa), a big, brawny, bald guy sat on the cool ground in the shade of the barn. Instantly, he was surrounded by friendly, curious Golden Girls. He sat transfixed, watching them watch him. Tentatively, he put out a hand, and Marsha instantly walked under it, settling in for a nice petting session. The man let out a surprised-but-pleased sigh and began stroking her soft feathers. Minutes passed, and tears began to roll down his face.
He wept, “I get it now. I finally get it.” Those girls taught him more clearly than any of the rest of us ever could. He understood that each of them is a unique, sensitive being—a being with much more to offer as his friend than as his meal. He understood that raising them in dark, filthy, crowded circumstances and then sending them brutally to their deaths at only 6-8 weeks old is, quite simply, unconscionable. He understood that it was up to him to change his ways. From that day on, he has refused to support the system that so violently harms more than 24 million of these beautiful, precious, precocious beings each and every day.
Often, when someone has a lucky day like Marsha and the Golden Girls, their past haunts them. The Golden Girls are not emotionally haunted by their past. They moved right on when they realized they were safe and beloved. Sadly, though, their past still haunts them physically.
When chickens are raised for meat, as the Golden Girls were, they are bred to grow very, very fast so that the agribusiness that is raising them can profit by selling them for slaughter when they are only a few weeks old. Thousands of these chickens are crammed into warehouses, which in most cases are never cleaned in the chickens’ lifetimes. Because disease and fighting amongst the stressed and overcrowded birds is rampant, the majority these “production facilities” feed the young birds a cocktail of antibiotics, sedatives, and growth hormones every day of their short lives.
Sadly, Marsha was among those in her flock most affected by this terrible, unhealthy past. Early on, Marsha’s feet began to swell painfully. Along with Juanita, Glenda, Layla, and Gracie, Marsha had a bacterial infection caused by the filthy living conditions from which they came. Lab cultures showed that the bacteria were resistant to almost all antibiotics. Our veterinarian had to special-order the only effective antibiotic from a compounding laboratory.
Day after day, our sweet girls drank way too much bitter medicine. While the others’ feet returned to health, Marsha’s only grew worse. Our compassionate and talented avian veterinarian surgically drained the painful boils. We had to pull off the scab daily and soak Marsha’s feet in warm water with herbs to encourage draining. Day after day, Marsha withstood the pain, drank the medicine, and allowed her wounds to be tended. She did all of this with her wise, clear eyes making direct contact with Shadden’s, the kind caregiver who devoted herself to Marsha.
Marsha became accustomed to the hour-long drive to the vet’s office. She would sit next to me as I drove, cooing and looking out the window raptly. When we arrived, she stepped proudly out of her carrier and wandered the office, examining every detail that had changed from our last visit. Truly, it is a rare chicken that enjoys car rides and vet visits, but that is who Marsha was—is still—a rare bird indeed. She made the best of everything and was determined to live life fully.
Last week, the bacteria that attacked Marsha’s feet managed to travel to her respiratory system. Her heart, already weak and too small for her overly large body, was forced to struggle even more to keep her blood flowing.
Still, she carried on. In too much pain to walk, but ever-dignified, Marsha sat on a bed of hay, watching her flock-mates as they went about their business. Dutifully, she complied with her many treatments. Her favorite part was being held in Shadden’s arms while soaking her feet in warm herb water. Cooing softly and snuggling closer, Marsha usually persuaded Shadden to soak her feet for much longer than necessary.
Yesterday, as morning sunlight streamed through the barn; as the Golden Girls set busily about their days; and as Charlie, a sweet, elderly rooster with an advanced heart condition dozed on a heated mat under a blanket nearby; Marsha nestled into Shadden’s arms for her final foot soak. With one last look of love and gratitude at her dear friend, the air left Marsha’s lungs and her heart slowed to a halt.
The other Golden Girls paused their cooing and pecking, looking to the sky in silence. For a moment, every pig, every goose, every creature on sanctuary grounds observed the same perfect stillness as they hailed a great soul and a cherished sister.
Marsha’s spirit hovered nearby, comforting her beloveds, before drifting away like a puff of smoke rising from a dying fire’s embers.
On the best day of Marsha’s life, she fell off of a truck.
She managed to cram a whole lifetime of joy into six months of sanctuary before dying in the arms of someone who will never, ever, forget her.
On the best day of Marsha’s life, she was granted the chance to die a peaceful death.