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May 25th
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Gobble This

Time are tough for turkeys, but thanks to one local couple, some feathered friends are flippling the bird for the holidays

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Karen Oeh’s girls are spoiled. They’ve got a luxurious room to sleep in and a playground of their own. Ariala and Rhoslyn (‘the girls’) had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, and the same goes for Christmas. While much of America chows down on Ariala and Rhoslyn’s feathered friends Dec. 25, A&R will have survived the holiday season and they’ll be safe at a new home in Ben Lomond, living with a vegetarian couple (Oeh and her husband Mike Balistreri) who recently adopted them from an animal activist group called Farm Sanctuary.

The tale of their adoption began in August of 2006. A story hit the news wire that startled people—14,000 baby turkeys less than a day old were loaded up on an airplane and shipped from Detroit to San Francisco, to be doled out to a breeding facility. (FYI—reportedly male turkeys can no longer mount females to breed them. The females have been altered to have too large breasts—think holiday dinners, and therefore can’t support the weight of the males. As a result these breeder hens are artificially inseminated, explains Tricia Barry, communications director for Farm Sanctuary.)

What was supposed to be a direct flight instead had a sweltering stop in Las Vegas (imagine the high temperatures), and 9,000 of the baby birds died from suffocation and dehydration.

Upon the birds’ arrival at the San Francisco International Airport, “the breeding facility grabbed what they could,” Barry says. “There were several living turkeys among the dead. The workers at SFO were shoving them into trash compactors when someone witnessed what happened. The Peninsula Humane Society arrived on the scene and had them stop what they were doing and they found 14 living [turkeys].”

The baby turkeys were taken to Farm Sanctuary’s grounds in Orland, which is about 90 minutes north of Sacramento. The agency, which helps to protect, rescue, raise and adopt out farm animals, is headquartered in New York. “They had quite a harrowing first 48 hours of life,” Barry says of the baby turkeys.

Oeh heard about the tragic story in a San Jose Mercury News article that summer and she sought out Farm Sanctuary to inquire about adopting a few turkeys. “I really wanted them due to the fact that they were rescued,” Oeh says. “I wanted to do something positive.”

As she came to know Farm Sanctuary, she discovered an organization that’s sort of like a PETA for farm animals, without the disturbing and horrific imagery in their literature, or the sometimes aggressive tactics.

Farm Sanctuary got its start in 1986 when some people were researching stockyards in Pennsylvania. “In stockyards, animals who come off trucks, if they died during transport, are put in the dead pile,” Barry says. “Downed animals are in those piles as well. A sheep, Hilda, was a downed animal. She lifted her head and looked at them. They took her to the vet and thought she would have to be euthanized but she was only dehydrated. [Farm Sanctuary] grew out of the rescue of animals in need.” Such animals include chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and the turkeys that Oeh heard about.

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Upon contacting Farm Sanctuary, Oeh filed the necessary paperwork, supplied references, proved that her yard would offer the turkeys a happy life and importantly, it was necessary that she was a vegetarian, because “they (the turkeys) are sentient creatures,” Barry explains. “Each has an individual personality. … They get a bad rap for being stupid, but they’re not stupid creatures. They’re really curious creatures. They’re just as sentient as my cat or dog. The labels we put on them: Farm animals v. companion animals, it’s arbitrary. We’re appalled by dogs being eaten, but we kill cows by the millions. … People are so far removed from the food on their plates … to actually meet these animals face to face, people can see these animals as individuals.”

About a week before Thanksgiving, Oeh and her husband met their turkeys “face to face,” when a representative from Farm Sanctuary made the long trek down to Ben Lomond from Orland. On adoption day, the local couple had a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for their turkeys (minus meat, of course), and Rhoslyn and Ariala chowed down on a pumpkin pie and two squash pies.

Since then, the turkeys have been building relationships with Oeh and Balistreri. They mingle with Oeh’s two chickens and have a barn and an enormous yard to play in during the day, and a warm, cozy coop to sleep in during nighttime.

“I come home and all I want to do is make sure they’re OK,” Oeh says. “Hand-feeding them, putting them to bed, carrying them into their coop.”

While it’s been a life-changing experience for Oeh to adopt these turkeys, she doesn’t have to be a lone soul in the Santa Cruz County area. Farm Sanctuary has ongoing turkey (and other farm animal) adoptions. The organization also offers a turkey sponsorship program where someone can “adopt” a turkey for $20. This gets them a photo of their turkey (who remains at Farm Sanctuary), an adoption certificate and a subscription to the group’s quarterly publication. Proceeds benefit the 30 or so turkeys at the Orland location and the 81 turkeys at the New York sanctuary.

“Thanksgiving [or Christmas] for a lot of vegetarians is not necessarily a happy thought—sitting around a carcass,” Barry says. “Sponsoring [or adopting] a turkey is a good way to show compassion.”

Learn more about Farm Sanctuary and how to adopt or sponsor a turkey or any other farm animal at adoptaturkey.org or farmsanctuary.org . You can contact the Orland, Calif. shelter at 530-865-4617 or call its headquarters at 607-583-2225.
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