I open the rusty cage door and place my hands over a warm body, spiky with feathers lost, and I know that this girl’s life is to be forever changed. I pull her toward my body and hold her, trying to convey calm.
“You are safe now, little one.”
The next day is bittersweet as I think of all the others still trapped in the shed. When I’m inside an egg farm looking at the thousands of desperate faces, I know I can’t help them all. The hens stretch out their necks like sunflowers searching for a sun that will never come. They all deserve to get out. There is no good way to choose.
I have named this hen Celine. I watch her take cautious steps, high and slow as if she is walking on the moon. Her head cocks up to the sky as she tries to take it all in. The soft dirt must feel like air beneath her feet, which have pressed so long on wire. When the sun hits her, she drops into the most glorious sunbathe. The sunflower who found the sun.
I’ve dedicated my life to liberating animals from places of violence. Sometimes people point out that saving one life doesn’t make much difference in the scheme of things; the system doesn’t change due to the liberation of the few. Yet I know, in my heart, it is the right thing to do, it is all worth it; the risk, the nights without sleep and the days of cleaning out chicken poop. Whilst we work hard to change the world with our activism, Celine’s world has already transformed.
It seems to me that Celine’s story should be enough to encourage anyone to go vegan, yet mentioning the animals seems like a faux pas in some areas of veganism. In many articles about veganism in mainstream media, the animals are not even mentioned. I can imagine a discussion group: “Okay, we want people to go vegan, but for goodness’ sake don’t mention the animals!” I get it. I know that people don’t want to think about the cruelty, and if they have to hear about it, it would be like “forcing our beliefs on them.” But the animals alone should be enough reason for the whole world to go vegan.
For me, liberation is the way to overcome that willful exclusion of the animals. It is a way to bring them to the forefront again. After all, we are their allies in this movement. Liberation is a reminder that the flock of chickens contains hundreds of individuals, each with their own personality, their own likes and dislikes, and their own desperate will to live.
I remember a rescue video after Hurricane Florence. A dog named Soshi was trapped in a house for a week, floating on a sofa. It was wonderful to see the efforts made to save the little dog. I can’t imagine anyone saying to leave the dog there just because so many others had drowned. Our human instinct is to do what we can to save each individual, the only difference with chickens, pigs, and cows is our perception.
My liberation work is a result of the groundwork of many activists who have come before me. Patty Mark from Animal Liberation Victoria founded the Open Rescue movement in the 1980s, due to frustration with the slow results of campaigning. Open rescue is when activists trespass on a property with the intention of saving animals from abuse. No damage is done to the property, and the activists choose not to cover their faces. The idea is to show they are doing what is morally right and that they are not ashamed. I’m one of many activists who can relate to this: liberation is something tangible to grasp onto in a world where it can be hard to make a difference.
Farm sanctuaries sometimes state that they rescue so the animals can be ambassadors for the individuals still stuck in the system, and Patty is of a similar mindset. As she said in an interview with Satya magazine, “The images we take in the sheds and the stories we tell of what we see will set these animals free in the long run.”
I understand that we must keep working, using every tool we have to bring about a just world, but let’s not become blind to the individuals due to the scale of the suffering. As I sit with this little, rescued hen on my lap, I know that she is worth it, even if not one person learns of her story.
Tomorrow the hens at Celine’s former farm will still be fighting for space. The wire will still cut into their feet. No one will even know we have been. But little Celine is a symbol of what’s possible: she is now safe, free, and loved.
Whilst we fight to bring about change, let us liberate who we can.
Catherine Kelaher was born in the UK and now lives in New South Wales, Australia. She is the author of Saving Animals: A Future Activist’s Guide (Ashland Creek Press, 2021) and is the founder of NSW Hen Rescue, an award-winning Australian charity that rescues, rehabilitates, and rehomes hens and other animals from factory farms. Learn more at her website.
Feature photo credit – Catherine Kelaher