Join us in mourning and remembering Baltimore Blum, who died in his sleep last night after living at the sanctuary since 2002.
Baltimore began life at a foie gras factory, where he was caged without access to water, besieged by rats, and force-fed massive quantities of food by pneumatic tube in hope that he would develop the fatty liver disease upon which the texture and taste of pate foie gras depend. Wretched days followed wretched nights until flashlights broke into the dim gloom of the factory one night.
Rescue arrived in the form of animal rights activists who had come to document the atrocities at the factory and carry away as many birds as they could. As the investigators reported at the time:
…investigators witnessed and documented tens of thousands of ducks crammed into filthy, crowded pens, and tens of thousands more languishing in tiny isolation cages so small they could barely move, much less spread their wings or turn around… investigators found many birds blinded by infections. In some cases, these infections were so severe that it was difficult to tell where their eyes once were… many birds had painful open wounds and stained the birds in adjacent cages with their blood.
Investigators also documented the daily torture of the forced-feeding process…. Investigators documented workers carelessly and roughly grabbing ducks by their throats as they struggled to avoid the forced-feeding pipe. After pumping massive quantities of food into the ducks stomachs, one worker was documented literally throwing birds across the pen…. corpses of birds who had suffocated and choked to death from forced-feeding were found in the cages and pens. Numerous garbage cans filled with dead birds, some of whom appeared to have exploded from the forced-feeding process, were also uncovered.
Investigators were able to rescue 15 of these long suffering birds…. many were unable to walk at first. Almost all of them needed to overcome the trauma of forced-feeding and re-learn how to eat on their own… after emergency veterinary care and extensive rehabilitation, all but one of these ducks recovered, and are now living out the rest of their lives in new, loving homes.
We were honored to be the loving home for eight of those ducks, of whom Baltimore was the last survivor. A shy, diffident bird, Baltimore chose gregarious D’affe and assertive Washington as his best friends. For many years, that trio toured a foraging yard shared with former fighting roosters and egg factory refugees, with Baltimore and Washington pacing themselves to accommodate the limp that D’affe carried from an injury back at the factory.
After first D’affe and then Washington died, Baltimore became closer to Jean-Paul and Jean-Claude, a devoted same-sex couple who also enjoyed long lives despite the ravages of their early days. They and the other foie gras factory survivors shared a yard with “broiler” hens and roosters raised for meat by the poultry industry.
As a group, they adopted a young “broiler” rooster called Chumbawamba, who had arrived at the sanctuary with a broken leg, broken wing, and broken beak and who limped around along with the ducks on their morning foraging rounds before settling down to nap with them in the dappled shade each noon. Baltimore and his pals were much larger than the young chickens who arrived at the sanctuary after leaping or falling from trucks headed for the slaughterhouse. (Because of consumer preference for “young, tender” flesh, the poultry industry sends birds to slaughter when they are only six or eight weeks old.) Many times, we watched these big ducks step back to allow a flustered new arrival the space and time to go to bed in the barn as darkness fell. Often, the ducks took much more interest in the newcomers than did the other chickens.
Jean-Paul and Jean-Claude died within a week of each other back in early 2009, which left Baltimore as the only foie gras factory survivor to make the move with the sanctuary from Maryland to Vermont. Here, he continued to get along with everyone—chickens and ducks alike—due to his easy-going personality. Whoever did the morning chores or distributed afternoon treats always tossed Baltimore his own special handful, which he gobbled gladly, never snapping at the hens who tried to horn in on his bounty. On sunny days, he spent his afternoons in the woods. On especially hot days, he enjoyed cool “showers” from a garden hose. To see him stretching his neck and opening his wings as the water dripped from the foliage around him was to share a moment of bliss.
Baltimore began to slow down this summer, sharply so in the past week. His energy dimmed as he seemed to drift into an inner distance, as elders sometimes do when they are ready to go. He died overnight, peacefully, in his sleep.
While Baltimore was the last of his gang to go, he is survived by many mourners—especially Miriam and pattrice, who knew him way back when, and Aram, who has helped to care for him since 2009. His rescuer, Sarahjane Blum, went to court against Attorney General Eric Holder today, seeking to invalidate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which turns acts of compassion like the rescue of those ducks into federal offenses denoted as terrorism. AETA also makes the act of urging people not to consume foie gras a kind of terrorism, if the act succeeds in diminishing the profits of an “animal enterprise” such as a foie gras factory.
Vita brevis, AR longa. In lieu of flowers, we invite donations in Baltimore’s memory to VINE Sanctuary, the Center for Constitutional Rights (which is representing AR activists in their effort to overturn AETA), or the anti-foie gras campaign of a grassroots animal advocacy organization near you.