No duh, right? Well, yes, but you know, we humans are crafty when we want what we want and don’t want to change what we want. That’s why slippery slopes are best avoided even by the most scrupulous among us.
What on earth am I talking about? Last Saturday, we “bought” 40 hens from a CSA about 50 miles away from us. [I use quotation marks around the word bought because that is literally what we did: we paid $100 for 40 hens. Several large-scale rescues have fallen through over the past few months — no one’s fault, and we certainly appreciate the folks who were trying to make them happen — but as we had more roosters than hens, we had to do something. Aram found an ad on Craigslist placed by folks who were getting rid of their hens, we contacted the people, and that’s why we were purchasing living breathing creatures.]
In any case, the CSA was run by seemingly progressive folks, a straight family with two adults and three children. The long-haired guy was running his tractor with their new infant on his lap, and his very young daughters led us to him with a presence of mind that is usually lacking in very young people. The sun was shining, there was a note on the cooler about purchasing items according to the honor system, and he shook our hands with a pleasant, mild-mannered smile.
Everything was lovely until we reached the portable coop. First, it was far too small to house so many hens (they had far more than 40). Second, the fence that was set up around the coop on any given day was far too short to give anywhere near enough space for even 40 hens (let alone more).
Inside the coop was about half a foot of old chicken crap. Clearly no one had cleaned that thing out in who knows how long. Not a scrap of straw or shavings could be seen.
Hanging from the roof of the coop was a metal feed container holding crumbs of some sort — possibly layer mash — no seeds, no whole grains of any kind. And water.
When the man started to hand over the hens to me, though, that’s when I noticed the two worst things: the fact that he held them by their legs (which he stopped as soon as he saw us holding them upright) and the fact that their beaks had been burned off (making us wonder just how many they had once had in this tiny space).
Pretty bad conditions; but what struck us the hardest is that such conditions are by far NOT the worst to which humans subject chickens. BY FAR. I will also venture to guess that these chickens started out in very different (and far better) conditions than we found them in.
Which brings us back to the point of this post. By giving credence to the idea that non-human animals are ours to use, we take a step onto an inevitably slippery slope. There is no possible way to gain a real foothold on this slope because we ourselves have created it so that we ourselves can step out onto it. Because you see, gaining a foothold — stopping the downward slide — requires adhering to lines which we cannot draw once that initial acceptance is made. In other words: once we accept that exploitation is possible, there’s nothing to stop us.
Sure it’s all right to forget about that morning feed because you’re too tired to get out of bed; sure it’s OK to forget about cleaning that coop because you’ve been fighting with your significant other all day; sure it’s all right to do whatever the hell you want because these are NOT living creatures entitled to their own choices about their own lives, but instead living creatures whom you have decided need to conform to YOUR choices and YOUR ideas.
So, when your intentions are good, your actions will be in accordance and you will provide good care; when they are not, you will not; and either way, in the end, it won’t matter to you because in the beginning, you decided these animals were yours to do with as you wish. Perhaps a twinge of guilt here, a passing regret there — this is all you will have to handle if you treat them poorly.
That’s why no exploitation is good exploitation. Just like dictatorships are all oppressive whether or not they are benevolent. Some paradigms cannot ever be trusted.