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Rescued tom turkey enjoying pampered days before release to wildlife sanctuary

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

Joel Hailey and Avery Saenz share a holiday feast with Jadon, recently liberated turkey.

At small farms around greater San Antonio, some adventurous souls were picking out turkeys for slaughter. Some were even trying their hand at taking off the turkey heads themselves for the first time. But to satisfy the demand for those 47 million birds expected to be purchased for holiday meals this year, factory farming systems will do the bulk of the work. And those systems, according to the local animal-advocates at the local nonprofit Hailey Foundation and others, are inherently cruel ones. To get the heavy-breasted birds that we find in the grocery stores today, bird genetics have been manipulated to the point that the birds often suffer health problems, including leg and joint disorders and even heart disease, according to a recent nonprofit Farm Sanctuary report.

In a move to put the spotlight on that practice, the Hailey Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to "promoting practices and lifestyles that spare sentient creatures unnecessary suffering and death," purchased one such turkey from a small farm in Somerset. Now they're hosting the turkey at a celebration dinner ("Not on a dinner platter, of course, but in a large cage where people can see him," said local attorney and organizational founder Joel Hailey), and plan to release him again this week to the animal sanctuary Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in northern Kendall County to live out his days. A similar event was performed by the group in 2008.

"We're trying to focus on the fact that these are beautiful creatures," said Hailey. "Benjamin Franklin considered them to be the national bird."

While it's hard to imagine the warty red, white, and blue face of a tom turkey juxtaposed over so many waving American flags today, the turkey has been a much more intimate part of America as a staple source of food for native Americans and colonial late-comers alike. (Interestingly, Franklin dismissed the bald eagle as a "bird of bad moral character" for its habit of stealing the hard-earned meals from smaller fishing hawks.)

This week's Foundation dinner isn't about nourishment from turkey flesh: but an emotional nourishment that comes from viewing life through another's eyes, in this case, the eyes of the season's most coveted bird.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I always had a problem eating meat," said Foundation member Avery Saenz. "I always saw animals as beings who suffer, as beings who want to be loved just as much as the rest of us. They have a mother and they have a father and they want to live. They want to live as much as we want to live."

With a Foundation colleague, Saenz purchased the turkey now known as "Jadon" (meaning "thankful" in Hebrew, or ominously "God will judge"), posing as a meat-friendly traditionalist. "Rather than take the chance of her saying, 'No. I don't want to sell to a bunch of animal rights people,' we said we wanted to kill him and eat him," said Saenz.

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