Moments before Sia passed away in my hands, I watched Hen Harbor's operator Ariana carefully insert a needle into her distended abdomen and drain the infected fluid. Sia was sick from the broken eggs rotting inside her abdomen, and we hoped to relieve some of her suffering. Despite our efforts, however, Sia's fragile body gave out. Fluttering in panic, she let her small head fall over, and her delicate body fell lifeless into my hands.
Ariana took Sia and embraced her, tears running down her face. As is the case with almost every sick bird animal at Hen Harbor, Ariana had already spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours on Sia's veterinary care, hoping to help her escape the fate that takes the lives of nearly all hens bred to lay eggs.
As we dug a hole to bury her little body, I remembered how Sia used to lead the pack of rescued hens as they galloped toward the kitchen door for their nightly warm mash. I remembered Sia's indignation when a sassy duck would butt into her space and scoop up more than her fair share. I remembered how Sia's white feathers would become sticky with watermelon juice as she dove into the cool treat on a warm summer day.
As always, the memories were bittersweet, tinged with the nagging question of just why an animal who was so full of life had to die at such an early age. The answer, as always, is speciesism - the idea that it's okay to exploit someone and turn her body into a profit-producing machine, simply because she is not human.
Not long after Sia's death, I saw an advertisement for The Happy Egg Company, touting the idea that, because their hens are free to roam outdoors and lead supposedly natural and happy lives, it is okay to subject them to lives of enslavement and exploitation, regardless of the effects on their little bodies. The Happy Egg Co. even launched a deceptively-titled Hendependence Campaign advancing its ideas about hen welfare.
But because of Sia, I know better than to buy this lie. I know that just because a laying hen is free from the confinement of cages, she is never free from the prison of her own, rapidly deteriorating body.
I know this also because earlier this year, the animal rights network I organize with, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), conducted an undercover investigation of a "certified humane" Whole Foods egg facility - one that would have consumers believe that its birds are happy and healthy. What we found was suffering, mutilation, disease, and misery. Despite this company's claims of being "humane," the birds in there were no different from Sia. They all wanted to live but instead, knew only lives of darkness, confinement, and, ultimately, painful, early deaths.
The faces we fight for
Whenever I visit Hen Harbor, I look forward to seeing the faces of the happy hens who have escaped the horrors faced by billions of animals raised for food production. But despite the sense of peace at Hen Harbor, I know there is a dark side to the lifesaving work done there.
Every day, Ariana wakes up in fear that she may have to bury someone that day. Despite the fact that most of the sanctuary's hens will eventually die like Sia, Ariana fights for their lives in the same way a mother would fight for her child.
Shortly after I watched Sia pass away, I watched another hen, Pear Blossom, teetering on the edge of death from the eggs rotting inside of her, just like Sia. Unlike Sia, however, Pear Blossom has defied the odds and is improving daily. She is evidence that another way is possible.
Power in words
But new paths do not forge themselves. As activists, we must be diligent about forging the path to liberation - not to some façade that looks like liberation, but merely hides a violent reality. We cannot let profit-seeking companies like The Happy Egg Company or Whole Foods co-opt the words we use to demonstrate our love for animals - words like happy, humane, and freedom. We cannot let the animal agriculture industry use our words to lure people into buying violence.
Challenging the fraudulent, meaningless "humane" labels with a powerful message of animal liberation - with a powerful message that all animals have an equal right to be safe, happy, and free - is a good first step on the path to ending the scourge of speciesism.