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Silicon Veggie

Pets or Meat?

By Elisa Camahort

HAVE YOU seen the Carl's Jr. chicken-sandwich ads? You know, the one where they taunt a chicken because it can't "sit" or "juggle" and then conclude with the tag line "There's only one thing a chicken's good for: eating."

It may surprise you to know that chickens make fine pets. They come when called. They follow around their humans. They like to be held and petted. They jump on shoulders. In Santa Cruz, there's a Pet Chicken Meet-up group with more than 50 members.

I spent some time talking to one of those members, Cheryl Potter. Cheryl not only has dozens of pet chickens, but recently pitched in to help with a large-scale battery chicken rescue in Gilroy, organized by the Animal Place (www.animalplace.org). Cheryl has taken in more than 100 chickens, cleaned them up and had them treated by vets, and is finding homes for them from Sacramento to Monterey.

What are battery chickens and why did they need rescue? Such chickens lay our eggs. You may have visions of hens happily pecking about a farmyard clucking in your head. The harsh truth is that most eggs are laid by debeaked chickens packed in cages they can't stand or turn around in. Everything is automated, from food and water to egg collection, so no human ever has to enter and be overpowered by the noise or smell. Then, after less than two years, hens are considered "spent" and sent to slaughter.

I asked Cheryl if she considered herself an "activist," but she said she doesn't see herself that way. She has made certain lifestyle choices, and she's happy to tell people about them, but she is not out there leading an activist life. But she hastens to add: "It doesn't take an animal rights activist to say 'This is wrong.' I think the average American would think it was disgusting and totally wrong if they could see how these chickens were treated."

I know people who travel overseas and return horrified with stories about being offered horse or dog meat. Clearly different cultures have drawn the "cute" line differently. But if you talk to nontraditional pet owners, those with everything from poultry to pigs (pot-bellied or not) will say these are artificial lines, and that all animals are "good for" a lot more than eating.

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From the September 7-13, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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