by Laura Moretti
It’s an unending, relentless grief.
And its triggers come in very obvious, sometimes subtle, sometimes out-of-the-blue ways. Literally. They leave me with a bottomless depth of crippling sadness. You know the one I mean.
The obvious: the pig factory I quietly got into. I wanted to try out my new video camera in such a din of a place. It picked up the light well, exposing the spots of pigmentation in the sow’s skin just beneath the brush of almost translucent hair. The pink tongue as she opened her mouth and bit incessantly at the bars of her prison. The white rim outlining her eye as she rolled it carefully in my direction, wary, helpless. Pleading, may I say? And at my mercy. At the mercy of human beings — creatures who, obviously, aren’t capable of mercy — or she wouldn’t have been there in that coffin-sized crate, living out her life in the barren, clinical, stench-filled warehouse into which she herself had been born. An existence we wouldn’t sentence even upon psychopaths whose crimes are too hideous to revisit.
Through the viewfinder, from the whites of her eyes, into my soul she grabs me. And I know in that second, in that awfully tragic glimpse of a moment in which she connects with me, from a loneliness surpassed only by her perpetual frustration, that she will never let me go. Like that harp seal pup of my youth, squirming in the bloody throes of dying. Like the bull in the inescapable arena, down on his knees, coughing up blood to a cheering crowd. Like that bludgeoned, boiled-alive white cat still trying to escape the skinning.
The dead are never buried for those of us who work to defend the weak against the strong. For they die over and again, every day in obvious ways, leaving us with this unending, relentless grief. You know the one I mean.
The subtle triggers: “So you’ve been inside a slaughterhouse? How gruesome. Still, I don’t think it would affect me the way it’s affected you. It’s probably really unpleasant, but I could handle it better than you could, I think.” They are stronger, in other words, not weak, too sensitive, or so easily moved by their emotions.
A volume of dialogue swims in my mind. The grief has me in its grip and I’m unable to articulate. Why am I left so impotent? It is hours later that the answer emerges. I realize it is incredibly easy to imagine the inside of a slaughterhouse and not be so affected by it — for the human grasp is limited. It can’t hear the sound of a large animal pushed against its will into a kill chute, its frantic struggles, the reverberating pop of the captive-bolt pistol, the heavy thump to the floor, the kicking against metal, the groaning of the dying, the screech of pulleys and chains, the hydraulic release hiss, the splashing blood, like water from a garden hose hitting cement. It can’t smell the stench of manure …
by Laura Moretti
It comes and it goes: violence, peace, hatred, love. I can and I can’t live without it, the television news, I mean. I shut it off and I feel alienated from the outside world, from all those things I can do something about to make this place better than the way I’ve found it. But I leave it on and it turns my stomach, breaks my heart and shatters my spirit. I would have made a perfect anthropologist or archaeologist: I love the puzzle of our past, of Earth’s past, of the great cosmos — where and why did it all begin? — and of what lies beyond the present. So I’m fascinated by black holes and the speed of light. I’m awed by that brilliant light in the sky, the moon, and I marvel at how an elephant herd changes the entire African landscape, providing the elements for other life forms to exist.
But I am truly puzzled by this great ape, Homo sap. It has lost its way. Or never had one. Perhaps we were dropped off here by a superior intelligence, now enjoying what was once our home planet because we are just plainly unable to coexist anywhere. A mutated, malfunctioning life form, something from off the pages of the science fiction thriller. The Andromeda Strain.
It’s a felony for a man to beat up his neighbor’s wife, but only a misdemeanor if he beats up his own. Change the channel: millions of young girls in African countries are physically mutilated, their entire sexuality stolen from them, they are raped the ultimate rape for a patriarchal ideal. Next station: CNN anchors laugh at the awkward ostrich while innuendos abound of their demise as a “new meat” in the United States. “These birds can’t hide their heads in the sand any longer.” I fax CNN headquarters: It isn’t enough that animals give their bodily secretions, their young, and their very lives for an unnecessary industry that feeds on animal flesh, but we’ve got to make fun of their grisly fates along the way. What’s the matter with us?
We are sick, some of us. Most of us. Somewhere along the way, our priorities got turned inside out and upside down. Or maybe, and this is where I try to give us the benefit of the doubt, we never had them straight to begin with. I have to believe we haven’t. It’s the only way I can turn out the light at night and put my head onto a soft pillow without losing my mind.
I know, I know, turn off the television. Let it go. These atrocities have been practiced for eons. You do what you can and you’ve got one life to live so don’t waste it on the misery of others.
But for the life of me, I can’t. I can’t let it go. I had something to say about the lobster who was mutilated and fried in a pan while it was still alive to entertain viewers of The …
by Laura Moretti
She could have been my mother; she looked rather like her. A few years over 60, nicely dressed, sitting a table or two away from where I was dining. And when our gaze met, it was as if my mother had just laid eyes on me: she smiled that warm, affectionate smile that only a parent can express for a child. She thought — it seemed — I was the sweetest thing she’d seen in a while.
Then she lifted a barbecued cow’s rib to her mouth and began gnawing.
Definitely, not my mother.
And if she could hear my thoughts, she wouldn’t think I was so sweet, either; she wouldn’t smile the way she had smiled — because she would have known how genuinely disgusted I was. Eat garbage, for crissakes, I silently chided her, but not the diseased and decomposing corpse of mutilated cow flesh and bone.
“Leave ’em alone,” my companion warned me, catching that glint in my eye, and tapping the table to get my attention. I leveled his gaze. “What?” I nonverbally asked, as if I didn’t know why I was being reprimanded. If he’d seen what I’d seen, his stomach would have turned just the same.
“You used to eat meat,” he reminded me.
Yeah, but, then I grew up, man. I opened my eyes. I looked around, questioned authority, reassessed the situation, embraced the truth, for crying out loud. And now I know I was brainwashed, damn them, that I’d been force-fed a cruel and deadly diet. You know I used to eat calves’ liver with onions? Liver, mind you; the liver of a cow’s calf, a newborn cow, get it? a little, large-eyed, small-hoofed, milk-smelling baby who cries “maw” when you hurt him, for God’s sake.
Am I the only one around here who’s gettin’ this?
The woman across the restaurant smiled at me again. I just happened to have glanced back; you know, that morbid curiosity overtook me, like, how could someone that intelligent-looking and that sophisticated gnaw on a bone that was designed — in vain, I might add — to protect the internal organs of an overly weighted bovine? Heart, lungs, stomach, spleen. Blood and guts and veins and muscle. Do you see yourself, lady?
I tried to set an example by gnawing on my corn cob in front of her.
She didn’t get it. She smacked her lips, and held her little piece of sauced carcass ever so daintily as she moved it around to nibble the still-fleshy parts.
“Can’t you leave well enough alone?” my companion chastised me.
I looked at him and defended myself. “I haven’t said a word.”
He grunted. “Just relax, already.”
Relax already? Like everyone else around here? Just pretend everything’s all right, is that it? But don’t you get it? Every year in the United States alone, more than ten billion animals are raised in factory warehouses, deprived of most of their basic needs, of companionship and sunlight; they’re branded, dehorned, debeaked, detailed, and castrated; they’re artificially inseminated, deprived of their offspring, prodded, …
by Laura Moretti
Animal rights is the single greatest calling facing the human race. Our movement tackles nearly every aspect of so-called civilized society — and consists of human beings, not animals. And there are billions of them, weaved so firmly into our daily fabric we ourselves who care about them don’t often see them: the hidden ingredients in our food, the animal-tested dyes in our clothes, the bovine-coating on our daily vitamins. These things are wrong — Sea World and Barnum & Bailey and Proctor & Gamble and Oscar Mayer, and the human beings who cater to them, trust in them, demand the supply from them — are wrong because they support the view that nonhuman animals are means to our ends, are tools for research, are simply things or property, period.
They are not. They are none of those things.
But we mustn’t get lost in a battle among ourselves — yes, abolition is our goal; Good God, who could think otherwise? but relieving pain and suffering, alleviating despair, reducing the killing — these are steps along the way. Our movement is similar to other movements — philosophically speaking — but it differs strategically. By the definition of most people, women are not animals, gays are not animals, blacks are not animals; eating animals is not cannibalism; vivisecting animals is not torture, and the list goes on. However right the philosophical definition (and it is right!), we are still talking to humans about animals; we are humans talking to humans about animals. If the victims themselves — like the victims of other movements — could speak on their own behalf, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The war would be over. It would have been over long ago.
And there are no Martin Luther King, Jr.s or Mahatma Gandhis in the animal rights movement to lead the way. There’s no one person — or one organization — to come along to save the day. I’ve been in this movement too long, honoring too many undeserved heroes, to know that certain people in this movement bowing before fanfare are not standing on behalf of animals — but for some other calling: recognition, praise, a trip into the history books. Animals don’t have time for our politics. Or our egos — such games are their biggest enemy.
But your faith and your support and your finances behind real heroes — true “leaders,” people who care with their hearts, not with their heads. People like Mark Glover, who founded LYNX — an organization that quietly, but effectively, shut down the entire fur industry in Great Britain; people like Sally Baker in Virginia who sold her household furniture to raise monies to erect billboards on behalf of trapped animals; people like Lila Brooks who has nearly single-handedly come to the aid of Los Angeles’ urban coyotes; people like Parris Boyd in South Carolina who — despite feeling all alone in the world — argues the case for animal rights on the pages of his county …
by Laura Moretti
I admit it. I enjoy the Backstreet Boys’ megahit song, “I Want It That Way.” There’s something about its harmony, its rhythm, that enables me, despite its literal translation, to escape the grim reality of our work long enough to actually feel good about being alive.
And so it was quite ironic that I was listening to it one night while driving, reveling in a pricelessly rare escapism, when I was, well, hit by a truck.
I think, if I didn’t write, I’d be a director. I’m drawn to obscure images, abstract points of view, deviated angles on the otherwise routine panorama that makes up our daily lives. While driving interstate highways, for example, I savor the rhythm of the trucks and their trailers that crawl our nation’s biways. I’m able to ignore the environmental drawbacks long enough to appreciate efficient machinery in motion. Their speeds, in California, are limited to 55 mph while autos can drive as fast as 70. We usually pass them — sometimes, for some of us, the execution of the pass is accompanied by music, like a scene from right out of a movie, precision-scripted, well-directed, and artistically scored.
On this particular night, the night I was hit by a truck, it was me being passed. In fact, despite the black-shattering headlights breaking through the nighttime drizzle behind me, I didn’t even see it coming. And I certainly didn’t hear it because I had “You are my fire / the one desire” cranked up on the stereo. I didn’t even sense it beside me; I was too lost in the escape to notice. That is the point of the escape — to be totally and completely outside of this hypocritical, incompassionate world.
I was, instead, singing, feeling good, as I said, about being alive. I was on my way home, cuddled into the warmth of my car, looking forward to a fireplace fire.
The truck passed on my left at high speed, its headlights exposing the rain-swept highway, its roar just audible over “ain’t nuthin’ but a heartache…” I was dancing in my seat, keeping rhythm with the band, when the truck first broke into my line of vision. I took second notice: it was a perfect image, at perfect speed, motion on motion, the night’s rain sweeping from its undercarriage, the steam churned up by its 18 wheels.
In those fleeting moments, I was liberated. There were no deprived, crying dairy calves, no in-vain writhing, blood-splattered foxes in steel traps, no painfully electroshocked primates, no chained circus elephants. In the moments the truck entered my vision, I was completely and most gratefully free. I was part of this world, in it, seeing it in ways we all take for granted, but enjoying the view.
Who to thank for such moments? The Great Spirit? Almighty God? the truck driver? or just synchronicity: chaos posing as harmony in an almost missed connection I was lucky enough to reach out and grab? I just know I feel it, and feel it …
by Laura Moretti
I floated lazily downstream on a makeshift raft I had created, the hot afternoon sun tanning my young skin, bees buzzing the honeysuckle that grew along its banks, a green-eyed dragonfly hovering before my hand-shielded face. There weren’t any other sounds for miles, just the running water emptying into tranquil pools that slowed the raft and spun it slowly before picking up a mesmerizing speed again in the shallows. Overhead, the sky was cloudless and translucent blue. My thoughts were lost in its vastness. Only my heel touching the lukewarm water brought me back to Earth.
I had that memory last night, watching television: how different it was from the reality of another world. Children, as young as I was then, scrambled for footing on the muddied banks of a Faroese island, grappling with their elders for the ropes that had caught a pilot whale in his death throes. The animal, groaning in agony, his head gruesomely severed behind the blowhole, thrashed violently in the blood-tainted waters, among his dead and dying companions, but to no avail.
And my heart broke again, as it had done decades earlier, watching a seal pup writhe in the blood-splattered snow beneath the sealer’s weighted boot.
As strong as I am — and after two decades, I think sometimes I am too strong, too casual about it, too proud that I’m able to endure the death of another; be motivated by it, I mean, and put in another day on behalf of death and dying — I am still moved, still heartbroken and sickened (dear God, am I sickened) with the empathy I felt with that one and single and solitary being in the throes of dying.
I could have turned the channel. It would have been that easy. I could have muted the sound, thanks to remote control, and shut out his screaming, the way only a whale can scream. But I couldn’t. I’d be damned if that animal died alone; to turn away would have made me as guilty as if my own hands were on the ropes that held that dying creature at bay.
It’s a long way from lazy raft rides in the neighborhood creek bed. My heel touching the lukewarm water today would only bring painful visions of blood-red seas — this, the price of enlightenment.
We who work for the lives of others live in the shadow of the death of others. This is our way, not by choice, but by demand. Better to have a wounded heart, a sick and hurting heart, than to have no heart at all, to feel for nothing, to care for no one, to live for death.
The world is ailing. Every morning when we awaken, there is a whale thrashing, a monkey screaming, a lone wolf howling, in the back of our minds. There is no escape from enlightenment, from truth, no escape from what lies beyond the morning sparrow’s song — not for us, those of us who work for the lives of others.
by Laura Moretti
“Genuine synthetic leather.” Honest, that’s what it said, engraved neatly on the inside of a plastic fashion belt. Times are a-changing.
My uncle came to visit from the east coast and quickly discovered the rules: no meat in the house; no meat anywhere within my line of vision. He was hungry one evening and asked me to stop at a local McDonald’s. I was reluctant to oblige but when I reminded him of the no-animal policy, we compromised. I would take him to the fast food store and he would order a Big Mac without the meat.
Right before he left my truck, he paused. “I feel kind of silly,” he admitted. “They’re going to think I’m weird ordering a hamburger without the hamburger.”
“This is California,” I reminded him. “You’re in good company.”
He left and was gone a few minutes, coming back out of the store with an armload of French fries and drinks — and a meatless Big Mac. He climbed into the truck. “You won’t believe this,” he said, laughing. “The guy in line before me ordered a Big Mac without meat! When I ordered my Big Mac without meat, the counter clerk asked me if it was Vegetarian Month!”
And one day it will be. Times are a-changing.
Even for me, especially for me. I was working for animals back in 1970 when — even in California — I was as weird as they came. Back then when I ordered a sandwich without meat, I was asked things like, “You’re not one of those people, are you?”
“Those people?” I’d ask.
“You know … a vegetarian.”
“Well,” they’d counter, “you don’t look like a vegetarian.”
I hoped by that, of course, they didn’t mean I looked like a meat-eater!
It was hard to find leatherless shoes and vegetarian meals. Now, have you noticed, they actually mark the vegetarian meals on restaurant menus with little asterisks and hearts. Sure, maybe it’s mainly done because of health reasons, but it’s being done.
When Binti, the gorilla who rescued the little boy from the moat at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, CNN held an hour-long live discussion about the intelligence and compassion in animals.
They were amazed to think animals think. We animal people watched and mused: How about a program on the so-called intelligence in human beings?
But I have to share my all-time favorite. For decades now, we animal people have sacrificed: in fashion, meals, entertainment.
I mean to say we’ve given up a lot to do what’s right. We’re not part of the status quo. Not that we mind it, you understand, but our ethics have made our lives a little less than easy.
And so it was painful for me, decades ago, to learn that gelatin–made from animal hooves is an ingredient in those nearly edible sugar pillows, marshmallows. My days of roasting them over a fire on a sandy beach under a moonlit sky came to an abrupt end.
Well, not totally. I fantasized about them in other ways: I invented the gelatin-free marshmallow in a …
by Laura Moretti
I called him “Dusty” because he was found among the debris in a slaughterhouse yard, so weak from starvation and disease, he could barely stand without locking his hindlegs together for balance. I picked him up for $100; just a two-year-old registered Arabian nobody had cared about, on his way to someone’s dinner table.
The veterinarian who checked him out after he arrived in safe quarters told me not to “waste” my time. The horse was so badly malnourished and nearly fatally ill that I would simply be throwing money away. pppIn the top photo, you can see Dusty in his death-ridden days, draining mucus, high fever, skin and bones. We had to be careful moving him; if we nudged him too quickly, he would fall down. The large photo on the right shows Dusty a year later, shortly before he was adopted by a young girl who had forty acres of green grass to give him and a heart full of love.
Still, I wonder if I will have the strength to watch these animals come and go in my lifetime. Like you, while I’m reading and writing, photographing and rescuing, feeding and sheltering, educating and feeling, all those things we hold in great esteem are passing us by: the earth, the sky, the waters, the animals for whom we fight. I watched a child playing on a swing in a park the other day: he was delighted as he glided to and fro through the air, laughing the way only an innocent child can laugh and I thought: My heart is breaking so that one day, because of my work and the work of others like me, your life will be a better one than the one you’re headed for now. I’ll sacrifice “fitting in with the crowd” and sharing every experience the modern-day lifestyle offers most Americans, and enjoying — to the fullest extent, without haunting memories of species depletion, toxic waste disposal and drift-netting cruelties — a walk on the beach, so people, one day, might just treat one other and all those others who deserve it solely on the grounds that they exist, a little kinder along the way.
In the end, we won’t make a difference in this great challenge before us. Oh, yeah, sure, we’ll ease the suffering along the way — for those few like Dusty; I mean, in the scheme of all this, all these billions who suffer, a few is all we can hope to save. The greatest problem of our times is the overpopulation of our species and not one of us has the time, amidst the killing and the suffering of animals alone, to even begin to solve that monumental and terribly complex dilemma. We’ll slow down the inevitable, but I believe, from what I’ve seen in my work for animals in the past thirty plus years, that things will have to get much worse before they’ll get better. And, in a sick kind of way, I guess that’ll …
by Laura Moretti
I saw God today. And not being a believer in any traditional God, that says a lot. But I did see God today.
I had joined a colleague on long, seemingly endless and barren desert highways in Arizona. We were on a mission — to save the life of a lone doomed mule who was currently working for the government as a pack animal in a national park outside Tucson.
Merle Haggard played on the radio. Marlboro cigarette smoke filled the cab. And cactus, tumbleweeds and sage grass could be seen as far as one could see.
But like all missions, we were sidetracked — in this case, by the romantic idea of visiting one of the seven wonders of the natural world: the Grand Canyon.
The sun was nearly gone that late afternoon; we were tired, exhausted, and the drive had been so monotonous and long, we joked about it being just our luck to arrive at the canyon in pitch blackness.
I mocked our soon-to-come conversation. “We’ll be standing on the edge — seeing absolutely nothing because nighttime — that stark devouring black — will have swallowed the canyon, and I’ll say, ‘Do you suppose they’re right, I mean, about it being huge and all?’”
My companion was too tired from hours and hours of driving, pulling a stock trailer at a required reduced speed, to find my comment anything but amusing. Besides, he had grown reluctantly fond of my sarcasm. It broke the boredom. “Calm yourself,” he said.
Twenty dollars got us into the park just before the sun disappeared. In a bend in the nearly deserted roadway, I caught a glimpse of the canyon’s rim through the trees. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was seeing the far side of the chasm, some eight miles away — and just the tip top of it. Maybe it was a sixth sense I had of its impending affect on my life. Maybe it was just the fact that I was that close to something as grand as I had imagined it was. Or maybe it was simply God. Real God. The kind Dante wrote about: “Nature is the art of God.” Or Millay: “God, I can push the grass apart / and lay my finger on thy heart!” No. More like Nietzsche: “Nature is God.”
It must have been, don’t you see? Because, even before I laid eyes on its colossal void, I had been taken by the Grand Canyon — my soul, I mean. I was already moved to tears as I scrambled out of the truck and headed for the rim, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see.
The Canyon opened unexpectedly before me, as if a gigantic quake had blown past the Richter scale and ripped the earth apart — as if it had emptied the oceans right there beneath me. I was emotionally stunned. And speechless. I was minimized.
The Grand Canyon is a gargantuan abyss. More than one mile deep, 277 miles long …
by Laura Moretti
“What’s that noise?” asked John, the high-screech pitch too unimaginable to ignore. We were on the offside of a slaughter plant wall. He cupped his hands over his ears to give himself an impossible reprieve.
“Pigs!” I yelled back.
I could tell he didn’t understand. I hadn’t understood the first time I’d heard them, either.
We climbed on lidded barrels to peer over the wall: in every direction, as far as the eye could see, there were pigs: pigs on top of pigs, crammed into cross-fenced pens by the thousands, like dead sardines in tin cans. The odor they emitted was almost unbearable, of feces and urine; from the dark-walled interior building, the pungent stench of blood invaded our nostrils.
Some pigs were sitting on others, much the way a human might sit on a living room sofa; others seemed dazed. They sat in liquefied feces, mixed at their feet by their constant struggle to get comfortable, to vainly escape, from the urine they peed into the pens, from fear and disorientation.
And the pigs were screaming — bloody murder.
“Why are they squealing so?” John asked, raising his voice as best he could over the deafening pitch of pigs’ cries. As far as he knew, they weren’t directly in harm’s way.
I waited till the pitch fell, the way it always did, like clockwork. Still, despite the lull, I had to raise my voice to answer. “In a moment,” I explained, “they’ll kill a pig.” I pointed to where the warehouse opened like the hull of a giant ship. “When the pig screams, it will send a shock wave through the pigs out here; they’ll all scream.”
Right on cue, from the depth of the building’s interior, a screaming pig could be heard and I could see the animal, the way I once had: pushed onto a moving conveyor belt that would take it to the stunning tongs. Once there, the plant man would grab the pig’s head in the giant vice the way one would lift lettuce from a salad bowl. A painful current of electricity would surge through the animal’s body, stunning it just enough — or so it is hoped — to render it unconscious before the pig reaches the throat-cutting blade.
The screaming of the butchered pig in its death throes triggered the incredibly deafening screams of the pigs in the holding pens. Pitch. Lull. Pitch. And again.
I believe they knew. They could hear the dying inside the warehouse. They could smell death. If I knew what was happening to them, so did they.
When the lull struck, a pig caught our attention — as we did hers. There wasn’t any possible way she could have heard us, but maybe she sensed us there on the wall, maybe she saw a shadow we couldn’t see, felt a presence we couldn’t know we were emitting. Maybe pigs are just that smart.
She stumbled over the pigs packed around her, the one lying in the ooze of mud and feces at her feet, and made …