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June/July 2006
Rabbit Run
By Christine Morrissey


By the looks of them you would swear yours was coming,
By the scream of them you would swear I’m sawing something,
By the way they running you would swear the law was coming,
It’s now or never tonight is all or nothing
—Eminem

With my feet planted firmly on the yellow divider line of a quiet country road, I watch the tailgate lights of a car disappear into the night. I look to my left, and watch as a dim green light flickers through a thicket of trees only 100 footsteps away. It is the beacon of Cloverdale Rabbit Company, one of California’s largest meat rabbit slaughterhouses.

Each year more than eight million rabbits are raised and slaughtered for their meat. Cloverdale?processes 1,200 rabbits every week (manually killing at a rate of 100 rabbits per hour). Rabbit slaughter plants are largely unregulated by the federal authorities and, as with Cloverdale, far removed from the public eye. I hate this place. But I am completely devoted to its temporary inhabitants.

I turn my head back to stare at the empty road. I am paralyzed by the simplicity of the task at hand. I have ten minutes to turn three verbs into real-time: walk, inspect, retreat.

One minute, two minutes, three minutes—gone. If I let another minute pass, I am done. It will be too late. Spellbound by silence, I cannot sugarcoat my mental state—I am scared. Anxiety wrenches at my resolve. I have been in this conflicted position so many times before. Never mind the threat of being shot or arrested, I’m more scared of overlooking someone in need.

The epic rhymes of Eminem’s 8-Mile outro track are running through my mind and sprinting through my veins. The tempo of the unrelenting rhythm is moving at the speed of my racing heartbeat. The truthful message of the song is ringing in my ears: “Don’t let self-doubt eat away at your chances of triumph.”

Suddenly, an explosion of confidence energizes my body. Beneath the layers of personal uncertainty, I am a freight train. Minute four marks the jump—I’m off. Green means go. I move to the left and close in on Cloverdale. The crippling state of uncertainty falls away. I own this moment. Who would have thought that I would find motivation in the libretto of America’s most hated rapper?

I am a completely different person now. The fear is gone. Within a minute, I glide through the brush to the inspection site. My vision, my hearing is razor-sharp.

Under metal overhangs, hundreds of New Zealand white rabbits are overstocked in two double-sided rows of wire holding cages. Each cage, no wider than 1.5 feet, is crammed with six to eleven rabbits. The strong smell of ammonia from the rabbits’ urine and accumulated fecal waste is overwhelming. The scene is akin to the interior of a battery-cage egg facility. In a few hours, this group of ‘fryers’ (young rabbits raised for meat) will have their necks broken and heads removed.

Standing in the end of one of the rows, I see clearly with the aid of a video light and hear the distinct sound of urination all-round. It’s eerie but I simply do not have time to sort out my emotional response. I start my inspection of the cages, many of which are layered with cobwebs and rabbit hair. Immediately, I notice a lethargic rabbit notably smaller than the rest. Hiding behind several cage-mates, the fryer’s pelt is urine-stained.

It’s decision-making time now. The clock is ticking faster and faster. I take one step forward to open the corroded wire enclosure. I firmly clutch the skeletal body of the runt. Embracing the young rabbit, I make a dash for the road. I can’t look back—it’s just me and the hare.

My exhilaration is delayed until I touch-down on the pavement of the main road. Arriving at the yellow line, the ten minutes end on an abrupt yet brilliant note like the ending line of Eminem’s album finale: “If I have half a chance, I grab it, rabbit run...”

Christine Morrissey is Director of East Bay Animal Advocates (www.eastbayanimaladvocates.org). Learn more about the hidden lives of rabbits slaughtered for meat at www.rabbitproduction.com.

 


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