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November 2005
A Turkey Named Adam
By Christine Morrissey

 

Adam. Photo by Christine Morrissey

In the wee morning hours I often drive along Highway 99, one of California’s most haunting travel routes. To motorists and farmed animals alike, Highway 99 is more commonly known as ‘Blood Alley.’ On this narrow artery of the Central Valley, it is routine to see 18-wheeled vehicles chock-full of horrified animals traveling towards their final, unfortunate destination—the slaughterhouse.

The Rescue
Last summer, I traveled down Highway 99 eager to return to a turkey farm I had not visited in over seven months. Walking through the orchards en-route to the farm sheds, I rubbed my St. Christopher medal for good luck. My visit that night was going to be brief. So, I snapped a few photographs and began the search.

Who was going to accompany me back home? After surveying, I spotted a poult (baby turkey) with a severe case of splay leg and scooped him up. Then, I happened upon another lying still in the litter. I reached out to grab him, when suddenly he popped up. In a scrambled frenzy, the poult darted across the ground of the shed. “Get over here little guy,” I whispered. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Finally, I was able to grab the fuzzy one-pound baby. With birds in-hand, I exited the farm.

Though I did not realize it at the time, this particular farm visit would change my life.
I arrived in the Bay Area a few hours later, made sure the feathered duo were safetly settled in, and rested my own eyes for two hours before heading to work. Typing away on the computer all day, I could not stop thinking about the new arrivals.

I returned home excited to reunite with my new friends. However, the situation had turned grim. The splay-legged poult was dead. It was no surprise to me that the little one passed away—in commercial farming, poult mortality is extremely high. During the third week of life, one can find over a hundred dead baby turkeys in a single shed.

What upset me was the other turkey standing over the recently-deceased body and screaming at the top of his lungs. Without hesitation, I scooped up the distressed baby and headed to bed. I sang him the lullaby “Linger” to quiet him down. Before I knew it, the baby turkey was asleep on my stomach. I smiled and closed my eyes.

Adventures with Adam
The next morning I awoke to high-pitched cheeping. The turkey was standing on my chest looking me squarely in the eye. His cheeping sounded something like The Addam’s Family jingle. Appropriately, I named the poult Adam.

Over the next several weeks, Adam and I were inseparable. From film screenings to family gatherings to bars, Adam mingled with all walks of life, including humans, chickens, pigs and dogs. One evening, he even met Alicia Silverstone. Young Adam was proficient in working the crowd. Surviving a dog bite, Adam was also a true fighter. I had rescued turkeys and chickens before. But, no one was quite like Adam.

All I wanted was to see him grow up to be a handsome tom.

Companions for Life
Adam was living with Dana, an outspoken broiler chicken, for a couple weeks before his true love arrived. On an early Sunday morning, Adam was introduced to Lady Dee, a graceful yet strong-willed turkey hen. Instantly, the two hit it off.

From perching to dust bathing to slumbering, Adam and Lady Dee did everything together. With Adam in the lead, the duo constantly followed me around the house. Adam was always the star; while Lady Dee was the maternal protector.

The Phone Call
The morning of August 11, 2004 was not unlike any other day. I woke up, fed and cleaned the birds, and headed to work. As usual, before leaving, I gave Adam a kiss and whispered “I love you, Cheeps” in his ear.

At approximately 4:40 p.m., I checked my work voice mail. My housemate had left a frantic message. Immediately, I called back.

Adam died.

I hung up the phone quietly and sat still. Shock and devastation set in.

Arriving at home, my housemate said Adam had flown into a wooden chair and broke his neck. In a freak accident, my baby was taken away from me. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

My housemate had placed his body in a shoebox in the garage. Opening the box, I placed my hand on his still-warm body and started to cry. Six weeks since his rescue, Adam had lost most of yellow baby fuzz and started to grow his long wing feathers. He would never grow up to be a big boy.

I removed his body from the box and retreated to the backyard. I realized that I was not the only one mourning Adam’s passing. Lady Dee was perched on the chair where Adam died. She looked puzzled and flustered.

For hours, I held Adam and sang “Linger” to him. My favorite line of the Girl Scout song was, “it’s goodnight, not goodbye.” I always loved to hold him and listen to him talk.

The next morning Lady Dee and I buried Adam in the dirt where he loved to dust bathe.

Standing beside his crucifix-decorated grave, my commitment to animal protection was revitalized. I was compelled to use the pain from his passing as a proactive springboard for action.

Returning to the Farm
After Adam’s death, I realized what a huge impact this little bird had on others. A woman wrote to me: “[Adam] was the last straw for [my friend] to not eat meat. So that little turkey made a difference and saved many more of his kin.”

Adam was a true ambassador for his species.

Two weeks after his passing, I made the bittersweet return to the turkey farm off Highway 99. Four more poults would no longer endure the pains of factory farming.

I gazed into the night sky as I walked back to the car. Without a doubt, Adam was watching over my new friends. Before stepping into the car to return to the Bay Area, I whispered, “Thank you, Cheeps. Goodnight.”

Christine Morrissey is Director of East Bay Animal Advocates. Learn more at www.eastbayanimaladvocates.org.

 


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