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Ninety-Five: Meeting America's Farmed Animals in Stories

Posted Jun 04 2010 11:28am
"She's two and a half years old and has all the energy you'd expect of a toddler. She has two speeds: run and stop. All things new pique her curiosity, and she's inquisitive beyond reason. Her favorite activities are eating, lounging in the sun, bathing in dust, and more eating - she has a special affinity for watermelon, pasta and corn. She experiences a wide variety of emotions, but joy and contentment are two she expresses most often. During the day she often sits on my lap or rests quietly at my feet while I work at the computer. At night she sleeps warm and secure on a bed of straw and shavings with her three other companions.

Gilly is a white Leghorn hen. Her life now is a world apart from the world into which she was born."

Gilly the hen was a rescued companion animal and the inspiration for a fantastic new book called Ninety-Five: Meeting America's Farmed Animals in Stories , the newest release from No Voices Unheard , an independent publisher of beautiful and creative books that give voice to those who are ignored or disregarded by society. No Voices Unheard works very hard to illuminate important social issues that are often ignored by profit-driven publishers. This amazing organization was founded and is operated by former animal shelter workers with over forty combined years of experience in animal advocacy.

Curious about the title? The editors are hoping you'll be. Ninety-five happens to be the often-cited number of animals saved yearly by a single person's vegan diet. Ninety-five animals, each year, can be saved because of an individual's eating choices - what a powerful, poignant fact.

It's hard to even begin to describe how this extraordinarily moving book has affected me. 

When I set out to go vegan almost two years ago, it was because I wanted to be able to call myself an animal lover and mean every word of it. I wanted to be able to look into the eyes of a farmed animal with peace in my heart, knowing that I was no longer contributing to any part of their suffering. I wanted to help be their voice, their protector, and a compassionate advocate for farmed animals everywhere. Little did I know how much I would fall head over heels in love with each and every one whose story I would come across. Ninety-Five has reaffirmed that love, and I promise it will reaffirms yours as well.

Marilee Geyer, Diane Leigh, and Windi Wojdak - the editors of Ninety-Five - have presented readers with a compilation of stories that shed light on these animals' humanity, personalities, and abundant goodness. From the love story of Libby the hen & Louie the rooster, to the brave, kind actions of Justice the steer, to the desire of Amelia the turkey to receive a hug from her sanctuary visitor, the farmed animals featured in Ninety-Five will turn any idea you had about the world within these sentient beings on its head. 

The team at No Voices Unheard have done a tremendous job capturing the love, the joy, the grief, the pain, and the excitement these animals experience every single day. The most surprising part of each story is how, after living in decrepit conditions, these animals find it in their hearts to forgive humans of their trespasses, and to go even further by loving their human sanctuary residents and remaining loyal to them during the remainder of their lives. It's hard to look at the cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, turkeys, ducks, goats, and rabbits in this book and not equate them with our adorable, loyal, loving, and enthusiastic feline and canine companions.

 What struck me most about Ninety-Five was how in each photograph, the animals' eyes grab you and won't let you go. For in each of these farmed animal's beautiful, enigmatic, honest eyes, you can see right through to their heart. And what is found there is nothing short of complete purity. The animals featured in Ninety-Five do not ask for anything more from their human rescuers than to be loved. What a simple, beautiful way to exist. If only humans could live that simply.

I would love to share a few of my favorite passages from Ninety-Five , just to give you a taste of the unbelievable journey you will find yourself on as you read this eloquent book. 

First, there is the complex love story of Libby, the almost entirely mute hen, and Louie, her chatty and boisterous rooster partner, who reside at Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Deer Trail, Colorado. Of their love, contributing author Joanna Lucas writes:

"What bonded them was not about practical necessities or instinctual urges - if anything, it thwarted them both. Their union was about something else, a rich inner abundance that seemed to flourish in each other's presence, and that Libby nurtured in her silence and that Louie voiced, sang out loud, celebrated, noted, catalogued, documented, expressed, praised every day of their 1,800 days together."

Sophie the pig's story also melted my heart. Jean Rhode's introduction of her begins with this paragraph: 

"From the time I started volunteering at the [Woodstock Farm Animal] sanctuary , Sophie claimed a special place in my heart. Even more so than the other pigs, Sophie has always had lots of trouble walking. Her hips are stiff and her knees no longer bend. She walks by throwing one straight leg forward, then the other. Still, she gets around the barn and the field and even goes out to the mud bath. And wherever Sophie is, if you call out to her, she will sit up, look right at you and grunt as if to say, "Hello, come see me, come over." She calls us to step over the fence, scratch behind her eyes, rub her forehead."

Ninety-Five, Justice, who was destined to become organic beef, but was saved by a fluke occurrence and sent to the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary in Colorado. Ninety-Five co-editor Diane Leigh shares what his caretaker has to say about Justice:   

"When Justice first arrived at the sanctuary, he was so scared. The only other time he had been in a trailer was on the trip to the slaughterhouse, and so he banged himself up terribly. That's how he broke his left horn - in that trailer banging around try to get out of there. Sherman, another steer who lived at the sanctuary at that time, went over to him and started licking him through the fence and calmed him down. Justice remembered that, and he's done it for every new arrival since. 

Every time someone new comes it doesn't matter what species they are - goat, sheep, turkey, whatever - he knows if they're really scared... When the new guys come in, Justice just goes up to them and immediately calms them down, and I know it's because Sherman did that for him."

The most poignant part of Justice's story comes at the end, when Justice's caretaker writes: 

"The best thing we can do is stand back. They know how to handle it. We're just humans. I learn something new from these guys every day, and then as soon as I realize that I've learned it, it occurs to me, why didn't I know that? Why should this be some epiphany? They know so much more than we do."

Ninety-Five is a book that proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that America's farmed animals have as much a will to live, love, and share their joy with others as humans do. 

What we could learn from these beings if we stopped looking for ways to use them for our own advantages - how expansive our collective species' minds and hearts would become. Thankfully, there are humans out there like the activists at No Voices Unheard who work on a daily basis to enable us to see a better, more loving, more peaceful way of co-existence with these phenomenal creatures.

I was fortunate enough last month to have an exchange with Ninety-Five co-editor and No Voices Unheard  co-founder, Marilee Geyer. 

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: Marilee, what was the process of collecting and sharing these stories like for you?

Marilee: The book was inspired by a little white hen named Gilly.  She was rescued from a battery egg factory near me and came to live in my home with my other hens.  One day, my No Voice Unheard partner,  Diane Leigh, and I were in my backyard watching the girls, and she remarked that it would be wonderful if everyone could see how intelligent and charming they are.  The idea for Ninety-Five was born in that instant.  From there, we contacted people we knew who had adopted rescued farm animals and visited some sanctuaries too.  The process was exciting, educational, and at times quite sad. I was thrilled to be able to visit and meet these wonderful animals, but to hear their stories and how they suffered was difficult. In the end though, I think we created a book that honors their experience and honors them as the unique, precious individuals they each are. 

There’s a particular power in showing the individuals behind the numbers: it’s impossible for people to picture the 10 billion animals who are raised and killed for food each year in this country. But introducing readers to this cow and that chicken – it’s just very powerful to be able to connect to individual animals like that. We, too, were very moved by meeting each of these animals, looking into their eyes, and connecting with them. It is a privilege to share them and their stories with the world.

KMIV: What surprised you most about these animals' stories?

Marilee: I knew, from living with my little flock of hens, how unique each animal is – how they each have their own personality, their own preferences, their own particular enjoyment of their lives. And, I’ve lived with dogs and cats my entire life, and there’s no reason to think that farmed animals would be any less personality-filled than those animals.

Still, it was a marvel to see how big and bold and strong all of these animals’ personalities were. Lucas the pig, who continually expresses his infatuation with Petunia (despite her not returning the feeling); Justice the steer and his Buddha-like presence; Farrah and Damien, rabbits almost doomed to be “meat”, with their strong rabbit opinions about how their world should be; Huey, Duey and Sidekick Chick, two ducks and a chicken being sold in a pet store, who latched onto each other and continued to be inseparable friends even after arriving at the sanctuary; Marcie, the sheep who seemed haunted by her past… it should not be surprising to learn how much depth these animals have, but we are trained from childhood to believe that the feeling and intelligence has been “bred out of” farmed animals, and so, even to us, it was often delightfully surprising, and redeeming, to learn the details of these stories.

KMIV: What a beautiful realization to come to, Marilee. Do you have a favorite story in the book?

Marilee: They’re all favorites in one way or another. We really became very enamored of all of the animals in the book as we put it all together…

But one story I found especially moving is that of Justice, the steer. Justice was to be “organic beef” but broke out of the truck on the way to the slaughterhouse. He was shot with a tranquilizer gun by a wildlife officer – which saved his life, as the drugs now in his system made his “meat” unfit for human consumption.

When Justice arrived at the sanctuary, he was terrified, but comforted by another steer named Sherman. Sherman stuck by Justice until Justice was comfortable with his new environment, and ever since that, Justice has been the self-appointed comforter of new arrivals to the sanctuary. He soothes scared sheep, goats, turkeys, whatever – if they’re afraid, Justice in on the case.

Justice makes me think of the millions of other cows and steer who are currently being farmed, transported, and slaughtered. The magnitude of the suffering is unimaginable, and I wonder, how can we do this to such deeply feeling creatures?   Justice is such an amazing being, and is kind of a “touchstone” for me, reminding me all the time of why this book (and others on the topic) is so important.

KMIV: What inspired the creation of No Voices Unheard?

Marilee: I have been an animal activist for almost thirty years.  Ten of those years were spent working at an animal shelter (where the idea for our first book, One at a Time: A Week in an American Animal Shelter , was developed). Diane Leigh and I had known each other for years through our work with the Santa Cruz SPCA, and we had talked many times about creating some sort of outreach project that would take people "behind the scenes" at the shelter. We decided that a book was the right medium and we set out to find someone to support and publish the project.  We sent proposals to publishers and agents, and although they were interested and said that the topic was important, they also thought that the book wasn't "profitable".  They wanted to see happy stories of happy animals with happy endings, which, of course, is not always the reality at animal shelters.  At that point we decided to form our own nonprofit, and I’m proud to say that One at a Time:  A Week in an American Animal Shelter has since sold over 20,000 copies and is just going into its fifth printing. After the success of that book, we realized we had found our niche as a publisher of books on topics that are often ignored by profit-driven commercial publishers.

Our second book was Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos , by acclaimed environmental author Derrick Jensen and photographer Karen Tweedy-Holmes. That book won the Grand Prize in the Eric Hoffer Book Award contest the year it came out, and continues to be an important voice for animals imprisoned in zoos.

We’re nothing less than thrilled with the publication of Ninety-Five; Meeting America’s Farmed Animals in Stories and Photographs, and look forward No Voice Unheard publishing more titles. In the tradition of great books like John Robbins’ Diet for a New America and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, we believe passionately in the power of books to create social change.

Marilee currently works with No Voices Unheard and resides in northern California with a variety of rescued animal companions.
 
 It would be wrong of me to share this beautiful book with you and not do a giveaway, so...

** I will be giving away TWO COPIES of Ninety-Five next week! **

Details will be announced before my interview this Monday with Annie and Dan Shannon of The Betty Crocker Project - so stay tuned!

The photographs shared above are of various animals featured in Ninety-Five and include: Olivia the goat (taken at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York), Heidi the cow (taken at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Maryland), Rootie the pig, and Goldie the hen (photos of Rootie and Goldie taken at the Center for Animal Protection and Education ).

Thanks to Marilee and the staff at No Voices Unheard for sharing Ninety-Five with the KMIV community. To learn more about Marilee's organization, or to donate or purchase Ninety-Five, please visit www.novoicesunheard.org .
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