In October 2014, Jessie was one of 56 baby chickens we rescued from the streets of New York City and certain death. Now, eight months later, we are devastated by his passing. In many ways, we considered Jessie the heart of Tamerlaine, as he not only became the center of our days, but also embodied the spirit of sanctuary and veganism: Jessie showed the world his lust for life and the power of valuing individuals, regardless of their species, ability, and special care needs. So, as we experience the heartache of losing Jessie and grieving his death, we want to take this time to look back on what was a full, happy, beautiful life. A life cut short, but a life so worth living.
First, some background:
Jessie was a Cornish Cross rooster, the number one chicken breed killed worldwide, with their annual death toll reaching nine billion in the U.S. alone. The way humans are able to kill these birds at such a scale is by killing them when they're very young, just 42 days old. Generations of selective breeding has made these six-week-old chicks even larger than full-grown adults, such that even when they are kept on a special diet, their bodies will always be much larger than they naturally should be. The Cornish chickens of Tamerlaine and other sanctuaries are incredibly prone to foot infections and mobility issues. Shortly after we adopted Jessie, he developed a limp. Within days, he could no longer stand. We would learn after his death that Jessie's hip joint had fused together, making recovery impossible. What we knew at the time was that Jessie's disability changed nothing about his enjoyment of life and our commitment to providing him with a lifetime of love and care.
And so Jessie still spent time with his flock...
and got special treats while we kept each other company in the kitchen:
We asked local carpenter Tim Hazecamp to make Jessie two new wheelchairs, enabling Jessie to stand and walk on his own:
We shared in his joy as Jessie took some of his first independent steps...
and as he found friendship in fellow disabled chicken Casey:
And each day we took Jessie on strolls around the sanctuary to keep him healthy and active...
oftentimes even joined by dogs and pigs...
and spent hours doing physical therapy to keep him in shape:
Eventually, Jessie began to accompany us wherever we went, from joining us while we treated other birds...
to lunch on the patio with Clara Pig...
to our backyard vegan barbeques.
And his friendships only grew, with Tara—a blind hen—joining Jessie and Casey:
Tara loved to cuddle up to Jessie while he was in his wheelchair and take naps next to him while he did his PT:
Despite the reality of his days, some still said to us that this was no way for a bird to live. They couldn't believe that Jessie could be happy, that his life could still have value. "Shouldn't he just be put down?" they'd say. And in this we'd hear the same sentiments people hold about disabled humans, the same ableist view that only the able-bodied have lives worth living.
When we actually listen to disabled humans, we learn that they—the ones who know best—believe they live good lives, lives that are only worsened by the disregard society shows for them and the ableism they are exposed to. Listening to Jessie meant seeing his life as he saw it: A life of friendship, sunny days, and lots of love:
Jessie—the heart of the sanctuary—died of a heart attack, a common death for these too-big Cornish chickens. The industry he was rescued from ultimately built his death into his body. We could not save him from this, but we could give him the best life possible.
Jessie spent his last morning in the shade of a tree, surrounded by friends.