Karen Dawn's Thanksgiving turkey rescue
Animal activist and author Karen Dawn makes a point of having turkey for dinner every Thanksgiving, but the birds are at the table, not on it. For the fourth year in a row, Dawn, the author of the book "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals," has rescued two turkeys from an L.A. slaughterhouse and is hosting them at her home in Pacific Palisades.
“They’re named Russell and Perry,” says Dawn, speaking from her home. “I had originally named them Russell and Katy, after Russell Brand and Katy Perry, who saw the movie ‘Forks Over Knives’ and Russell tweeted and said he was going vegan.”
After Dawn had bathed and blow-dried the birds at her home, as is her annual ritual, she noticed “Katy” had quite the snood -– the comb that hangs over the animal’s beak -– and that she was actually a he. So, she changed the name to Perry.
Dawn hosts two new birds each year, in what she calls her Palisades Pardoning, to raise awareness of the number of turkeys slaughtered each year for the annual holiday, and the conditions in which they are raised. Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation, an industry group, says that an estimated 46 million turkeys will be consumed during Thanksgiving feasting in the U.S. this year.
According to information available on Dawn’s website, thankingthemonkey.com, the birds are often kept in overcrowded pens with their toes clipped back to remove their claws and beaks seared off.
Responding to such claims, Rosenblatt noted, “A turkey farmer’s No. 1 priority is ensuring the health and well-being of their flock. That’s how we can provide safe, nutritious and affordable food for consumers. Not only on Thanksgiving day but every day.”
Dawn’s other couples were originally named Bruce and Emily (after actors Bruce Greenwood and Emily Deschanel) -- later changed to Brucilla and Emily after a similar mix-up -- Monty and Marsha, and Ellen and Portia after vegans Ellen DeGeneres and Portia Di Rossi.
“People are very good at compartmentalizing: animals that you eat versus the animals that you pet,” says Dawn. “So I do something that makes it harder for people to compartmentalize. A lot of the neighbors will not eat turkey at Thanksgiving after meeting these guys.”
Curious neighbors come over to Dawn’s house to cuddle with the birds, which quickly habituate to human company and enjoy the attention.
“Friday, the little boys next door asked: ‘When are the turkeys coming?’ And I said ‘tomorrow’ and they literally jumped up and down with delight,” adds Dawn.
The birds will stay with Dawn through the Christmas holiday, then in January they’ll move to their new home at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, where Sunday visitors can see Russell and Perry and many other animals.
[For the Record, 6 p.m. Nov. 21, 2011: An earlier version of this post used a photo and a video that were from 2010. Both have been changed.]
Are birds getting bigger because of global climate change?
-- Dean Kuipers
Photo: Karen Dawn blow-dries the feathers of one of her birds at her Pacific Palisades home. Credit: Hugh Slavitt