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Presidential Thanksgiving turkey pardon? Not all animal advocates were thrilled

November 27, 2009 |  4:26 pm


With Thanksgiving over, two fortunate turkeys out of the millions that wound up as holiday meals are goin' to Disneyland, thanks to the ceremonial pardon they received from President Obama. The first turkey, a 45-pound male named Courage, received an official pardon from Obama in a ceremony Wednesday; the second, a female named Carolina, was also given a reprieve so she could be Courage's stand-in, "just in case Courage can't fulfill his responsibilities," Obama said.

But the president, dog-lover though he may be, doesn't seem to have much of a soft spot for turkeys.  Courage was saved from a "terrible and delicious fate" by "the interventions of Malia and Sasha -- because I was planning to eat this sucker," Obama told those assembled for the ceremony. (Whether or not the president's version of the story is true -- we can't imagine him turning his back on a ceremony some say dates back to the Truman administration, even for a good meal -- PETA responded by awarding his daughters honorary memberships to its PETA Kids offshoot.)

Courage went on to serve as grand marshal at Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade; he and Carolina were expected to take up residence at the theme park's Big Thunder Ranch after the holiday, although PETA spokesperson Ashley Byrne told the Associated Press that the group had sent Obama a letter asking him to have the birds sent to a sanctuary rather than the Disneyland attraction.

Despite the fact that Courage and Carolina have a relative life of ease (by turkey standards) to look forward to, not all animal advocates relish the idea of a "pardon." Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States and a driving force behind last year's successful Proposition 2 campaign for farm-animal welfare, called the ritual "an odd one, in that it suggests that turkeys have committed some offense for which they can be pardoned. In reality, these turkeys have done nothing to deserve the punishment we force them to endure on our nation’s factory farms." 

Turkeys like Courage, Fearing added, are riddled with health problems as a result of being bred with rapid weight gain rather than health in mind. "Unfortunately, [Courage] bears little resemblance to the first turkey to take part in a White House Thanksgiving ritual back in 1947, with President Truman. The industrialization of farming that happened on subsequent presidents' watches condemned turkeys to endure a bleak existence, one often filled with severe suffering due to health problems and ended by slaughter where they have virtually no protection from even the very modest requirements of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act," she continued. "If President Obama really wanted to do something meaningful for turkeys, he might want to start there."

For our part, we'd certainly take Obama's turkey pardon (see the video below) -- which, if not exactly respectful to the animals involved, was at least well-orchestrated -- over another, bloodier ceremony that occurred just last year. But our favorite Thanksgiving-related pardon story of all would have to be the satirical one that appeared in the Onion, in which Vice President Joe Biden grants a reprieve to a yam named Spud before shipping it off to live out its life "in the comfort and safety of a tuber petting zoo."  

Now that's a story worthy of the disclaimer "No animals were harmed."

Your morning adorable: Rescued turkeys' pre-Thanksgiving spa day
Thanksgiving good deeds: Farm Sanctuary offers turkey-sponsorship opportunities

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: President Obama waves his hand as he "pardons" Courage during a Nov. 25 ceremony.  Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images

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