Mercy For Animals president Leah Garcés recently had the honor of speaking at TEDx Dupree Park, where she publicly told the story of Henrietta for the first time. In the talk, Leah shared how inspired she was by the brave little chicken, and how Henrietta taught her three powerful lessons.
Leah told her TEDx audience that the pandemic had left her confined to her home, running Mercy For Animals while simultaneously homeschooling her three children. She was feeling depressed and struggling with an age-old question: Does what I do matter?
During this time, she received a call from a chicken farmer who was fed up with factory farming and wanted to get out of the business. He invited her to tour his facilities.
Leah explained how, during her visit, she had “waded through tens of thousands of birds stuffed wall to wall.” Some of the chickens were “unable to walk because of their unnaturally fast growth.” She explained that this was how the majority of chickens in this country were raised for meat, calling it “one of the worst normalized atrocities in our society.”
While the plight of each individual animal is heartbreaking, Leah told her audience that she focused on changing institutions rather than helping specific animals. One thing she never does is take any animals. There are far too many of them.
But the day Leah toured the farm was the day the birds were being picked up for slaughter—a whopping 60,000 of them. As she was preparing to leave, the farmer shared that a few birds deemed “unworthy” for slaughter had been left behind. Leah said:
They are essentially abandoned property that he has to dispose of. And with sorrow in his eyes, this farmer said to me, “If I have to hand-kill even a few less, that would be just fine with me.” And he walked out, leaving me standing in this warehouse all alone. So I took one.
Leah put the chicken in a bin, set it in her car, and drove away. And that is how brave little Henrietta the chicken came to live with Leah’s family.
At first, Henrietta was terrified and sick. She had a gut infection and a chest infection, and she could barely walk. She was even too timid to step foot on grass. But after some time, love, and coaxing, Henrietta grew to love the outdoors. She quickly bonded with Leah’s seven-year-old daughter, who taught the little bird to sit on the Roomba and even ride a skateboard!
While Henrietta wasn’t supposed to live longer than six weeks, she celebrated her one-year “hatch day” with a party and her favorite snacks. Leah said:
I took a broken chicken who was unfit for slaughter, and she taught me what it really means to be alive. And now whenever I’m feeling like my work doesn’t matter or I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, I just close my eyes and imagine a million Henriettas looking at me with eyes of gratitude.
Sadly, Henrietta died just two days after Leah’s TEDx talk. But her memory and legacy live on in the brave advocates working to inspire people around the globe to treat chickens––and themselves––with greater compassion.
Learn more about Henrietta, and discover the three important lessons she taught Leah, by watching the full TEDx talk.
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