In the very early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 25, National Shelter Director Susie Coston received a text message about a turkey in central New York who needed a home.
At the time, we had no room for the bird. Our capacity to house male turkeys is limited, because they must be kept separate from our female turkeys for safety purposes. Industrial breeding has created males so heavy, and females with such delicate skin, that mounting causes serious injuries (and in fact all commercial turkey breeding is performed through artificial insemination). Additionally, the shelter’s incumbent male turkeys are not known for welcoming new boys into their territory, a circumstance that further limits the space we have for these incredible birds.
Susie was hopeful, however, that placement outside the shelter could be found for the turkey in need, and she responded that we would look for a home. Just moments later, our friend Turpentine was found deceased in his barn. Our dear Turpentine, the magnificent, attention-loving turkey who had strutted and flirted and photo-bombed his way into the hearts of shelter staff and countless visitors, had suffered heart failure overnight.
Knowing that there was now suddenly a space for a new turkey at the shelter, we contacted animal rescuer and Farm Sanctuary friend Mike Stura, who had sent the original text on behalf of a man named Hank. We asked him to let Hank know that we would indeed welcome the amazing turkey he wanted to save.
Hank is a mason. He had recently done some work at an area slaughterhouse, and on Sunday he had returned for payment. As he waited, he noticed a handsome, male turkey. Hank happens to love turkeys. He and his girlfriend had visited our New York Shelter and joined us at our Celebration for the Turkeys. He absolutely adored Turpentine. So when he saw this bird, who looked rather like a smaller, younger version of his friend at the shelter, Hank couldn’t help but go over and pet him.
It turned out that the young turkey was sociable and enjoyed the attention. As he interacted with his new buddy, Hank asked the slaughterhouse owner about him. The owner, who of course had intended to kill the turkey for meat, admitted that he was having trouble going through with his plans. The turkey was just too nice.
Just as Turpentine had so endeared himself to the farmer who raised him that the man couldn’t bear to kill him, this turkey had made a slaughterhouse operator hesitate to go about business as usual. And just as a kind neighbor had convinced Turpentine’s farmer to relinquish him into her care, Hank persuaded the slaughterhouse owner to give up this turkey and let him live.
There was no missing the arrival of our new resident, named Hank after his rescuer. He started gobbling the minute we got him through the door of the Melrose Small Animal hospital, and you could hear him throughout the building for quite some time. At about six months old, he is young and energetic. We’re still getting to know this guy, and he’s still getting used to us, but we already suspect he’ll be showing off a lot.
Hank is someone new, an individual growing into his own, unique personality. He is not a replacement for Turpentine but, in a way, the inheritor of his office — a new representative of turkey-kind to strut into our lives and insist on being seen (and heard).
So often at Farm Sanctuary, loss and hope intermingle, and endings give way to beginnings. With so many animals to care for and to rescue, we scarcely have time to mourn our departed friends but must honor them through our dedication to those still with us. One day this January, one life was lost and another saved. We grieve and celebrate. The work goes on.