While Thanksgiving is generally seen as a time of joy and togetherness, one group in the Snoqualmie Valley and the Eastside sees the day a little differently.
Think about the plate — mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, a dinner roll, and the star of the meal: the turkey. That’s where a few people take exception to the celebration. Turkeys are slaughtered by the tens of millions in the United States to be plated for Thanksgiving dinners.
Rooster Haus Rescue is a nonprofit animal sanctuary in Fall City. The group provides a home for rescue turkeys, chickens, roosters, cats, dogs, ducks and peacocks.
Founder Jenny Rae has been a vegan for some 20 years and was involved with rescuing and activism for about 15 years before starting the sanctuary.
They have about 80 rescue animals on site. Some 40 of those rescues are chicken roosters, which Rae calls the “underdogs of the rescue world.” There are also four female turkeys named Noelle, November, Nora and Nonni.
“There’s a huge need for roosters. They often end up neglected and abused,” she said.
She said chickens and roosters are often seen as lesser, not as cute and cuddly as cats and puppies, but really they are just as sweet. She said many people seem to have an unfounded fear of roosters, but she thinks they are just misunderstood.
She said each bird is full of its own unique personality. She joked about making a yearbook so she could name the class clown or most likely to succeed.
Many of the birds want to be loved. Some jump right onto Rae’s head, like Beetle the rooster who likes attention. Manny the rooster is vocal, friendly and excited to meet everybody.
Rae said roosters get so relaxed they cuddle up and fall asleep in her lap. They even purr like a cat.
“People don’t realize how friendly roosters are,” she said. “They’re very much like us in so many ways once you get to know them.”
Roosters are especially in need of care since they are usually considered a “byproduct” in the egg harvesting world, Rae said. Plus people get rid of them because of the noise they make, which technically makes them illegal in many places.
The animals at the sanctuary are victims of neglect or abandonment. Some were given up by owners who no longer wanted them as pets — think Easter chicks growing up to be more difficult than expected. Some were found defenseless in the woods, and some chickens even came from cock fighting busts. Rae said they get calls or Facebook messages from all over the state whenever there’s an animal in need.
There are no paid staff. The rescue is run completely by volunteers and they have a work party every Sunday.
Rae said they are the closest sanctuary to Seattle that she is aware of, and possibly the only ones actively rescuing roosters. A couple of the sanctuary’s birds were rescued from the Snoqualmie Valley.
One rooster was found dumped on Snoqualmie Ridge. Rae said he was missing the tips of his toes, likely from frostbite, and was skinny and covered in mites.
Snoqualmie residents got to vote via Facebook for his new name, and that’s how he became “Reginald the Ridge Roamer.” They call him Reggie.
Anyone interested in learning more about the rescue, volunteering or visiting the animals can email firstname.lastname@example.org or find Rooster Haus Rescue on Facebook.
For Rae, Thanksgiving conjures a mixed bag of emotions.
“It’s an awesome holiday. Who doesn’t want to eat amazing food with friends and family? But while we celebrate family we are also tearing families apart and committing mass genocide on turkeys, killing millions of babies every year,” she said.
Local animal activists Isaac Nickerson and Jordie Ruggles have been hosting demonstrations in Bellevue and Seattle with their group Justice for Animals. Both are vegans.
During the demonstrations, the activists typically form a cube, silently standing back to back during the Bellevue events, wearing blindfolds and holding video screens showing standard animal agriculture practices.
“We’re there to educate and help people,” Ruggles said.
They answer questions and provide information. Many are shocked to learn what they’re seeing is common procedure, legal and not considered animal cruelty.
Thanksgiving dinner is a similar struggle for the activists. Last Thanksgiving, Ruggles said they rescued a couple of turkeys that had been a food drive prize — an incentive given to whomever donated the most food. They won and took the turkeys to a sanctuary.
Nickerson, Ruggles and Rae said Thanksgiving can be a sad time for vegans, who often go home to have Thanksgiving dinner with their families only to find they’re still cooking turkey.
“There’s a reason we pardon turkeys but not Christmas trees. We know animal slaughter is wrong and that they value their lives,” Ruggles said.
Ruggles said she plans to prepare a full vegan Thanksgiving dinner for all her activist friends so they don’t have to go through that this year. Everything typically Thanksgiving can be made vegan, and she mentioned she is a big fan of vegan turkey roasts.
“Everything I ate before, I still eat. So I don’t feel like I’m missing anything,” Ruggles said.
The National Turkey Federation, representing America’s turkey farmers, takes a more traditional view of Thanksgiving fare and celebrations.
“We recognize that people celebrate Thanksgiving in different ways and respect that holiday menus may vary. We’re proud of the family farmers who work hard year-round to raise healthy turkeys and bring delicious, wholesome turkey products to consumers at the holidays and beyond. No matter what individual celebrations look like, we look forward to American families continuing to bring turkey to the table as part of their Thanksgiving tradition,” the National Turkey Federation said in a written statement.
That message, however, flies counter to the activists’ aims.
Nickerson said that, although it can be easy to get negative, he is thankful for activism and demonstrations with strangers who are respectful and curious. He also lives in a house with fellow activists and said he enjoys being surrounded by like-minded people.
“I’m thankful we’re doing this,” he said. “There’s still hope.”