I felt anguish in thinking about these trapped men. I understood
that even as my prayers went to them, the surviving sailors were
losing hope in the cold and dark. My heart went out to these men
who undoubtedly knew that their chances of rescue were diminishing
by the hour. Many of these sailors had parents, wives, and children;
one of the wives had a baby on the way.
After a couple weeks, long after all hope of rescue had expired,
divers were able to salvage some bodies of men who had survived
the initial blast. Recovery crews discovered a note in the pocket
of one sailor, penned after the accident occurred. Knowing he was
running out of oxygen, the man found paper and pen and, in pitch
dark, wrote a goodbye note to his wife. Reading of his final action
nearly moved me to tears. I wish I loved somebody so much.
Barely a month after the Kursk disaster, another news story broke
that affected me in much the same way. A tornado ripped through
Ohio's Buckeye Egg Farm, destroying twelve sheds. Because this was
a massive factory farm, a tremendous amount of birds were involved.
While Kursk carried 112 men, the damaged Buckeye sheds held over
one and a half million birds..
Unlike the Kursk's sailors, doom wasn't preordained for the Buckeye
hens. With the vast financial resources of an operation like Buckeye,
it would have been possible to launch a massive recovery effort
capable of saving a large percentage of the trapped birds. Money
and manpower were all that was needed.
Instead, the egg farm's owners all but disavowed themselves of
any responsibility. If any birds were to be rescued, the effort
and expense would have to be shouldered mainly by animal protection
The closest animal sanctuary to the Buckeye Egg Farm is the Ooh-Mah-Nee
farm in Western Pennsylvania. The day after the tornado struck,
Ooh-Mah-Nee founder Cayce Mell drove to the Buckeye Egg Farm. Although
dozens of birds were clucking and pecking around the perimeter of
the buildings, virtually all of the hens were still trapped inside.
It happened that Ooh-Mah-Nee had an empty barn perfect for a couple
hundred chickens. But Cayce could see at once that even a small
team could liberate thousands of birds from the rubble. She resolved
to do all she could, while she also contacted other animal sanctuaries
around the country.
Her call brought Lorri Bauston, of Farm Sanctuary, to see what
her organization could contribute. After traveling to Buckeye, Lorri
committed Farm Sanctuary to taking in 1200 birds.
So within two days of the tornado, Ooh-Mah-Nee and Farm Sanctuary
committed to taking in nearly 2000 birds. This commitment over-stretched
their budgets and resources, and they called on other groups to
help. The Humane Society of the United States came through with
a substantial grant to cover some of the various rescue groups'
costs. The organization also issued several important press releases
regarding the disaster, which gave mainstream media reporters vital
information on factory farming practices.
As animal rights groups coordinated rescue efforts, the leadership
at the Buckeye egg farm was making plans to bulldoze the destroyed
sheds, even though more than one million birds were still trapped
inside. On the grounds that the Buckeye Egg Farm was a disaster
area, the company prohibited activists from entering the shed areas.
Only company workers were permitted to rescue chickens. The company
brought just or six workers to each building site. In other words,
at each shed, five or six workers were responsible for taking out
over 100,000 birds.
Lorri Bauston recalls the company's half-hearted rescue efforts:
"It was agonizingly slow. The problem was that there was no serious
commitment on the owner's part to get the animals out of cages.
And Buckeye would not allow animal activists to do the job either.
Pretty much the only thing we activists could do was to provide
vehicles and transportation for rescued birds. Attempts to rescue
the birds ourselves was met by stiff resistance from Buckeye. Every
time we tried to grab birds from the cages, security would come
after us. By the fourth day, security ringed the facility and kept
all activists away."
Many groups around the country made financial and housing commitments
for the hens, but most of the actual work of liberating these animals
fell mostly to volunteers with the animal rights group at the University
of Pittsburgh, the Ohio animal rights group POET, and a brand-new
animal sanctuary called Earthlings. Each day, a handful of students
cut their classes and drove to the Buckeye Farm, where they spent
the daylight hours participating in rescue and transportation efforts.
This small group of dedicated volunteers transported almost 4000
birds during their week-long rescue -- more than double the number
of birds that Ooh-Mah-Nee and Farm Sanctuary could collectively
house. In response, other animal sanctuaries around the country
committed themselves to take in as many birds as possible. One giant
offer came all the way from Sacramento California, where Kim Sterla
at Animal Place committed to transporting and housing 350 hens.
Colorado's Wilderness Ranch took another 450 birds.
Less than a week after the tornado struck, Buckeye management carried
through on their promise to bulldoze the destroyed buildings and,
by extension, all surviving trapped hens. The bulldozing capped
a week that showed animal rights volunteers at their finest, and
factory farm owners at their most heartless.
In dealing with the Buckeye disaster, America's top animal sanctuaries
took enormous financial risks. They gave top priority to saving
as many animals as possible, regardless of expense. Each of the
primary rescue groups has put their financial survival on the line.
The leap of faith these groups have taken, and the strength of character
their leadership has shown, is truly heroic.
Collectively, these animal sanctuaries spent over $20,000 in the
initial rescue, transport, and veterinary needs of the animals.
But it's the daily cleaning and feed costs for years to come that
is the real back-breaker. For every thousand birds at a quality
shelter, costs for feed and care run about $750 per week.
Until now, people wanting to lend financial support to the Buckeye
rescue organizations have faced an unnecessary difficulty. Five
different groups have been responsible for adopting hundreds of
chickens each. People who wanted to donate funds to all of these
groups had to write five different checks. So, at my request, Farm
Sanctuary has started The Buckeye Fund. All monies sent to the fund
will be divided between the five groups who have adopted more than
100 birds, based on how many chickens each group is caring for.
Since expenses for the Buckeye rescue and consequent animal care
will total well over one hundred thousand dollars, the Buckeye Fund
needs to raise tens of thousands of dollars to support the organizations
that led this rescue effort.
The Buckeye rescue operation was, far and away, the largest animal
rescue in the history of the movement. The operation will incur
massive feed and veterinary expenses for several years to come.
Just as the leadership of several farm animal shelters acted bravely
and generously in a moment of extreme need, it's up to all of us
who support animal sanctuaries to do our part to make sure these
heavy but vital costs are covered.
To contribute to The Buckeye Fund, please make checks payable to
Farm Sanctuary, with the words "For Buckeye Fund" written on the
memo line of the check. All donations are tax deductible. Send checks
Attn: Buckeye Fund
PO Box 150
Watkins Glen, NY 14891