Most of my classmates have probably never heard the term “open rescue,” which refers to the activity that has kept me up for hours at night several times in the past few months. Open rescue is the quietly radical act of entering farms, filming the conditions found inside and taking out the animals in the most severe need of care. It’s something that would be normal and widely celebrated were these animals dogs and cats. Instead, the act is often criminalized. By doing it, I am taking a stand against animal exploitation and the laws that allow it to continue. My act in solidarity with three other groups around the world this past weekend inspired thousands of people with the stories of animals rescued from violence.
As a member of the UC Berkeley animal advocacy group Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy and the advocacy network Direct Action Everywhere, l have long admired the work of open rescue. But I saw activists saving animals as fearless and wasn’t sure I could ever be brave enough to do what they do. I’d grown up hearing stories of people disobeying unjust laws as heroic. I never thought I would do it myself.
Then, one night, I did. I joined a team and went to a farm. What it came down to was compassion. I was not fearless when I entered that noisy, foul-smelling farm in the dead of night. No, I was full of fear, but I was prepared to put the needs of someone else first.
That someone else is a hen who was forced to lay more eggs than her body could bear. She had never been outside, never known freedom, never been treated with love. So when I was holding her in my arms, I communicated to her as well as I could that she was safe now. I tried not to shake because I wanted to be strong for her, but even as I said “it’s OK” over and over again, I knew that nothing about her life is OK.
She had known nothing but pain and fear. She had had her beak mutilated according to standard industry practice, and feathers were missing all over her body because of stress. I took comfort in the fact that she would now be given the medical care she needs and the love that every animal deserves, but I heard the fearful cooing all around me and knew that she was one of the lucky ones. The thousands of birds we cannot rescue will spend the rest of their lives crowded in that miserable place, and then they will be killed at just 2 years old because their egg production will decline. I can barely make myself look at them because I know their fate, and I wish I could save them all. Today, we don’t have the resources to save that many victims, but we are growing every day.
This was the first coordinated, international open rescue, but it will not be the last. In the United States, Sweden, Germany and Australia, 37 lives were saved. More rescues are on the way. As time goes on, others like me, even UC Berkeley students, will take action and transform this act of dissent into the new normal.
Cassie King is a UC Berkeley student.