Have you ever spent an afternoon with a gang of baby turkeys? During the summer of 2014, the board of Vegan Action visited Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, one of the few farm sanctuaries located on the East Coast. The chicks (baby turkeys are actually called poults!) were rescued and brought to Poplar Springs to be cared for among other feathered friends, including a flock of turkey toms and hens, peacocks and peahens, geese, ducks and, of course, chickens. Lucky for these baby turkeys, they were rescued and sent to the sanctuary to live their lives socializing (turkeys are very social creatures!) and running through the fields and forest.
In addition to the turkeys, we met a flock of sheep, including Adam, one of the most affectionate sheep I had ever met, a litter of young pigs and a cow named Caroline. Located on 400 acres, Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary provides care, rehabilitation, and permanent sanctuary for neglected, abandoned or unwanted farm animals. Poplar Spring staff and volunteers educate the public on farm animal and wildlife issues and promote compassion and treatment for all animals.
The Maryland-based sanctuary is part of a tradition of caring people responding to the brutality of factory farming. The very land where the sanctuary calls home was once a traditional farm sending many animals to slaughter each year. In the US, factory farming dominates food production where animals face inhumane living conditions where they require large amounts of antibiotics to stay alive. In addition to the drugs administered to simply stay alive in unhealthy living conditions, the animals are also given drugs to grow unnaturally fast and large. This treatment of animals exists to maximize profits at the expense animal, environmental and human health. According to the USDA data, the number of dairy cows has remained relatively constant over the past five years (approximately nine million) however the amount of milk production has steadily increased during the same time period.
To find out more about Poplar Spring’s work to care for animals rescued from factory farming, as well as the staff’s commitment to veganism, please visit their website or on Facebook.
With virtual reality devices becoming more-and-more popular in the United States, it was only a matter of time before animal rights and welfare organizations began using VR headsets as a tool to get people to realize the horror of large-scale factory farms, slaughterhouses and the life of animals before they’re cruelly extinguished.
NPR contributor Barbara J. King participated in Animal Equality’s program at the Sundance Film Festival in early February, where she became immersed in a virtual factory farm and pig slaughterhouse. There, she watched as the pigs were left bleeding, alive and in pain, on the floor of the slaughterhouse.
“I had just witnessed the moment of their deaths, I thought,” King said in her February NPR piece. “But I was wrong. The pigs soon regained some degree of consciousness. Their limbs in spasm, their bodies jerking on and on and on, they were bled out slowly on the slaughterhouse floor. In VR, you are there with them, at no remove, with no distancing mechanism available.”
After persevering through the 12-minute experience, she continued. “You can’t avoid what comes next, when the next pair of pigs is forced up the slope.”
King ended her article with saying that the images she saw in “iAnimal” continued to linger “behind her eyes,” over a week later.
One of our own board members, David Phinney, experienced Animal Equality’s VR at the 2015 Natural Animal Rights Conference.
“It was incredible,” Phinney said. “Literally the most powerful thing I’d seen since watching ‘Earthlings’ for the first time and realizing that these horrors existed. I think it’s the future of outreach and will have an extraordinary effect on people, magnitudes more than current pay per view programs.”
PETA’s project, “I, Chicken” is slightly different from the other two organizations mentioned. Where “iAnimal” and Last Chance for Animals put the viewer into a factory farm (“iAnimal” switches between views) to witness what animals go through, “I, Chicken” puts you in the place of the chicken.
According to PETA’s website:
I, Chicken couples the most cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) hardware available—including wireless VR goggles, motion-capture cameras, and a powerful computer—with guidance from leading VR psychologists in order to immerse participants in a world where they can flap their wings, communicate with other chickens, take dust baths, and engage in other natural chicken behavior. But as participants soon learn, life for any of the 26 million chickens slaughtered every day isn’t a walk in the park.
The video changes from a video game-like simulation of a chicken’s life to the birds getting crammed together in a claustrophobic-inducing area, moments before their death.
Though the technology is still new (and, arguably, pretty expensive), we believe we will be seeing lots of it at events as the years move on. Will VR programs replace the popular and effective “Pay-to-View” initiative often seen at events? Maybe. If anything, they appear to be more effective, at least according to what Phinney said earlier and NPR writer King.
“I have watched, read and taught about animal suffering in factory farms before. I knew it was bad in factory farms in the U.S., England, Europe, China and Latin America. Yet, something extra-powerful comes across in VR. The heightened visual closeness brings about heightened emotional attunement and, thus, the true extent of the cruelty to individual, sentient animals.”
“iAnimal” has a release date of March 1, but organizations other than the ones mentioned may currently be using this technology at events. If you see “iAnimal,” or any VR animal rights video, please email us about your experience.