One-Legged Lentil

What a One-Legged Chicken Can Teach Us About Disability and Animal Rights

Charlotte Lim (admin and communications volunteer) analyses the intersections between disability, species and our much loved animal companions.

She greets with a welcoming cluck, and after a couple of hops and a wing-flap, nestles into my lap. Unlike her adopted sisters whose beaks are severed from their past lives in battery cages, Lentil – NSW Hen Rescue’s one-legged chicken – has never felt the horror of de-beaking or suffered the trauma from falling from a truck on its way to a slaughterhouse. With a glossy coat of black and orange-speckled feathers, I believe Lentil should be the next new Covergirl.

It’s disappointing, then, to type “disabled animals” into Google, only to be shown a series of photographs picturing dogs and cats. Despite this (distasteful) public touting of “inclusion”, there is little diversity in the representation of disabled animal species beyond canines, felines or “exotic” animal species such as Mosha, the first Asian elephant to receive a prosthetic limb. The sheer proliferation of stories centred only on “man’s best friend” or “rare” animals ignores the perverse double-standard of disabled animals who are part of the animal agriculture industry.

While I admit that the increasing the presence and visibility of disability amongst our fellow non-human companions is somewhat positive – it does, after all, reinforce the inherent value of all life, regardless of disability – the profound exclusion of other animals with disability remains, especially towards those animals who are often deemed as “unproductive” or “damaged” because of their disability.

Lentil is one of those animals. She was brought into the world as part of an ill-thought out hatching project. Hatching projects, according to the sanctuary’s founder, Catherine Kelaher, “involve keeping fertilised eggs in an incubator in schools, early learning centres and nursing homes so that people can watch the chicks hatch.”

The improper use of faulty incubators can also result in disabilities: Lentil hatched with a backwards leg. The classroom wasn’t an appropriate place for a chick like Lentil (or any chick, for that matter), to hatch and grow. Although all chicks deserve love, care and vet attention for their entire eight to twelve-year lifespan; sick chicks rarely receive the veterinary attention they need, and may not be supervised on weekends. Even well-intentioned children can be too rough when handling baby animals, let alone those with disabilities.

Purely on the grounds of her mobility issues, Lentil was due to be killed after the initial excitement of the hatching project wore off.

Luckily, a kind soul brought Lentil to NSW Hen Rescue, where she was able to have her leg amputated and receive a prosthetic. Now, thanks to Kelaher’s patience and care, Lentil rarely uses her prosthetic, having built up strength in her remaining leg to become the sanctuary’s champion hopper.

Hatching projects teach children that animals are disposable and can be bred and used without any concern for their individual lives. Rather than nurturing children’s innate compassion by encouraging respect for all life, and teaching that all animals are a life-long commitment and responsibility, they do the opposite.

Hatching projects reinforce the belief that animals are bred to simply fulfil a purpose: to be used by humans, for human desires, “needs” and wants.

Disability remains a stigmatised, devalued identity. In industries where animals are used, often as objects for human consumption, the death of an animal is considered preferable to disability. You only need to look so far as greyhound and horse racing. It’s not Lentil’s fault that she, or any disabled animal, require a higher level of care compared to their able-bodied companions.

Simply refusing the provision of necessities, like food, water, adequate shelter, affection and healthcare due to the “cost” and “inconvenience” emerging from the intersection of species and disability is immoral. There can be no debate on this. The prejudice against non-human animals, simply on the intersecting grounds of species, sex/gender and disability, is highly unjust.

It’s time we value Lentil and other factory-farmed animals by challenging and changing our preconceptions towards their worth, and providing the recognition, love and care they deserve, despite their species and their disability.

You can support Lentil and her disabled companions by donating to NSW Hen Rescue.

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