Animal rights movement loses a giant – Karen Davis

By John Di Leonardo

This Saturday, November 4th, the animal rights movement lost a giant.

Karen Davis, PhD was the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domesticated birds including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for “outstanding contributions to animal liberation,” Karen was the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds – From Exploitation to LiberationEssays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl.
In 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Karen while peacefully protesting for the lives of chickens in Brooklyn. Karen was doing her best to blend into the background of a protest she had organized, however, I recognized her right away. Moments later, I was hauled away in handcuffs. Despite only knowing me for a moment, she called the next day to make sure I was OK.

In the years that followed, Karen and I stayed in touch, but like most, I didn’t know the private war she waged behind the scenes, and she died aged 79.

I know Karen would rather a column advocating for chickens than an obituary, so I urge you to consider the lives of chickens in Karen’s own words on

Whether raised in a filthy shed by thousands – like most birds are – or “free-range” – which is often no different, broiler chickens are killed at only 6 – 12 weeks old. Carried upside down by their legs, these still peeping babies struggle, flap, and cry before being jammed inside coops for up to 12-hour rides to the slaughterhouse through heat, wind, rain, sleet, and snow without food or water.

Spent laying hens are simply flung from the battery cages to the transport crates by their wings, feet, legs, head, or whatever is grabbed. They are electrocuted, suffocated, buried alive, gassed, or chopped to pieces, alive, by woodchipper blades. Half-naked from feather loss caused by crowded caging, and terrorized by a lifetime of abuse, hens in transport experience such intense fear that many are paralyzed by the time they reach their final destination – the rendering company, slaughterhouse, landfill, grinder. Starved for 4 days before catching, they are a mass of broken bones, oozing abscesses, bruises, and internal hemorrhage. They are covered with the slime of broken eggs and pieces of shells. When not buried alive, these hens are shredded into human food, pet food, mink feed and poultry feed.

At the slaughterhouse, after being held in the trucks for 1 to 12 hours, chickens raised for meat are torn from the cages and hung upside down on a movable rack. As they move towards the killing knife, they are dragged through an electric current that paralyzes them but does not render them unconscious or pain-free. Millions of birds are alive, conscious and breathing not only as their throats are cut but afterward when their bodies are plunged into scalding water to remove their feathers. In the scalder “the chickens scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads.” The industry calls these birds “redskins” – birds who were scalded while they were still alive.

For this week’s Anuvrat, please honor Karen by showing kindness and respect to birds and other animals by not eating them or their eggs and making the transition to veganism. If you’re already vegan, please support United Poultry Concerns or contact me at [email protected] to make the transition from vegan to activist. Humane Long Island will not only be naming the next bird we rescue after Karen, but we will be distributing 350 servings of vegan chicken and 1000 servings of Tofu turkey in her honor.


John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].

Images courtesy of Unparalleled Suffering Photography and Provided

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