Alley Animals - Newsletter

Fall 2004 Edition
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G.G., A True Gentle Giant

by Lillian G. Leslie

In This Issue:

Most of us donít think of turkeys as having the potential to teach us about the complexities of other living beings, perhaps because (with rare exception) people go through life never having interacted with a live turkey. The few of us who have had the privilege of getting to know a turkey can attest to their splendor and intelligence. One such endearing soul we call, G.G.

She lived outdoors with another turkey and a rabbit, both of whom she dearly loved. When the other turkey died, G.G.ís devotion to the rabbit increased to the point that the two were never apart. Though we might regard them as an oddly suited pair, the bond between avian and mammal crossed the species barrier into the territory of deep, abiding friendship, a territory without artificial barriers, imposed on their affection for each other. But love has a life of its own resisting confinement, pursuing its own and unencumbered. They ate together, they slept side-by-side, they passed the time as loving companions sharing every moment. They were the unexpected testimony of loveís encompassing embrace -- until the rabbit died.

G.G. was stricken with grief and loneliness after her two beloved friends left her to a sorrowful, empty life. In her grief, G.G. began to self-mutilate; with her sharp beak she pecked at her side, she pecked and pecked until the feathers were gone and the skin raw. She found no consolation in eating so she quickly lost weight. Hoping it would cure the problem, her owners applied medicine to the self-inflected wound, but G.G. persisted and the wound worsened as she grew thinner and thinner. A medicated cream was not the answer.

In people, loss of appetite and self-mutilation are regarded as nothing short of serious symptoms -- signs of distress in a desperate cry for help. Yet, here was a bird displaying the same disorders, issuing the same cry to help that people do. She was, indeed, feeding the same profound emotional pain that results in the loss of a loved one, In her case, two loved ones. Her best friends, her companions on the path of life -- gone. The wound she inflected on her body was the outward symbol of the wound in her soul that grew larger and hurt more with each passing day.

Watching her deterioration, G.G.ís owners decided to look for a new home for their turkey who was going downhill fast. We found a place for the Gentle Giant, a home in an outdoor enclosure with other birds, although none of them turkeys. Things were bumpy at first. The other birds -- a rooster, a white duck, and two guinea hens -- were clearly frightened of their new roommate. They scattered wildly when G.G. moved an inch. Even in her emaciated state she was so big, towering head, neck and wings above the others who would need some time to see past her size to the loving soul within.

After months of adjustment, G.G. has become a tentative part of the group. Although she doesnít have a best friend in her new home she has the company of other birds and her self-mutilating has lessened. Also indicative that her healing has begun is the fact that she loves to eat again; mealtime is a happy time for G.G. Another happy time is the occasion of human contact. She adores having her head stroked; she coos and trills and grabs you with her powerful beak if you stop before sheís ready for you to stop. G.G. is quite the character.

Particularly at Thanksgiving I am aware of how some people delight in maligning turkeys, in laughing at them and calling them stupid. Before I met G.G., I knew intellectually that turkeys are not at all stupid but instead, worthy individuals -- misunderstood birds with a majesty yet to be appreciated by human beings. Now I have undeniable flesh and blood experience the turkey is a splendid creature with much to teach those of us willing (and humble enough) to learn.

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