Inside, the scene was truly nightmarish: Shoppers at the “live market” selected the individual animals who they wanted butchered. In such markets, animals may be slaughtered in full view of one another, with little concern for humane treatment or sanitary practice. The combination of animals confined to filthy, crowded cages and the unsanitary slaughter floor conditions created a breeding ground of disease and bacteria at Astoria. Live chickens were kept without food and water and were made to sit in excrement-covered cages among the bodies of their dead friends, who had succumbed to a strain of avian flu the type lethal to birds-not humans.
Many animals knew their last, torturous moments in this hellish place. But one fortuitous day in August, a cow we later came to know as Queenie would not go the way of countless others before her. Driven by the fear of the canes, sticks and electric prods, which are commonplace in live markets and stockyards, Queenie made the choice any animal would if given the chance. Strong, powerful, and rightly distrusting of humans, she shook her oppressor’s grasp and ran for her life.
Alone in a world completely alien to her, amid strange sights and blaring sounds, she sprinted for blocks, attracting the attention of surprised and jeering onlookers as she dodged traffic, pedestrians and eventually police cars on the busy New York streets. Her flight to freedom was finally brought to a halt when police shot her with a tranquilizer gun.
Queenie’s getaway, though cut short, did not go unnoticed; her story attracted national media attention and won her the support of thousands who were inspired by her resilience and bravery. Calls from individuals concerned with Queenie’s fate flooded both the Center for Animal Care and Control and Astoria Live Poultry.
When we were alerted to her plight by Farm Sanctuary members, we immediately contacted the animal control agency and offered to provide Queenie a safe, permanent home at our New York shelter. We anxiously waited for hours before the slaughterhouse owner finally decided to relinquish custody of Queenie to the city.
Queenie arrived at the shelter to a hero’s welcome: As she jumped from the trailer, she was met with cheers from the sanctuary staff and loud “moos” from the cows in her new herd. And Queenie certainly was a hero: Her escape resulted in fines for Astoria Live Poultry and fueled the public outcry that ultimately led to an investigation and the subsequent closing of the market. Queenie’s act of rebellion won not only her own freedom but also that of 150 neglected chickens, who were surrendered to Farm Sanctuary after the market closed its doors.
On Thursday, August 18, it was the 11th anniversary of Queenie’s arrival at our New York Shelter. After all these years, she is still a plucky lady. Her wariness towards humans is what saved her life, and she hasn’t forgotten the cruelties that befell her and the other live market animals at the hands of humans. For this reason, she doesn’t take kindly to everyone she meets. Since Queenie and I came to Farm Sanctuary at the same time, however, I think we have a bond, a kind of mutual respect for one another. I can bring any visitor into the main herd, and she will accept them.
Queenie is highly alert and very aware of her surroundings; she is certainly one of the most intelligent cows I’ve met. She displays her incredible problem-solving ability by figuring out ways to avoid hoof trimming (she actually manages to squeeze out of the trimmer’s chute) and fly spraying -- which, though both procedures are necessary for her health and comfort, are two of her least favorite things. However, she loves her herd, her best friends (fellow escapees Maxine and Annie Dodge), and her permanent home, a place she will never want to run away from.
It is amazing that, knowing only fear, pain, and cruelty, Queenie still had the drive to run free. But when I look back at her story, I am reminded of the sad truth that the only difference between Queenie and the animals who were killed that day at the market, and every day in slaughterhouses around the world, was attitude and luck. She had no more a will to live than any animal, human or nonhuman. When we read about the individual who manages to escape a nightmarish fate, we must remember that the animal whose survival we are rooting for is no different in her desire to live from the millions behind the slaughterhouse walls. As we see every day here at the sanctuary, each and every animal is an individual with a unique personality and a deep emotional life. Queenie is a face for the billions of faceless animals who won’t get a lucky break but are no less unique, special, and deserving of love.
Photos by Derek Goodwin and Blanche J. Baransky