One day in May, Cincinnati Police Officer James Givens was sitting in his parked car when a goose pecked on the car door. Givens got out of the car, and the goose then led him to one of her goslings, who was tangled up in a balloon string. Givens called another officer, a woman who knew a lot about animals, who freed the gosling. “It was incredible,” Givens told “The Dodo,” an online publication. “It makes me wonder–do animals know to turn to humans when they need help?”
Givens took a video of the rescue, and it was a big hit on You Tube. Like Givens, many people were amazed by the goose’s behavior. But we have seen several instances of animals turning to humans for help at our farm sanctuary. I would like to tell you about two.
The first episode was reported to me one evening by Grant, a young man who worked as a farm caretaker. Grant told me that earlier in the day he was returning from a swim in the pond when he heard Ducky, one of our female turkeys, squawking. He went over to see what was wrong and saw that another turkey, Sadie, had flown over a fence. Ducky was upset by the fence separating them. Grant wanted to climb the fence to retrieve Sadie, but he only had sandals on his feet, so he first headed to the cottage for his boots.
When Ducky saw Grant walking away from her and Sadie, she squawked much more frantically, as if a crisis had developed. Grant told me, “She seemed to be shouting, ‘Hey, where are you going? Don’t walk away! I need you to get Sadie!’” He said she only calmed down when he returned and retrieved Sadie. The entire event, he said, made him realize that the turkeys know that they sometimes require human assistance.
The second episode involved Sylvia, one of our wildest hens. When Sylvia came to our farm, she roosted in the trees at night, where she was completely silent and hidden, as is the custom of wild birds who must avoid predators.
After a few months we were able to coax Sylvia into sleeping in a henhouse, but even now, after five years with us, she sometimes likes to wander far away or sleep high up in the barn rafters.
One recent evening, my wife, Ellen, and I were tucking in the animals for the night but we couldn’t find Sylvia. We looked in all the areas she frequented, but she was nowhere in sight. As darkness fell, I walked to the woods with a flashlight. I didn’t expect to find her, but I thought I’d give it a try.
I didn’t see her. Giving up, I began walking back to the barn, when I heard a chicken squawking in the woods. I want back and saw Sylvia high in a tree. She wanted me to find her!
Ellen and I carried Sylvia down from the tree and back to her henhouse. She went very willingly.
I don’t know what made Sylvia fly up in the tree. Perhaps an animal, like a fox, frightened her. In any case, what stood out was that she didn’t remain silent, as she would have in the past. She squawked to get my attention. It felt to me like she was saying, “I trust your care. I didn’t for a long time, but I do now.”
So I definitely believe that many animals can develop trust in humans and look to humans for help. But I can’t help wondering, “Do we, as a society, really deserve their trust?” Human mistreatment of animals, especially on the factory farms that provide almost all the meat Americans eat, is horrendous. We must treat animals far more humanely before we will merit their trust.
Bill Crain is co-founder of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag and author of the book, “The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary.” Visit the farm’s website, wwwsafehavenfarmsanctuary.org