03 Apr Gary Busey Bunny
It is an almost universal experience, the bond between human and non-human that shapes our formative years and leaves us nostalgic for the remainder of our lives. The beloved family dog with whom we walked on beaches and through bushland over seemingly endless summers. The cat we snuggled with fireside during cold winters, shrouded in warm blankets as their purring reverberated through our souls.
The abject devastation of having to say goodbye all too soon.
From our earliest years we are taught through these relationships that the animals in our lives are individuals of importance, and that they deserve moral consideration. We are told to let them sleep and eat uninterrupted, to not pull their tail or fur; to provide food, water and companionship throughout their lives. We refer to them as “they”, our “best friends”, and give them names. We laugh over their quirky personality traits and mourn the void they leave when old age or illness takes them from us.
Yet somehow as we ourselves grow into adulthood we are able to look back on the fond memories of those individual animals we loved so dearly, whilst simultaneously remaining unable to view other animals as individuals themselves just as capable self-expression, of suffering, and of experiencing love as those we grew alongside.
That non-human animals have individuality is rarely contested; even those engaged in the animal exploitation industries will acknowledge the varied personalities of the beings they use for profit. As Cornish “beef” farmer Kurt Duncan said in a recent CBC NEWs article: “When you see them every day you get to see their personality traits.” This does not prevent Duncan and many like him from sending these individuals to a violent end. However, increasing numbers of farmers tied to those trades dealing in animal life and death are seeing the inherent individuality of the beings they live with, thus recognising the injustice of their actions with life changing results. A recent example being the BAFTA award-winning short film 73 Cows, which documents the tale of former dairy and “beef” farmer Jay Wilde as he sends his herds to sanctuary and transitions his business model to plant-based agriculture.
Most of us have experienced the profound change an individual animal or the recognition of animal individuality can bring about in our own lives, though perhaps not on such a grand scale. I myself am fortunate to have experienced this many times throughout my life, which I feel has been instrumental in guiding my transition from a meat-loving hunter’s daughter to animal rescuer and rights activist. Experiences that continue in ever increasingly more traumatic circumstances it seems.
Such as the first time we saw Dooley, an abused and neglected driller’s dog my father saved from being shot; he had such soulful eyes as though he had lived a thousand lives.
Or the day I learned to look beyond the overwhelming vastness of the exploited herds and bore witness to the individuality of a steer called Tommy, whose bludgeoning death in an Indonesian abattoir was broadcast globally by Animals Australia and set me along the inherently political stance of living vegan.
The day I picked up a single duckling from the sodden floor of a slaughterhouse and ran for their life, for the first time publicly crossing the line between that which is legal and that which is just.
And then there was the day a friend called me, having collected a raggedy old rabbit from a backyard fur and flesh farm just outside of Launceston. She saw his photo listed on Gumtree and was heartbroken by his hunched and defeated appearance. He had a dented head, moth-eaten ears and urine stained white fur.
We called him Gary Busey Bunny, and from the moment I saw him my life changed irrevocably.
Gary Busey Bunny required intensive physical and psychological rehabilitation; he was riddled with lice and mites, his nose was green and sticky, and his feet affected by advanced ulcerative podermatitis. He could not understand that hay was for eating, soft blankets for sleeping on, and that a house though vast was still a safe place to roam freely. These were things so foreign to him that he could not cope, shutting down in the corner and swaying side to side as though drunk.
My friend informed me that he had been used as a stud rabbit on this fur and flesh farm, breeding generation upon generation of babies who were all too soon slaughtered onsite. She described the conditions in detail; we knew we had to investigate further.
She organised for me to visit the property with her, posing as a prospective buyer looking to get into the meat rabbit trade. I took with me a small camera hidden in a keychain device in order to film as much as I could.
The sheds were mostly open fronted and high-rooved, yet the stench emanating from within was so powerful my eyes and airways began to burn as soon as I left my car. The property owner toured us proudly around her sheds, without any idea that we were in fact struggling to accept the horror she was unveiling to us.
Suspended wire with scarce wisps of rotting straw contained countless rabbits, mixed breeds of Rex and New Zealand Whites deliberately bred to gain weight rapidly for slaughter whilst producing a coat suitable for use. They huddled in corners, piled up on top of one another desperate to escape human contact. The breeding does were crammed into similar cages, the babies desperately seeking safety under their mothers. The stud males were kept in a separate, smaller shed devoid of sunlight or fresh air, cages a mere 1m x 1m suspended mid-air so the excrement could fall to the ground beneath; this was where Gary Busey Bunny had lived for five long years.
Piles of ordure, refuse straw and spilled feed rotted into the dirt floor beneath every row of cages. Many of the rabbits were splay legged as a result of their bodies growing too quickly on such an unsupportive surface and with an inadequate diet. The stench of faeces and urine mingled with another smell I recognised, that of blood, spilled innards and fat from within the nearby slaughter shed.
I filmed as much as I could, dangling the keychain as inconspicuously as possible into every cage and corner, hoping that whatever footage I obtained could eventually lead to a shutdown of this place, possibly even a prosecution. I would soon learn how naïve I truly was.
The children of the property owner ran around us laughing or sat atop the cages idly fiddling with the bats and knives used to kill the rabbits. We asked multiple questions about how to rear them, best breeding practices, and how to slaughter them, words that stuck in my throat as I uttered them. And whilst I filmed, they removed a beautiful grey-furred boy from a cage, his eyes white with terror, and demonstrated for us how to kill a rabbit with a baseball bat.
We left having bought some rabbits to maintain our cover, and with a bag full of rapidly defrosting skins that had been stripped from the rabbits slaughtered the day before. We left utterly broken, pulling over further down the road to chain-smoke in shaken silence.
In the end over twenty rabbits were saved from that hell hole, an act of liberation brought about by my dearest Gary Busey Bunny.
This was my first ever undercover animal rights experience; it was also instrumental in utterly shattering any faith I had in the systems put in place by the industry, the government and the RSPCA to “protect” farmed animals. Having provided all the footage I had gathered to the relevant authorities I was informed that nothing we had seen that day was illegal. In fact, this facility was operating at a “higher” standard as their cages were bigger than legally required. Everything from the lack of adequate flooring to the method of slaughter was permitted under the code written by the industry and implemented by the government.
It took months of rehabilitation for Gary Busey Bunny to recover physically from years of neglect and abuse. Ear drops, bottom baths to clean away the thick poo clinging to his fur, a slow and gradual introduction to hay and the correct food, antibiotics, pain relief, wrappings over the sores of his feet. He never lost the hunch in his back though; his spine was literally twisted by years of confinement. And having lived in an environment devoid of interaction beyond the occasional matings with equally abused and terrified breeding does, for the rest of his life his main outlet for emotion were the simultaneously comical and tragic mounting of any inanimate object he could find (even after desexing). Despite being a calm and often loving boy, the psychological harm of his former years was simply too great to completely overcome.
In this way, Gary Busey Bunny was pivotal in opening my eyes to the fact that injustice against animals does not simply occur in the slaughterhouse nor the cage; it is ingrained in every facet of these industries right up to the houses of parliament.
Gary Busey Bunny died two years after rescue of a congenital heart defect that had been bred into him, and that killed his two rescued sons as well. It was his death that inspired my words at the Dominion March (April 2018): “The reality is that for most animals rescued from these facilities there is no long, healthy life. The industries will kill them, whether in the cages, the slaughterhouses, or in the loving arms of their rescuers.” It is a sentimental belief shared particularly keenly by those involved in the rescue of chickens from egg and flesh farms; these industries breed them to lay or grow intensively and die young as it is simply economical.
One small broken rabbit is significantly responsible for everything I have experienced since. He inspired me to investigate some of the darkest places on Earth. He taught me to speak up and act in the face of extreme injustice. And he taught me to no longer lay my trust in government authorities or animal welfare protection agencies who are intrinsically involved with the very industries that destroyed my beautiful boy.
Just as the aforementioned Kurt Duncan acknowledged the individuality of the cows he exploited, so too did the owner of the facility Gary Busey Bunny came from. She had favourites, she gave them names, she laughed at their personality quirks (though how she could see the expression of those traits in the shaking, terrified beings she kept caged I’ll never know). But she still engaged in a mass slaughter of all her “stock” when the business closed not long after our visit, due to ill health. Unlike Jay Wilde she did not seek sanctuary for them; the baseball bat was their only release from hell.
All I can hope is that as she killed her “favourite” breeding doe Reba, she saw something in that rabbit’s eye. A plea for mercy, or perhaps an accusation of betrayal. A profound and lasting moment that remains with her forever if there is any justice, an experience just as life changing as the day I first met Gary Busey Bunny.
Author: Kristy Alger