By Jenny Brown, WFAS Director
Alphonso was one of our very first turkeys. Rescued as a poult (young turkey) from a neglect case, he came with two others, Boone and Hershel, in the summer of 2005. Soon after their arrival we knew that they were to become amazing ambassadors for our shared cause — to show turkeys as the sentient beings they are, full of life. Many turkeys are wonderfully affectionate once they lose their fear and begin to enjoy their freedom. They are not all friendly, of course — they are each an individual and therefore unique, just like you and me.
When I got to know Alphonso what stood out to me was his calmness. He wouldn’t get bent out of shape over food or pick fights like the others would. It was as if he was too mature and classy to engage in such foolishness.
Over the years I have sat down many times next to him just to enjoy his company and stroke his feathers. He might strut around me or he might stay put and just stand or lie by my side. We would often make eye contact which, surprisingly, he would hold steadily for some time. I often thought that it felt as if he could look into my soul without judgement, only love.
Alphonso touched many who passed through our doors and surely helped put a face to turkey meat or the Thanksgiving center piece. His calm demeanor, patience and obvious enjoyment of human affection made Alphonso one of the finest ambassadors turkeys have ever had.
Alphonso, like all commercial turkeys, had been bred to grow fast and abnormally large. In order to have a “high breast meat yield,” modern turkeys have been genetically manipulated to have huge chests and therefore more breast meat. Problem is, their organs and skeletons (especially their legs) can’t keep up with that rate of growth and so turkeys often die of heart attacks or suffer from crippling leg abnormalities.
Alphonso beat the odds and lived for much longer than his breed was ever intended. He escaped the horrible fate of millions of turkeys each year and lived a rare life of peace and happiness in an environment of respect and compassion. But starting in 2011 his legs and feet began causing him pain and we saw our sweet boy begin to lose mobility. In the end, Alphonso was in too much pain to walk at all and we knew it was time to say goodbye, which we did on April 4th, 2012. He died peacefully in my arms and wet from my tears. I kissed him as he took his last breath and thanked him for who he was and for all he had done for millions of others like him. He was my friend and we’ll all miss him terribly.
Alphonso would have been 7 years old in June, a miracle for an animal who would typically be slaughtered at only 3-4 months of age.