Penelope the chicken was rescued by a Brooklyn couple from near death and torture, and now she’s the subject of a new documentary short film.
“It does sound strange when you tell people you rescued a chicken,” admits Steve Dawson, who together with his wife, Vanessa, helped save the chicken’s life. “Most people when you say you rescued a pit bull or a cat, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ But when you say you rescued a chicken, they ask, ‘From what?’”
In this instance, the ‘what’ is Kaporos, which is practiced by some segments of the Ultra-Orthodox population. It involves participants who atone for their sins by swinging live chickens over their heads three times while chanting prayers. The chickens are then slaughtered on sidewalks and dumped into garbage bags. But these chickens are not the only ones who suffer. Thousands of other chickens die while waiting for this horrific ordeal from being exposed to the elements in their tight containers. They are also denied food and water.
Penelope was supposed to be one of those chickens. Initially, she was a “broiler” chicken, a term used for chickens raised for meat, and was sent along with tens of thousands of other chickens to New York for the ritual. But, luckily Vanessa came to her aid.
In October 2014, Vanessa wore a disguise to infiltrate the community where Penelope would have been sacrificed. She was handed Penelope and she never looked back.
“When I first was handed her, she was so frightened and struggled to get away,” recalled Vanessa to LAIKA Magazine. “She knew what they were doing in the ritual, it happens right in front of them. But when I took her and turned the corner, it was amazing how calm she was and she has remained that calm with us ever since.”
Prior to the rescue, Vanessa says she “never had the opportunity to connect with a chicken before Penelope.” But it’s clear that their connection to the bird is now unbreakable.
“They are super curious, very interested animals,” says Steve in the doc which shows Penelope checking out an iPhone. Vanessa adds that Penelope has “so much personality” and is “very loving.”
The film, which comes from filmmaker Duncan Skiles, is definitely a must-watch as it clearly demonstrates these birds want, and deserve, to live.