Instead of selling Saoirse, the family was persuaded to allow her to come to live at Eden without profiting financially from the interaction.
Saoirse had a voracious appetite on arrival at Eden. Turkeys like Saoirse who are bred to gain weight for human consumption have large appetites anyway but to compound the problem prior neglect to treat for internal parasites very probably heightened her experiential sense of hunger. Fear of hunger and a habituated sense of competition for scarce resources resulted in her attempts to dominate the other residents at Eden. She found it very difficult to form harmonious relations in the sanctuary. For the safety of the other residents, as well as her own wellbeing, she had to live alone.
Anyone with an unfortunate start in life benefits from consistent, regular care, kindness and unconditional love. Repeatedly meeting their needs in a consistent manner enables them to trust that their physical and emotional needs can be met. This reduces the sense of constant alertness for threat and it also calms fears, such as the fear of scarcity of resources. It teaches them to have a sense of self that is self-efficacious in that their interactions with others will elicit what they need to fulfil their basic needs for food, shelter, and social interaction. The distress at unfulfilled needs and the fear of abandonment gradually abates. This is true of humans who have had unfortunate, traumatising life experiences that interfere with their social sense of themselves in the world. It was equally true of Saoirse and her sense of herself as a person in this world.
Her initial behaviour towards me as her sole caregiver alternated between attention and affection seeking, and forceful shows of distress and irritation. When our volunteer, Clara, joined us, she had a similar experience. Saoirse was initially mistrustful but like traumatised or abused children, she negotiated the complex emotional and cognitive process of overcoming mistrust of the person on whom she depended for her daily needs for water, food, protection and shelter: this is not an easy mental feat. Saoirse’s behaviour appeared to me to be characteristic of people who have insecure attachments with their primary caregivers and who express displeasure and distress at abandonment and reunion. Saoirse was deprived of her right in life to a secure attachment relationship with her birth mother. Her early life experiences in an inappropriate and possibly abuse environment account for her initial social difficulties at Eden.
Every being has an innate propensity to heal. It was not long before Saoirse’s deep need for love and social interaction was prominent and, like all the turkeys we have ever known at Eden, she was enjoying the close, affectionate contact of a turkey hug. However, for some time, even in the safety of a loving embrace, she would flinch and jerk her head away from my hand as if in a learned response to feeling pain rather than love. With time she began to experience social interaction that was secure, calm and pleasurable in contrast to her earlier competitive and harmful interactions.
Yet, it was a worry that her constant desire for companionship was only fulfilled for her by human contact. She remained suspicious of the other sanctuary residents. Her loneliness preyed on my mind as I desperately sought an opportunity to rescue someone she would accept as a friend and companion.
Saoirse is a white turkey bred to be clinically obese for human consumption. Like obese humans her future health will be severely compromised by her weight. For this reason, it is usually highly recommended that white female turkeys are never in the presence of males whose weight during sex could injure them. Nevertheless, in Saoirse’s case, the best solution I could come up with, in consultation with expert sanctuary veterinary staff such as Jamie London (ex Animal Place) and with Clara at Eden, was a light, small sized male turkey.