Best Friends Blog

Who should be pardoning whom?

Around this time each year, a strange ritual takes place in the White House. Midst much televised fun and holiday cheer, the president of the United States issues an official pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey, usually presented to the president by the National Turkey Federation, is thus spared the fate of millions upon millions of its fellows. Those millions have of course been bred in inhumane conditions in the nation’s turkey farms, where they have been “grown” to an unnatural size for the purpose of providing the maximum amount of food for the Thanksgiving table. Within a mere few months, when they have reached around four times what would be a natural weight, they are then led to slaughter.

How come the concept of pardon has become so scrambled as used in this ritual? Who should be pardoning whom? It is most normal to receive a pardon after having done something wrong. As far as I know, there is no suggestion that the turkey is pardoning the National Turkey Federation and its members for unnatural breeding practices and wholesale killing — or the president for endorsing it.

If the president, any president, wished to publicly acknowledge the value of animal life, it would be refreshing if he (or she) were to apologize to the turkey, rather than pardoning it. At the very least, such a change would attach a minimum degree of sanity to the ritual.

I think I will celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way, by seeking out a flock of the wild turkeys that make Best Friends Animal Sanctuary their home. If I am lucky, I will witness a delightful ritual they practice each day. In the darkening light of dusk, it is not uncommon to see 20 or 30 of the dignified birds lining up on the canyon rim, whereupon at some imperceptible signal, they all launch themselves into the air and fly down to cottonwood trees 200 feet below, where they roost for the night. A beautiful sight, an expression and symbol of the freedom that is their right.

Gregory Castle
CEO, Best Friends Animal Society



Photo of turkeys by Scott Bauer on

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  • Everyone are pardoning to someone to satisfy there needs. 

  • Sandy Byland

    Indeed, Gregory. My husband and I have quietly sat in the background at sunset at the place we lovingly have named “Turkey Point” to watch the graceful soaring from the cliff down to their big tree for the night. It’s a delight to see. A joy that I wish everyone could witness. We have watched in wonder at how they each take their turn, waiting “in line” to leap from the cliff one by one and land so beautifully on a selected branch below. I suspect that the turkeys in the turkey farms would not be able to soar with such ease and grace as their unnatural weight would prohibit such a natural ritual.

  • Susanwillbehere

    I completely agree. I watched that “ceremony” and, while thinking that something was completely strange ( I want to say stupid but I won’t) about this but I could not put my finger on it, all I could think about were the millions of other turkeys that did not have the luxury of being “pardoned.” 

    You are absolutely right, an apology would have been much more appropriate.

  • Andrea

    I always thought this whole pardon thing adds insult to injury. We once drove through the Ozarks in Arkansas, where most of these Thanksgiving turkeys come from – there were dead turkeys by the side of the road, and dozens and dozens of huge metal buildings where they are bred. We could see feathers and tons of dust stuck to the outside of huge fans. It was such a gross and sad sight. It really made me dislike Thanksgiving as a holiday.
    Seeing the wild turkeys at Best Friends is a real treat instead. Seeing them flying off the canyon rim and into the trees is such a beautiful sight. What a mockery we made out of these birds and all for the sake of a holiday that should rather celebrate the harvest of the fields. 

  • Lovefelines2003

    Excellently written.  I too shared this with many.  Thank you Gregory – I will not be eating any animals this Thanksgiving, or at any time.

  • Sherry Sargeant

    AMEN !  I wish ALL LIFE would be cherished.  If people only considered the turkey, that would be a blessing that would save 47 million animal lives each year.

  • Emily Alsa

    Excellent text, I shared it, hoping someday people will understand

  • Marilyn

    Excellent blog.  Thank you for writing it.  Thanksgiving through New Year’s is one of my least favorite times of year, such wretched excess and the mass murder of so many creatures for the purpose of celebration and gluttony.

  • Cscurnow

    Occasionally we used to get the pleasure of wild turkeys wandering through our back property with their young in toe…so wonderful to watch!

  • Amy Hollowell

    Wonderful blog. Someone at the White house sure needs to rethink their handling of this. Always questioned it and glad to see a blog commenting on it as well.

    Thanks for all that you do at Best Friends. An amazing organization that i was lucky to visit this Sept and can’t wait to get back!

  • Becky Dodge

    Yes that is the right way. Not that publicity gimmick at the White House. What they do is hypocrisy plain and simple.

    Humans should be the ones seeking pardons for what we have done to all the farmed animals, chickens, turkeys, ducks, cattle, pigs, horses, sheep, goats, ALL of them.

    • Gosandy123

      i agree.

  • Chuck