By Robert Cohen Executive Director Text Only



I arrived at Gate B-5 about 5 minutes before boarding began,
and saw a man holding a backpack stuffed full of feathers.
They were beautiful feathers. No work of man's can catch
rays of sunlight as beautifully as nature portrays male
pheasant feathers, shimmering iridescent, reflecting a
profound creation of pigments and hues.

"Where did you get the feathers?" I asked.

I never asked the man his name, but learned that he lives in
Sparta, New Jersey, a short distance from my home in Bergen
County. He's vice president of production for BASF, the
chemical company that manufactures Vitamin D-3 from wool
grease (sheep skin and fleece) and Vitamin B-12 from cow
intestines. Both products are often included as supplemental
ingredients to so-called vegetarian vitamins and foods.

I was surprised when he told me that he was not aware of the
origin of the vitamins he markets, but believed his claim.
We had a friendly conversation, and he had no reason to be
dishonest with a fellow traveler. The feathers were
beautiful, and he was proud that I took note of his trophy.

The feathers came from the bodies of the pheasants he had
shot on Saturday and Sunday. While he participated in his
controlled shoot,  I was attending an animal rights
conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What irony.

Mr. Feather-man had been on a hunting trip. BASF owns a
private island near Detroit. Actually, it's just across the
border, in Canada. I was told that nobody can accuse the
company of abusing animals in the United States. That's why
pheasants and ducks are hatched from eggs and kept in
captivity on the private BASF game farm. The hunting
preserve exists so that top New Jersey BASF executives can
fly for a weekend of fun, shooting birds to death, plucking
their feathers as trophy gifts, and bringing home coolers
filled with their shot-filled naked bodies. His reward for
being a 32-year employee of the company.

I asked if the birds died immediately after being shot. He
told me that they had. I have seen movies taken at pigeon
shoots. These are very uncomfortable films for me to watch.
The birds take a long time to die. I averted my eyes from
the film, but the tormented suffering of their death throes
remains a part of my memory.

Our conversation ended as boarding began. Only a few dozen
people were on the flight from Detroit to Newark. He rushed
to the front of the line and was first to board. My coach
ticket had been upgraded to first class. I was fourth in
line. I walked the ramp behind the BASF shooter, and as he
rushed down the carpeted ramp to board the plane, watched as
a feather flew out of his bag and gently fell to the floor.
I thought of telling him, but something made me pick it up,
and put it into my jacket pocket. I heard the Forrest Gump
song playing in my head. I saw Tom Hanks sitting on his bus
stop bench as a feather floats randomly through the sky as
backdrop to the opening and closing credits of that movie. I
now hold that feather.

My feather is an object of beauty. It once belonged to a
creature who died in terror, victim to an invading spray of
pellets from a shotgun. One half of the feather is speckled,
shades of brown dots. The other half contains vertical
streaks of brown and black ending with reddish hues. At the
bottom of the feather, is a small tuft of fluffy, wispy,
cloud-like, soft, downy feathers.

I spoke Saturday morning to a passionate group of animal
rights activists in Ann Arbor. In the afternoon, the crowd
heard from Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society. Wayne is one
of my favorite speakers.

Wayne spoke of similar hunting preserves in the state of
Michigan. He praised the efforts of Julie Baker, founder of
a Michigan-based organization that seeks to ban the hunting
of doves.

Why do people hunt doves? These beautiful birds have been
revered as symbols of love and peace for over 6,000 years.
Hunters adore flying targets. They hunt doves in Michigan.

I hold a feather. They say that birds of a feather flock
together. Would you become a bird of my feather too? Support
the work of Julie Baker. Visit her website:

Let a bit of Julie Baker's passion rub off onto you as
gently as a feather falls in flight from the heavens to

I remember reading Thorton Wilder's "Bridge of San Luis
Rey." Forgive me if I misquote the passage, but as memory
serves me, Wilder wrote something that has stayed a part of

"Some people believe that God touches each feather from
every bird's wing..."

The feather was picked up by Forrest Gump, and put away for
safe keeping. I also rescued a feather, and have written
this column, and some good will come of it, I am certain.

Robert Cohen, author of:   MILK A-Z
Executive Director (
Dairy Education Board

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