Leaving Cle Elum. Never Again

Posted by April Nockleby, ALDF's Online Content Manager on March 20, 2009

A first for both of them, Joyce Tischler, ALDF’s founder and general counsel, and Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel, recently visited Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW), a facility that provides lifetime quality care for formerly abused and exploited chimpanzees.

In a special two-part series, read about Joyce’s and Bruce’s visits to this exceptional sanctuary and their experiences with seven rescued chimpanzees, the “Cle Elum Seven.”

My First visit to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Cle Elum, WA

by Joyce Tischler, ALDF’s founder and general counsel

Leaving Cle Elum. Never Again
by Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s chief outside litigation counsel

Leaving Cle Elum. Never Again

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
(CSNW) is the paradise that I have had the honor and privilege of taking part in, from a series of angles and relationships. You are invited to read about my first trip to visit the Cle Elum Seven, the chimpanzees who have made the incredible journey from as many as thirty years of torture in a small dark barren cage (no blankets, no toys, nothing to interest them at all) to the gift of Sanctuary, in every sense of the word. Finally and forever, they are safe.

Here are a few touching examples, just from my two short days there, to elaborate, explain, get you closer.

Jody in a nest of blanketsJamie is in her thirties and we know she was abused in a circus setting before being sent to be tortured in the research facility. She is both tough and extremely smart and, well, “proper.” The Sanctuary staff fill the playroom during the day with all sorts of great stuff for them to play with, from kids’ tables and chairs to blankets and dolls and magazines and things like plastic containers from orange juice and that kind of thing. There are nozzles coming out of the wall that they can push and get water. I watched the following scene on Saturday: Jamie first made herself a little nest of about three blankets, arranging them around herself and under her, so that she had a nice cushion, but not just a comfortable padding, but one that looked nice. She spends more time making her nest than I do getting ready for work – really. Once that was done, she got up and went to the nozzle, and carefully filled her cup with water, then brought it back to the blanket nest. She sat down, carefully put the cup down. She then reached over and picked up an empty half-gallon Tropicana container. The lid was on, so she unscrewed it. Picking up the cup next, she carefully poured the water from the cup into the container. Now please be aware that again she bested me because I would have spilled the water all over me trying to do that. She shook the water around in the juice container a bit, then slowly drank from the container until it was empty. Then did it again, went to the nozzle, filled the cup, came back, sat down, filled the Tropicana container, shook it, drank from it. When she was done she examined the container to be sure it was empty, then dropped it on the floor. (The only thing Jamie and I have in common in that event cycle is throwing the container on the floor when we are done.)

Negra covers her head with a blanket.Negra is the oldest of the bunch. Beautiful, serene, reserved, moving gracefully and like royalty. But she also cherishes her rest and knows just what she wants. Yesterday morning when we came in, she was in her regular night spot, on a raised sleeping shelf in one of the rooms. Two blankets under her, one over her lower body and one over her head – with just her face sticking out. (Also just like me.) Now this is after we have come in, and they all know breakfast is soon, everyone is pretty excited. But just like some of you probably like to sleep more than me, Negra likes to sleep more than everyone. And so despite the activity, she was lying up there with a look on her face that said, “could you keep it down?” or “can’t I just sleep a little while longer?” Then, last night, as I was leaving, we walked by the same room, where she was making her bed up again. (All new blankets, since everything is cleaned and washed everyday.)  And when I saw her last she had arranged two or three blankets in her loft, but realized she did not have enough, and so she had climbed down, gone into the other room, grabbed another two blankets, and was ascending to her perch again with some more bedding as I said goodbye.

Okay, one more story. The staff prepares and cooks the chimpanzees three meals each day, with snacks sometimes in between. Now I spend a fair amount of time feeding myself and the eight kids we have at home (all with tails of course), but this is different by an avalanche. We are talking about cooking, sometimes pasta primavera, or rice with tofu and apples and bananas, a smoothie to start every morning, stir fries, sandwiches, inventive stuff. There’s a vegan cookbook on the counter for ideas. Someone gets the job/joy of preparing each meal; there’s consensus and suggestion and lots of knowledge that goes into every meal, taking into consideration their needs and their likes and their desires, as well as the druthers of the chef du jour. For lunch on Saturday I decided on some fancy oatmeal with raisins and apples and some other fruit. I made it, we cooled the big pot full of oatmeal in the snow, and then put it into cups for them. Deborah handed out the cups to everyone and after that I went in to watch them eat. Jamie settled down on the floor, reclining on her side ready to eat, then she realized something. She made a motioning sign to us and Sarah, CSNW’s executive director, told Deborah, “she wants a spoon.”  Sure enough, Deborah handed her a spoon and Jamie sat there for about the next five or ten minutes, slowly eating from each cup, carefully getting just enough on the spoon, until each one had been finished and scraped clean with the spoon.

Jamie hangs out in a tutu.Oh yeah, two more quick Jamie stories. (Each one of the seven has good stories, these Jamie ones are just coming to mind.) On multiple occasions, Jamie will wipe her eyes or nose, and then signal to you. The caregivers will then hand her a paper towel or a tissue. No lies here, no exaggeration. Jamie would then wipe her nose or eyes with the tissue or paper towel and carry it around for hours, and regularly, like any proper lady, dab at her eyes and nose again. If she had on a dress, she would have tucked it in the sleeve. Hey, don’t laugh.

Last one – so we leave Saturday night, everybody is there, naked as a chimpanzee of course. When we came in Sunday, Jamie greeted us wearing a red miniskirt and carrying a black purse. I’m not making this up! They were both part of the “enrichment” we left for them to play with. But Jamie knows what to do with it. She was looking pretty cute, too…

Finally, the video. This may just look like Deborah and a chimpanzee doing some silly goofing around. It’s understandable if that is what it looks like – to the untrained eye (include mine) the language of Chimpanzee is no more discernible than any other language we do not understand – even harder to understand, in fact, because they are masters of both subtlety and simple statements. They may not have a spoken language we understand, but their communication skills are as complete and adept as ours. So in the video, you see Deborah with Foxie, first engaging in play behavior, greeting her and then Foxie indicating great glee with her. But then, the moments, two or three of them, that to you just probably seem like silly gestures – the kisses. These are magical, these are rare and they are saved only for very special people. The term “special people” there is in the eyes of Foxie, not me or you or anyone else. And just to be clear again, I won’t get the opportunity to be kissed, that is saved for those who spend days and days with them, caring for them. But even then, the kisses are special moments. They are the chimpanzees saying, “I accept you. I forgive you for being human. I love you for saving me from that hell and bringing me here where I can finally smile, where no one comes to hurt me, where I can see the sun shine and the sky.”

The title of this piece (“Leaving Cle Elum. Never Again.”) are the first words I thought when I woke up the next morning in Seattle after leaving Cle Elum. I remembered telling Sarah over the six months since the chimpanzees arrived, mainly in jest, but with knowledge of my inner machine, that I was avoiding my first trip to Cle Elum because I knew that I would be so balled up with yet another set of animal connections in this already overfilled head and heart, and I wanted to put it off as long as possible. How, I thought, can I go there and look them in the eye and feel anything but ashamed at being a member of my species, who had done to them things I could never accept, things that make me vomit and cry and rage, and had done them not once, not twice, but for decades, tens and tens of years, tens of thousands of days, millions of minutes of pain and torture and deprivation and denial, the cruelest of the cruel. And how, I thought, could I go there and not just want to move there, to be able to see them everyday, to get to know them, to do everything I could to heal the wounds, to make amends for my species, to provide whatever solace I could to them forever? I know me, and how, I thought, could I ever leave them once we met?

And now I live forever, and forever lives with me, the excited 26-year-old eyes of Burrito, the inquisitive knowledge of Jamie, the utter love of Foxie, the uncertain faith of Missy, the serene wisdom of Negra, the knowing gaze of Annie, and the knowing adjudication of Jody. I will see them from time to time in the flesh, and they may live outlive me or me they, but, to quote a prophet, no more shall we part.

All images and video courtesy of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.

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