“When we torture, we are departing downward from humanity.” —Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Jeannie had the most beautiful eyes, and when Jeannie looked into my eyes for the very first time, she reached into my soul and found all that is good and kind in me. She managed to bring that goodness into the light, and forever changed me with her glance.
Jeannie will be forever remembered in our hearts. Her story is one of deep suffering and loss. What Jeannie experienced was a loss of spirit and hope, which lead to her nearly losing her mind. Jeannie represents all those dear souls in research laboratories who snap; those who one day, simply can’t take it anymore.
Jeannie like many individuals who cannot find the strength to continue each day, to endure the rigors of the daily routine and the brutal research protocols, would rather hurt herself or curl up in a ball than face the world. She was so traumatized and so sad that she almost went insane and had to be pulled from the studies and “warehoused,” possibly for decades.
She was unable to tolerate or accept the living conditions in the lab and was chosen to go into Sanctuary as a way of preserving what was left of her. She desperately needed to have it over. While Jeannie was in the laboratory she was reactive, had outbursts, suffered from depression, self-mutilation, fear and anxiety that was triggered by the slightest change, or by an image, a person, or sounds.
Everything scared her and not much comforted or consoled her. She was gone, deep in despair, her world so out of control that she too was out of control. It was difficult to witness…to watch and feel her energy as she built up into a full meltdown.
What I saw on the first day I met Jeannie probably changed me for the rest of my life. I witnessed Jeannie in fear. To be near Jeannie when she was losing control was absolutely horrible. When she saw or heard something that would upset her, it would trigger a response that was so intense, she lost control. Her hair would stand up, her posture would change, her beautiful, kind eyes would tighten, her sweet face distort as she screamed and her mouth would begin to salivate. Her eyes would roll right back in her head and she was completely out of control and unreachable.
Her body would give off an intense odor as she would spin and spin around, each time her arm and hand flailing up in the air hitting the cage with such intensity one would think she would break them. But no, it was part of the ritual…once her episodes began, it was impossible to interrupt or stop them. She was so gone it was as though she could not feel the pain. One could only wait until the episodes were done and hope that it did not escalate into self-abuse. She might slap herself in the face and attack herself with her own hands, only to bite down on her fingers as though they were not hers, until she drew blood.
These horrible episodes made her bleed and drained her, exhausting her so much she would sleep for hours afterwards. These memories are still so vivid, the smells still in my brain and her pain always deeply embedded in my heart.
There are just so many dear souls whose days are exactly the same as Jeannie’s were. Those whose stress levels are so elevated they cannot cope and whose trauma and suffering are equal to Jeannie’s. It is for them that Jeannie’s story must be told.
Jeannie suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and research shows that many chimpanzees in research today are also suffering from this. Each is now entitled to have it end. Their suffering needs to be acknowledged and they need our help. Jeannie’s story needs to be told so the many chimpanzees in research suffering from PTSD are released as soon as possible. They need to be in a safe place and out of the protocols and rigors of lab life.
Once a chimpanzee gets a chance in a new environment they thrive. They can rest, they can be at peace and they can get better. Jeannie got better. She had long periods where she did not break down and the intensity of her episodes reduced greatly. She learned to tolerate friends for short periods of time and even seemed to look forward to visits from her chimpanzee family. She regained a life and found a purpose, but most of all, she was hopeful. She had something to look forward to each day, she enjoyed time with friends and had a secluded and protected environment in which she thrived. She loved the light rain on her face, she loved the soft smooth floor to lie down on, she loved hot tea, she enjoyed being touched and loved to hold my hand. But most of all she was happy to be around those she cared about. She touched and was touched.
Every chimpanzee in research deserves the same chance Jeannie had. Every chimpanzee in research needs to be free of the pain and the trauma of lab life. No living being should ever have to endure what Jeannie and those like her endure. It’s a lifestyle that destroys the mind, the body and the soul. It is so unnecessary and so wrong. Not one chimpanzee should ever have to live like this…
So remember Jeannie and do something now to help others like her still in research. They need your help. Make a difference in a life today. You will never regret it.