There’s no telling what will change someone’s life. Isabelle Cnudde claims a few chickens changed hers, taking her from a high-tech job to animal rescue to humane education to board game invention. It began with a desire for fresh eggs, and it was a process.
Isabelle and her husband Peter bought three egg-laying hens from a local farmer and set them up in the backyard of their home in the St. Francisco Bay Area. All went along happily until one day a hawk swooped down and killed one of the birds. After that jarring incident, Isabelle decided not only to better protect her chickens, but to replenish her flock.
After emigrating from France in 2000 as software engineers, the Cnuddes had adopted a dog and two cats, all of whom became loved and loving members of the household. Sushi, Sake, and Lallie together inspired Isabelle and Peter to become vegetarians, and also to wonder: If one can rescue dogs and cats, why not chickens?
Isabelle did a search for chicken rescue and discovered Animal Place, a nearby sanctuary which routinely rescued the “spent” chickens—those who had reached 18 months of age—from an industrial chicken farm before the owner gassed them and dumped them in a landfill. The sanctuary then put the birds up for adoption. This time, Isabelle was on hand to offer a few a new home in her backyard, and they were the chickens who gave her life a new direction.
Finding them intelligent, highly social, and friendly, she developed a warm relationship with them. But having lived all their lives in tiny battery cages, the birds seemed devoid of what are considered natural behaviors. “They’d chase a bug, but didn’t seem to know what to do with it,” Isabelle explained. “Picking at a blade of grass was obviously a ‘first’ for them. Sadly, just about everything in their new life was a ‘first.’”
And thus the world of RESCUE called Isabelle. She quit her job in Silicon Valley in 2014, and in 2016, opened up Clorofil—what she calls a “mini sanctuary”—in her backyard. Its size allowed her to rescue only a few more animals, but Isabelle was finally doing “something that mattered.” She had loved animals from girlhood on, but rescuing them now became her passion. Consistent with this new focus, she and Peter became vegans about this time.
Visitors to Clorofil noticed the behavioral oddities in her chickens, and this gave Isabelle the opportunity to describe the horrors of factory farming. She had walked in the industrial facility and had seen firsthand the chickens packed so tightly in cages that they couldn’t spread their wings. The high stress from such confinement plays out in aggression, so large featherless patches on many birds showed where they had been relentlessly pecked. To forestall some of the damage to the birds’ bodies, the owner had debeaked the baby chicks, without anesthesia, back when he acquired them. Explaining the blunted beaks and the hesitant actions of her sanctuary chickens gave Isabelle’s life another new focus: humane education.
The education begins with the name “Clorofil,” which is meant to elicit the life-enhancing pigment chlorophyll. While housing eight rescued chickens and two turkeys, plus one dog rescued from the South Korean dog meat trade, Clorifil’s greater mission is to educate the public about animal care, encourage farm animal rescue, and promote a plant-based lifestyle. Isabelle accomplishes this outreach wherever she can.
She speaks in schools, day camps, libraries, and community centers. She’s found that schools often have animal clubs and “green teams” devoted to environmental concerns, and they usually welcome outside speakers. She loves having a platform to teach young people about the impact our appetite for meat, dairy, and eggs has on our health and the degradation of the planet. In addition, she always stresses the importance of rescue.
This focus on humane education led Isabelle to yet another role—that of game creator. Realizing that kids learn best while having fun, she set about devising trivia questions about animals. And she didn’t devise a few, but more than two hundred, featuring “far-out facts” about dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, and cows. She incorporated the necessary component of competition, whereby players vied to be first to rescue one animal from each species or five from any one species. With colors on the question cards corresponding to the colors on a single die, she added a bit of randomness, and then tested the game with both children and adults. They loved it!
But it wasn’t yet a finished product. When fellow animal advocate and artist friend Mark Middleton saw the game in progress, he was impressed with its educational and entertainment scope. He wanted to help bring it to fruition, so he generously offered to illustrate the cards and game box free of charge. This was a boon for Isabelle, since she and Peter would be paying all publication costs. So with Mark’s help, “Rescued” was born.
It was released in July of 2020. It can be purchased for $25 from rescuedgame.org and also at many other animal sanctuaries, with all proceeds benefitting animal rescue and education nonprofits. California, as a state well-known for its compassionate laws regarding animal welfare, is home to many animal sanctuaries, and they are all close to Isabelle’s heart: they are doing the work she herself is so passionate about.
She claims that changing the minds and hearts of people about farm animals is usually difficult, whether in California or anywhere else. Together with Peter and her rescued backyard buddies, she’ll continue that work, because she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
What an inspiring story! Can’t imagine the dedication it takes, but am thrilled to know someone has that drive and ambition.