The story of a lamb found two weeks ago in a wooden box on Bergenline Avenue in Union City played like a “What doesn’t belong here” game. A farm animal in an urban city? Sound the buzzer.
The story followed a similar event a week earlier when a resident of Troy Towers – also in Union City – called authorities because she found a baby goat walking in front in front of her building.
Goats and lambs all over the urban, densely populated city of Union City? What gives?
The Troy Towers resident said that a Latino family approached her when she was tending to the goat, trying to claim it and revealing that they bought it for religious reasons.
A 1993 Supreme Court ruling stated the animal sacrifice in Santeria worship is constitutional.
The location where the lamb was found, Panorama Live Poultry Market at 2408 Bergenline Ave., is exactly where, she believes, the baby goat was purchased. And the common theme uniting both incidents, she believes? The Afro-Cuban religion Santeria.
Bergenline: Thoroughfare or farm?
The lamb, found unattended in a wooden box on a sidewalk in front of 2408 Bergenline Ave. on March 21, shortly before midnight, was taken by police to headquarters and given food and water until animal control officers picked it up a day later.
Nobody claimed ownership, and nothing more was reported.
But the Troy Towers resident – who chose to remain nameless for this story – was reminded of her experience with the goat two weeks before. And she continued her quest to find answers in a hush-hush community.
Upon laying eyes upon the baby goat, she said, she “thought it was a dwarf goat because he was so beaten up.”
When the goat was later checked by a veterinarian, it was found to have two corneal ulcers, a respiratory infection, a big scrape down its nose, a brand, and an open wound where a clamp had been used on his ear to tag him.
According to the resident, a Hispanic family said they had bought the goat on Bergenline Avenue. First they told her that they intended to use him for food purposes.
“He was so small….a little bit bigger than a small Chihuahua,” the resident said, stating that she was leery about their claim. “There was no chance they were getting meat off him.”
The family later changed their tune, she said, citing religious reasons this time. So she turned them away. She contacted local police – who couldn’t take the animal – and then the animal humane organization ASPCA.
After finding a home for the goat on a friend’s rescue farm in Long Branch, she launched her own investigation.
She already knew about the Carribbean religion Santeria, which sometimes involves animal sacrifice and animal bones in its rituals. Piles of chicken bones have been found in different Hudson County communities at times because of the practice.
Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion – long regarded as secretive and underground – that originated in Cuba and spread to the United States and other nearby countries after the Cuban revolution in 1959.
When the Troy Towers resident was first looking for a place to live in Union City 11 years ago, she said, she opened up a closet in one place and found “a whole Santeria set-up.”
Union City is said to have the second largest Cuban population in America, after Miami. Latinos account for 84.7 percent and 78.1 percent of the populations of Union City and West New York, respectively.
Santeria is a “syncretic” religion, in that it incorporates elements of several faiths, including Yoruba and Roman Catholicism.
The Santeria faith teaches that God plans a destiny for each individual before his birth, and that an individual can only fulfill that destiny by building relationships with mortal spirits called “orishas” through various rituals.
One ritual central to the religion is animal sacrifice – of chickens, goats, sheep, pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, and turtles – as food for an “orisha.”
The number of Santeria followers is difficult to track, as the religion has no central organization and is practiced in private.
‘Do you sell goats?’
After finding the goat, the Troy Towers resident called a couple livestock places on Bergenline Avenue. An employee at one place responded that they did sell goats, and that they sold them for $12 dollars a pound for Santeria purposes. When she repeated his statement back to him, he hung up the phone, she said.
A follow-up phone call from this reporter yielded a response from a Panorama employee that they did not sell goats.
“[The live markets] are very quiet about [Santeria],” the resident said.
But is it legal?
Animals for sacrifice are killed in line with other religious methods for slaughter – by cutting the carotid arteries with a single knife stroke. After the ritual, the animals are then cooked and eaten by the worshippers, with the exception of health and death rites.
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that animal sacrifice in Santeria worship is constitutional.
In his decision, Justice Kennedy said: “The Santeria faith teaches that every individual has a destiny from God, a destiny fulfilled with the aid and energy of the orishas. The basis of the Santeria religion is the nurture of a personal relation with the orishas, and one of the principal forms of devotion is an animal sacrifice. According to Santeria teaching, the orishas are powerful but not immortal. They depend for survival on the sacrifice.”
The ASPCA’s official stance on animal sacrifice is: “The ASPCA respects religious beliefs and traditions, but does not believe that any religion supports cruelty to animals. Thus, the ASPCA is opposed to any practice in which animals are made to suffer in the name of religion or tradition.”
Bergenline Avenue also contains a live poultry market that was protested four months ago by an animal rights group called FAUN (see related story at www.hudsonreporter.com).
Deanna Cullen can be reached at email@example.com.