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Pardoned turkeys off to Disneyland

Courage and his alternate, Carolina, have been spared a 'terrible and delicious fate' by President Obama. Both birds will live out their days at the park.

November 26, 2009|By Alexander C. Hart
  • President Obama, with daughters Malia and Sasha, pardoned Courage the turkey (plus an alternate, Carolina). At left is Walter Pelletier of the National Turkey Federation, which donated the birds.
President Obama, with daughters Malia and Sasha, pardoned Courage the… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — One turkey will have plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving when he is gobbling about rather than being gobbled up.

He owes his good fortune to President Obama -- and daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8.

On Wednesday morning, Obama continued the tradition of pardoning a turkey by granting this year's lucky bird, named Courage, a reprieve from the dinner table.

"I am pleased to announce that thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha . . . Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate," announced Obama, the two girls standing by his side. He joked that otherwise he "was planning to eat this sucker."

The 45-pound bird, along with its alternate, named Carolina, were presents from the National Turkey Federation, which has made similar annual gifts to presidents since 1947. The custom of issuing a pardon began in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush, Obama said.

Originally from North Carolina, Courage and Carolina are now at Disneyland, where they will live out their days. Courage will serve as grand marshal in a Thanksgiving Day parade down the park's Main Street USA.

The two fowl received star treatment in Washington. They spent Tuesday night in the pricey Willard hotel, which also hosted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after that night's state dinner. And they flew to California in the first-class section.

From an early age, the birds had been taken to schools so they could become comfortable with people in preparation for their high-profile performance, said Eric Gonder, Courage's veterinarian.

"He's turned into a ham," Gonder said of Courage. "You point at him or make a noise that is a little unusual, he'll gobble."

But Courage's pardon left Gonder conflicted.

"He's a bird raised for meat consumption, so to me it somewhat suborns his purpose and existence by pardoning him," he said. "But if it gives people the opportunity to learn what turkeys are like, that's a good thing."

The event allowed the White House to show off its sense of humor. On Tuesday, the staff released a video with a turkey's-eye view of the walk from the White House gates to the Oval Office.

"Tomorrow, one turkey gets a second chance," intoned the narrator, spokesman Ben LaBolt. "Tomorrow . . . one turkey will be trotting a little prouder as he trots down these hallowed halls for an appointment with destiny."

The president himself used his address to crack a few jokes. Alluding to White House claims about the jobs created by the stimulus package, Obama quipped that he had "created or saved four turkeys."

"There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office," Obama added. "And then there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."

alex.hart@latimes.com

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