WASHINGTON — With Vice President Dick Cheney at his side, President Bush pardoned two Thanksgiving turkeys, Marshmallow and Yam, on Tuesday and sent them off first class on a United Airlines flight to live out their lives at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
In previous years, the pardoned birds were sent to Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., where many died within months.
"This year is going to be a little different," Bush said, before a handler wrestled the flapping 37-pound Marshmallow to the stage in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "Marshmallow and Yam were a little skeptical about going to a place called Frying Pan Park. I don't blame them."
After the bird had settled down, Bush cautiously stroked its white feathers, patted its head and invited a group of schoolchildren to the stage to do the same. Cheney, who has never been known as a lively campaigner, hung back in a corner of the stage and approached neither the turkey nor the children.
The other turkey, Yam, the alternate, was not on the premises. "He's in a pickup truck hanging out by the South Lawn," Bush said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has been pressuring the White House for years to stop sending turkeys to Frying Pan Park, claimed credit for the switch to Disneyland. A spokesman for the organization, Bruce Friedrich, said the birds were kept in a small enclosure at Frying Pan Park and looked lonely and neglected when he visited them there several times a year.
"It doesn't make any sense at all that the leader of the free world pardons two birds and then sends them to a life of squalor," Friedrich said. "It's hard to argue with Disneyland."
Joel Brandenberger, a spokesman and lobbyist for the National Turkey Federation, which handles the pardoned birds, said the animal rights group had nothing to do with the decision to send the birds to Disneyland, "and if they think they did, they're absolutely delusional."
Brandenberger said Frying Pan Park had always treated the pardoned turkeys well, but Marshmallow and Yam were sent to Disneyland because it had asked for the turkeys this year to help celebrate its 50th anniversary.
On Thursday, the birds will be grand marshals in the Disneyland Thanksgiving Day parade and will then live in an enclosure in Frontierland, near the entrance to Santa's Reindeer Roundup, called Big Thunder Ranch the rest of the year. The birds, in cages, traveled first class to California, Brandenberger said, because Disney and turkey executives took up an entire United first-class cabin.
Shortly after granting the pardons, Bush left on Air Force One for a Thanksgiving holiday at his Texas ranch.