Marji Beach: Why is Animal Place being blamed for someone else’s neglect?
In November, Nevada County Animal Control asked for help.
Several individuals (including one of our staff members) called regarding a piglet and sickly chickens at Simply Country feed store. Animal Control investigated and decided they had cause to take custody of 360 chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and peafowl. The piglet was brought to our sanctuary.
Animal Place tries to work with Animal Control. When it comes to farmed animals, enforcing our state’s anti-cruelty laws is rare. When we were asked to house and care for these sickly animals, we said yes, despite the burden this would add to our care-giving team.
We were then put in the untenable situation of handling ill animals, dealing with high death rates, and enduring an unusually hostile environment. Members of our community have decided we are at fault for the actions of Nevada County Animal Control and, more importantly, that Simply Country bears no responsibility for the conditions of these birds.
Let’s be clear — 127 chickens have died or had to be euthanized due to untreated illness, malnourishment, and exceedingly high (treatable) parasite loads. That is a 35 percent mortality rate from a flock of 360. That is not normal, on any farm.
We are the only rescue in the nation that regularly rescues around 4,000 chickens from egg farms annually. We are intimately familiar with caring for birds from difficult backgrounds. And yet, we have never seen a mortality rate this high.
After appropriate antibiotic and anti-parasite treatment, the remaining birds are in varying degrees of health and must now undergo extensive testing to ensure they are safe and healthy enough to be with other birds, either as part of our adoption program or in our permanent flock. As we took legal custody of the birds, all costs of testing and treating fall on our shoulders — financially and emotionally.
This is not a case of a few birds being sick. This is not a matter of difference in personal opinion when it comes to one’s food choices. We know chickens, and we know what is and is not good care of birds. This is a case of hundreds of birds with severe diseases being sold for to unaware consumers. Anyone who purchased a bird from Simply Country should know that their birds could have been exposed to infectious bronchitis virus, infectious laryngotracheitis virus, coccidia, and two strains of mycoplasma at the feed store.
Nicholas Chittock is clearly a beloved member of this community. We appreciate that. There is no harboring of ill will toward Mr. Chittock. And, contrary to what some of his supporters might believe, we do not have any meaningful sway, connection, or control over what Animal Control or the District Attorney does. At the same time, we believe Mr. Chittock should be held accountable for the condition of these animals.
While we know it is unlikely, we would love to see the end of selling live animals at feed stores so that this never happens again. Simply Country provides a valuable asset to the community and its owner has shown himself to be charitable (e.g. donations made during the fires), but that does not exclude him or anyone else from being held responsible for failure to provide proper care to animals.
If these had been dogs in similar conditions, no one would blame the rescue for taking the needy animals in to be provided proper care. Likely no one would blame the rescue for trying to advocate on behalf of the dogs.
And while many see chickens as “food,” they are individual animals with the ability to suffer and feel pain, and their mistreatment and neglect deserves consideration as well.
Marji Beach lives in Grass Valley.
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