That’s all they’re good for (on shooting roosters)

These are words spoken by Al Carter, director of animal operations at Moore County animal control in Eagle Springs, North Carolina.

He's talking about 74 roosters "rescued" from a cockfighting bust. In lieu of contacting sanctuaries or rescue agencies to try and save even a couple of these roosters, animal control officers spent six hours shooting every bird in the head. A bullet to the head may be a quick death if done properly, though I can't see how that's possible with a frightened, squirming chicken. But imagine if these were 74 dogs from a puppy mill - would your response to a bullet to the brain be a little different? Would you be a little offended or appalled if an animal control director said that all puppy mill dogs are good for is a bullet to the head?

The killing of fightbust roosters isn't anything new. The reality is that roosters, in general, have a hard time finding good homes, let alone a rooster conditioned to fight other roosters. This is not to say that former fighting roosters are bloodthirsty monsters bent on world destruction - they aren't. Eastern Shore Sanctuary in Maryland has a long history of managing former fighting roosters in a free-roaming environment. Animal Place has one rooster from a fight bust and has successfully placed several others in permanent homes. A few even live with other roosters and coexist peacefully. We rescued 130 hens and chicks (roosters included) from a fighting operation back in 2007 - all have been placed, all are thriving.

I won't argue that all roosters from all fighting operations should be placed. That is not a feasible reality for shelters - they do not have the time, staff or resources to indefinitely hold large numbers of roosters until all find homes. And right now, there are not enough homes for roosters - people are limited by how much land they own as much as by their city/county ordinances that often prohibit male chickens while allowing hens. Roosters who are far too human aggressive would only do well in homes with limited human interaction, too big of a request for most homes.

What I am arguing is simple: roosters from fight busts should be individually evaluated. They should be held for the same period as any other animal. Every reasonable effort should be made to contact rescues, sanctuaries and potential homes to place these birds. When those reasonable efforts fail, roosters should be humanely euthanized in the same manner as any dog or cat at most shelters, with euthanasia solution. They should not be shot in the head, they should not be painted as violently dangerous creatures, nor should they be treated as a flock. All roosters are individuals with their own personalities, quirks and temperaments. I remember helping to net hens at a fighting operation. A couple of roosters had been missed the first time around by animal control. One rooster was so friendly, I could pick him up without problem. The other was so frightened by all the commotion, that he fought tooth and nail to get away from me (and he pecked me once I caught him). Both were fighters, both had been forced to endure the bloody pit, but both were not the same. I'm certain many of you have companion dogs, cats, birds or rabbits - you know that your companions are not the same, the same is true of chickens.

It's time we shifted our perception of animals from fight busts. They are not the vicious animals some have painted them to be - they are all individuals, some with a greater ability to overcome their past than others. All should be given the same, fair treatment we expect for puppy mill dogs or for neglect/hoarding cases or, you know, for almost every dog and cat that enters a shelter. It should not matter if they are a certain breed or a different species. A chicken's ability to learn behavior isn't dramatically different from a dog's - you can clicker train chickens to learn new behaviors, though it's doubtful you'd ever be able to housetrain a chicken. :) Certainly a chicken's ability to feel pain or enjoy life is no different than a dog or a cat. Roosters deserve that small chance at a loving home too.

Animal Place Widget!

I spy: The importance of observation

I’m Abby, the sanctuary supervisor at Animal Place. Believe it our not, this is my first blog entry ever. I hope to give you insight into what happens at the sanctuary. Please enjoy! I’m looking forward to sharing with you different aspects of working with the animals at the sanctuary.


It’s noon and I notice Nick, the steer, lazily chewing his cud in stall 3. As I pass, I glance over and smile at his comfortable spot in a large bed of straw. I’m off to run errands and when I return a couple hours later, Nick’s still in stall 3, still chewing his cud. Everything seems fine except for one thing; he’s not with Howie and Sadie, the other cattle. The cattle are always together, grazing the hillside or napping in the fields. It seems minor, but the separation could be the first indication of a problem.

It was only a few weeks ago that Nick battled pneumonia. Nick missed out on immunity-building colostrum from his mom. As a male dairy calf, he was considered useless by the farmer and, at a day of age, sent to auction. We rescued him after animal control confiscated him from an apartment complex (he was tied up with only hay for food). Knowing his history (pneumonia, a bad start early in life) and seeing him away from the other cattle got me a little concerned.

His temperature is pretty normal and he is breathing okay. I ask animal care staff how Nick has been acting. They noted he hadn’t moved from his spot. Our plan is to monitor his appetite, attitude, and temp the next couple days for changes and give the vet a call if things worsen.

Working at a sanctuary with the animals everyday gives me otherwise unseen insight into individual personalities and behaviors. In just the same way I know my cat Miles waits by the door to bolt when it’s opened, I know Etta, the sheep, loves to have her back scratched but hates her head touched. I know Peggy Sue, the pig, likes to eat breakfast in stall 5 with the cushy rubber stall pads instead of adjacent stalls 3 and 7 that have cement. Mindy, the turkey likes to wait in the doorway every morning for us to put her ramp in place so she doesn’t have to hop out and land on her arthritic legs.

Knowing Nick and how much he loves to track right behind the older cattle threw up a yellow flag that something might be off. The sanctuary animal care staff spend hours feeding and cleaning each day, but it’s not just a mechanical process. We watch the animals and notice when a hen seems a little off, if a goat took a little longer to make it to breakfast, or if pig seems to be lying down or standing up more. These observations are an integral part of my work (and all animal care staff) at the sanctuary. It can mean the difference between life and death for an animal.

At the end of my long day, I stop by and check in on Nick who’s still hanging out in stall 3. Maybe it’s just one of those days when stall 3 is a lot more attractive than grazing, because his temperature is normal, he’s alert and he’s giving me a look that says “what do you want?” So I leave him be, head to my apartment, body block Miles from his great escape and plan the rounds and health checks for the next day. It’s hard work but so fulfilling.

Heart shaped rooster

Last Friday, I drove down to Salinas to meet up with an animal control officer and 18 roosters. Yes, eighteen. The roosters had been living in rabbit cages for the past 1.5 years. It was a hard sell, but I found homes for all the roosters including at Animal Place.

Roosters are one of the hardest animals to place. It is easier to place full-sized production pigs than it is a 2lb bantam rooster. Which is sad, because I happen to think chickens and roosters, specifically, are some of the coolest animals. They are tough to place because they are talkative and often prohibited in urban areas. People buy these cute day-old chicks thinking that they are getting hens, that somehow the folks at Hatchery R'Us knows how to properly sex their birds.

The truth is that sexing baby chicks is an art, not a science. Estimates on accuracy range from a measly 30% to 85%*Those aren't the best of odds. We suggest that, if you want chickens, to please adopt them from your local shelter or sanctuary. If that is not possible, consider asking people who have chickens if they have any available for adoption or if they know of anyone who is rehoming their birds.

*With a caveat that professional sexers in the egg-laying industry, with months-years of experience, can have an accuracy of up to 95%.

Study: Red meat contributes to risk of early death

A large, federally funded study points to red meat as a potential risk elevator of an early death. The study consisted of more than 500,000 Americans aged 50-71. During the ten year trial period, approximately 70,000 participants died. Researchers eliminated confounding variables and found that those who consumed the most red meat were at a higher risk of dying, no matter the reason.

While experts stressed the findings didn't mean people should become vegetarian, we think people should! Study after study highlights the risks of consuming meat, dairy and eggs. Economic studies point to the monetary price paid for a diet high in animal products. While most researchers conclude that moderate consumption of meat, dairy and eggs is okay, rarely do they conclude that an excess of fruits and vegetables is a bad thing.

So why not cut the stuff out that increases health risks and focus on the foods that are optimal for human health? You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

BOCA to stop using eggs

BOCA has agreed to stop using eggs in their products by the end of 2009 thanks to the efforts of Compassion Over Killing, Animal Protection and Rescue League and Mercy for Animals. Animal Place was proud to support and promote this campaign and is happy to see it's success actualized.

A company spokesperson emailed COK yesterday:

…I am pleased to let you know the BOCA brand will be eliminating eggs in all of its products by the end of this year. We anticipate all BOCA products will be egg free in 2010.

Please thank BOCA for taking this compassionate step to reduce the suffering of the hundreds of millions of hens in the egg-laying industry. You can email them:

California legislation to protect dairy cows

There is a little known practice in the dairy industry that we hope will be eliminated from California dairy farms soon - tail docking.

The amputation of a cow's tail is a painful and unnecessary procedure done without the benefit of analgesics or anesthesia.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners all oppose tail docking as a management practice. The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the UK have banned the practice altogether.

And now there is a bill before the California legislature that would ban this cruel practice in the state. SB 135 authored by Senator Dean Florez would prohibit the docking of cattle in California. As the #1 dairy state with nearly two million cows, this bill is an important piece of legislation for improving animal welfare.

If you live in California, take a moment to write a letter of support and thanks to Senator Florez for introducing this bill. When the bill is assigned a committee date, we will ask you to write committee members as well.

Please send letters to:
The Honorable Dean Florez
State Capitol, Room 313
Sacramento, CA 94248-0001

Animal Place is proud to support this bill. Sadie (pictured above) is a former dairy cow with a docked tail. During the fly season (spring, summer and fall), she has a difficult time protecting herself from the biting insects. Supporters of tail docking claims tail docking reduces udder hygience, increasing the chances for mastitis yet Sadie arrived at the sanctuary with a horrible case of mastitis that took 2-years to heal.

For more information on tail docking, see below:

About Cattle Tail Docking

What it is: The amputation of up to 2/3 of dairy cow's tail.
When it is performed: When cows are either 20-22 months old prior to their first calf or after weaning when they are 6-8 weeks old.
How it is done: The common practice is to use a rubber ring. This reduces the oxygen supply, causing atrophy and the tail will fall off within a week. On calves, a hot cauterizing knife is used to remove the tail.
Why it is performed: Supporters claim it reduces the risk of mastitis and increases udder cleanliness. It improves worker convenience in certain milking parlors where the worker must milk the cow from behind. A University of British Columbia study showed no difference in udder cleanliness between docked and undocked cows. Literature reviews show an increased fly count on rear legs of docked cows versus undocked cows and no reduction in the somatic cell count in milk from docked cows, showing no improved milk quality. According to Dairy Care Practices: Animal Care Series, Dairy Workgroup at UC Davis, "No data have been published to support the claims of improved milker comfort and health or better udder hygiene and milk quality (e.g. lower somatic cell counts) in cows with docked tails. "
How common the practice is
: Between 50.5 - 80% of dairy farmers tail dock some of their dairy cows. Approximately 15% of dairy farmers tail dock their entire herds.

We hope you will take the time to write a letter of support of SB 135 and help improve the welfare of California's dairy cows.

-Marji Beach, Education Coordinator

Downer Loophole Finally Closed

The US government closed a loophole that permitted slaughtered downed cows into the human food chain.

The loophole allowed cows who went down after inspection to be dragged unceremoniously to the kill floor. There is no kind way to move a recumbent 1,300 lb cow so that she is conscious and close to walking when she gets to the actual site of her death.

Now the loophole has been closed to prevent potentially diseased animals from being fed to people. That is not to say that downed cows aren't going to be slaughtered - they will. They just are not (theoretically) going to end up in the human food chain.

Decrease your cow milk and cheese consumption and increase your consumption of alternatives milks, like soy milk, almond milk or rice milk. Many are fortified with vitamins to boost their already nutritious value. Because no matter how you cut it, the end result for almost every single dairy cow is the slaughterhouse, where she will be killed at the young age of four or five. Sadie, a former dairy cow, at Animal Place is turning eleven this month. She has many more years of life to live and she deserves to live them as much as a companion dog or cat.

Mr. Owen looking cool

Cutting meat consumption cuts climate change costs

Think that even reducing meat consumption won't make a dent on climate change? Think again! A recent study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that simply reducing meat and egg intake could cut the costs of fighting climate change by 20 trillion dollars, a reduction of 50%!

March Sanctuary Birthdays!!

It's the first installment of the Who's Having a Mooday at the sanctuary event!

I'm your host, Copper. I am an expert on birthdays having had three of my own. I like to keep track of the birthday scoop at the sanctuary because it keeps my mind sharp.

Anyway, on to the March Lineup - you can check out a picture of these awesome critters by clicking on their name.

This month, Sadie turns eleven! The bovine matriarch arrived at Animal Place June of 2005 after spending her early years as a dairy cow. Dairy cows are tragically killed when they're only 4-6 years of age even though they can live much, much longer. Sadie is a big proponent of soy and almond milk but her favorite fruit is the apple. Personally, I like grapes but Sadie's nose is twice as big as me, so I bow to her expertise.

Bruce, the most handsome of red pigs with spots (he's the only one, shh don't tell him!) is turning ten! His story is tragic; in January of 2004, Animal Place staff discovered him starving on a piece of property. He was literally a skeleton with a hide draped over. Now a good, healthy weight, Bruce prefers porcine company to human - I can't say I blame him. I prefer Stella the leghorn's company to Willow the turkeys (mainly because she tries to peck my beautiful head, how rude!)

In ovine (clucktionary word of the day!) news, Etta turns 9 and Virginia turns 8. Sanctuary staff are guessing on their ages, seeing how they spent their formative years elsewhere. Both of these sheep came from, get this, a slaughterhouse! I didn't know those things were still around! These days, the two ladies (and Virginia's rascally lamb, Leonard) spend their time munching on grass in their favorite pasture and completely ignoring me. Which is rude, of course, but I understand the allure of green grass very well, so I forgive them.

Susie pig will be turning 8! She's hugely popular at tours, because she's a smooth operator. Kids and adults alike love her for her charming personality. She came to the sanctuary as a young thing with her sister Valerie - they had been used in research when the researcher fell in love with them and didn't want to see them killed. Duh!

Finally, Nate is turning three. This young upstart arrived at the sanctuary in 2008 after his caregiver threatened to shoot him and eat him for jumping the fence! Appalling human behavior, I know. In a big hullabaloo (clucktionary word of the 2nd day), Nate ousted Willy as top goat. It was actually an uneventful affair in which all the goats mutually agreed that Nate should be their new leader. I had been looking forward to an epic goat head butting battle, but my Sunday afternoon plans were thwarted by the couplet-level transfer of power.

Wishing all you March b-days a happy day of birth. Eat lots of grapes. I will on your behalf!

To the rest of you, see you in April!

Animal Spotlight: Killer

Killer is a tiny dutch bantam with a big personality. Though he is the least dominant rooster, he is the toughest with people. He'll sidle up to you, peck at the dirt, feigning nonchalance, and then bam! kick you in the shin (or ankle). On tours, we have to pick him up so he can't attack visitors. He's a real hoot.

Overfishing destroying our oceans

70% of the world's fisheries are now targeting "prey" species of fish, because of the degradation of the larger, predatory fish populations from, yes, fishing.

Unable to keep up with human greed, prey fish populations are beginning to decline. And as they decline, so does the health of the sea lions and tuna and salmon - the animals who rely on smaller "prey" fish to survive. Whales may also be affected, losing valuable feed resources and becoming unable to survive their migrations.

As it stands, 80% of all marine fish stocks are fully exploited or depleted or desperately trying to recover from significant losses caused by fishing.

There are serious repercussions of humanity's lust for more and unfortunately the ocean's inhabitants are the latest victims.

It isn't hard to help: Stop eating fish. Get your Omega-3's from flaxseed oil, not fish oil. Choose a sustainable diet that gazes upon a future where fish still swim in the ocean and humans do a better job of coexisting with nature. It's only possible if we change our own behavior now.

A side of power peas and x-ray carrots, please

Susie pig here is not as picky as most kids when it comes to fruits and veggies. Nevertheless, we did tell her she was eating apocalypse apples and lightning fast lettuce.

Apparently this works well with children too - kids who are told their carrots are x-ray capable or that they're eating tomato bursts! are more likely to eat their veggies.

This makes sense, spicing up the idea of our food can make the drab seem a lot more appetizing. I like chocolate cupcakes, but a Triple Deluxe Choco-extravaganza cupcake with Cocoa-mousse icing sounds a little more mouth-watering!