Animal Rights Activism
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Moo-ving people toward compassionate living

Animal Rights Leaders

Mary Britton Clouse

By Kelley Diekman,

In honor of International Chicken Day (May 4), Mary Britton Clouse, founder of Chicken Run Rescue of Minneapolis agreed to talk to the Examiner about her organization.

A shift in critical thought about who is "food" and who is "friend" could mean a less violent world for the chickens and other animals trapped in a food production hell hidden from view

What kind of environments are the chickens you rescue coming from?

The stories are limited only by the cruelty and indifference of the human imagination. Every year, domestic fowl, mostly chickens, are impounded by Minneapolis Animal Care & Control and 5 Metro Area humane societies. These birds are victims of neglect, abuse and abandonment, used for eggs, slaughter, fighting, ritual sacrifice, "nature lessons” or discarded after a hobby no longer holds interest.

We make it our mission to document as much as possible about what kind of trauma the birds have been through- some come with ropes tied on their legs, many with injuries from frostbite, abuse, neglect or mishandling. Most are simply left at the area shelter doors. Each bird's story is told in their adoption bios at our Petfinders website and our FaceBook album, "Looking for Love".

One recent rescue, Andrea, was running loose and terrified in a parking ramp at 11th and Marquette in downtown Minneapolis. She is a White Leghorn, a common breed used in commercial egg laying operations. Her feet have been badly mangled by the wire cage she lived in before being discarded at the ripe old age of 18 months when her daily egg laying began to decline. We figure she had been thrown into a car trunk, destined to be killed in someone's backyard, garage or basement. How lucky she escaped.

Other discarded laying hens have arrived with plastic blinders wired into their nostrils, found in Metro Area parks notorious for after hours dog fighting activity. The blinded hens are used to train and excite the bloodlust of the dogs.

We have two hens, Bea and Hilary, who were used for breeding in a cockfighting operation and seized in a bust.

Our little Coraline was left in a cardboard box by her "Other Mother" at the door of Minneapolis Animal Care and Control on a 20 degree below zero night.

Two of our newest rescues, Buster Brown and Capezio, were left in a barren wire cage with putrified food and no water- set by a curb with the garbage for days.

Luckilee was a black sexlink hen who escaped from a slaughterhouse in South St. Paul.

Many have been discarded after classroom hatching projects or other school related schemes. In 2008, 106 baby roosters were sold by a hatchery to be killed in a biology class and subsequently stolen by pranksters and dumped on a highway in Winona on a frigid night.

Most of the roosters who come to us have simply been abandoned at shelters or turned loose in neighborhoods or City parks to fend for themselves. They are usually about 5 months old- the age when their sex becomes apparent by the crowing and physical development.

We recently received a report of a rooster tied to a bicycle wheel with no food or shelter for at least 5 days. He should have been seized by authorities but was not and has now vanished. We wish we could have helped him.

Little Dana was a 1 week old Leghorn chick abandoned at a garage sale in South Minneapolis.

Five hens were seized from an ill conceived "houseboat" adventure on the Mississippi under the Lowry Bridge last summer.

We used to average about 30 surrender inquiries a year. We just topped 359 inquiries since April 2009. The increased interest in backyard flocks has created an epidemic of unwanted chickens and other species abandoned, seized or surrendered to animal sanctuaries and shelters. We place as many of these unwanted birds as possible but cannot help them all.

What exactly does Chicken Run Rescue do?

After their release from impound, Chicken Run provides the birds with love, shelter and vet care, locates and screens adopters within 90 miles of the Twin Cities and transports the birds to their new homes. Chicken Run Rescue is the only urban chicken rescue of its kind and receives no support from any other organizations, institutions or agencies.

How did you first become interested in helping chickens?

A 2001 cockfighting bust left 7 roosters slated for death at the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control facility. Despite being exhaustively involved in dog and cat rescue for many years, we were completely ignorant about the presence of chickens in the city and the lack of anyone who would help them. My husband and I decided to walk the walk and offered to try to find homes for them. Neither of us had ever held a chicken before. Every chicken impounded by Minneapolis Animal Control and local humane societies since then has found sanctuary in our home. We've made a commitment to concentrate our activism on animals used in agriculture and fate had placed the most exploited and abused of them at our inner city doorstep.

What kind of homes do you try to find for the chickens that are rescued?

People who will love them and respect them they way they would their dog or cat. Our TERMS FOR ADOPTION stipulate that:

  • The bird will not to be used for slaughter, breeding, fighting or exhibit.
  • The bird will be adopted as a companion bird not a production bird (ie.?eggs-for-profit or breeding)
  • The bird is to be provided proper care including food, water, shelter, protection from predators, fresh air and exercise, companionship and veterinary care for injury or illness as for any other companion animal.
  • The Adopter will allow Chicken Run Rescue to examine or make inquiries at any time.?If health and well-being is being jeopardized the bird will be returned to Chicken Run Rescue immediately.
  • If the Adopter is no longer able to keep the bird for any reason, the bird is to be returned to Chicken Run Rescue.
  • The Adopter must have a poultry permit and comply with the laws and ordinances enforced in the state and municipality in which they reside.
  • No one in the household/property where the bird will reside has been charged with or convicted of animal abuse.

We have placed almost 700 birds and have over 700 Metro Area subscribers for our monthly adoption announcements, the Adoption Chronicles. A visit to our FaceBook page and our Photo Contest websites attest to the fact there are many people all over the world who share our commitment to chickens.

What would you like people to know who are considering adopting chickens?

Adoption should not be confused with purchase, “free to good home” or swapping birds or fertilized eggs. Our Adoption Agreement protects the best interests of the bird as the first priority.

Chickens are highly intelligent, gentle, vivacious individuals who form strong lifelong emotional bonds with each other as well as other species. They are warm and silky and lovely to hold. They are primarily ground dwelling birds who are very home and routine centered and can thrive in a space the size of a normal urban backyard and home. Some chickens make wonderful house companions. They can coexist happily with compatible dogs and cats.

Chickens can live as long as a dog or cat— up to 14 years or longer. Egg laying for a hen generally starts at 6 months old, peaks at 18 months and declines with age.

Start-Up costs for a proper coop, pens and fencing maintenance, tools, cleaning equipment, heating / cooling appliances, dishes, nets, food storage, scale, fencing, security locks, lighting, motion detectors, monitors, cameras, permit application can run close to $5-6,000.

Annual supplies for food, bedding, nutritional supplements, hygiene supplies, permit fee, and utilities averages about $300 per bird.

Vet care per bird can cost $65 for an office exam, $28 for a fecal test, plus other services and medications as needed for illness or injury. It is not OK just to stand by and watch a sick or injured bird suffer and die.

It takes an average of 1 hour per bird per day minimum for cleaning, parasite control, grooming, physical exam, travel time to purchase supplies, construction, repair, medication, feeding, supervise free time out of pen. Chickens need to be tended to twice daily. Trusted caregivers must be available to step in for vacations or other absences.

At least a 6 ft x 12ft x 6 ft high space in a yard is needed for a coop and pen for 4 birds, in addition to a larger fenced area for regular exercise.

The coop and pen should be located in an area that provides shade, direct sunlight, good drainage and protection from prevailing winds and will not present a problem to neighbors.

Chickens will attract bird mites and lice, mice, yard birds, squirrels, raccoons, dogs, coyotes, fox, mink, opossum, rats, owls, bobcats, hawks, snakes, weasels, ferrets, fishers, martens and humans, especially vandals.

"Sustainability" is often a motive for some people who want guilt free eggs, but there is nothing sustainable about treating live animals as disposable commodities. Adopting existing chickens who need homes means not supporting hatcheries and breeders who kill 50% of the birds hatched (roosters) and displace other chickens who need homes. There is no prohibition of personal consumption of eggs laid by CRR adoptees. Although a vegetarian or vegan diet is not a condition for adoption, CRR's Adoptors agree to accept this animal first as a companion animal, not a food animal and not to produce eggs for profit or breeding purposes. Acceptable uses for the eggs would be for personal consumption or to feed other companion animals or wildlife rehabilitation.

The advantages of adoption from CRR are:

  • Known Health: All incoming birds are given a complete physical exam upon intake, vet care , medical history. Special needs are clearly stated.
  • Known Sex, Behavior and Personality: CRR rescues are handled and socialized daily, accustomed to close contact with humans, other birds, dogs, cats and urban life. The individual bird?s habits, likes and dislikes are provided to the adopter. Roosters are hand tamed and socialized.
  • Known History: All information available about where the bird came from and what circumstances they experienced is documented and provided to the adaptor.
  • Experience / Education: CRR has fostered hundreds of domestic fowl in an urban environment and invested in the best avian veterinary care for them. Adopters are provided with comprehensive information and unlimited access to advice on care, health and behavior 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Commitment for Life: CRR will assist with advice, placement or return to our care if the adopter is no longer able to keep the bird for medical, behavior or any other reasons.

For a good overview of what is involved in providing a good home, see BASIC CHICKEN CARE.

What needs to happen to improve the lives of chickens?

A shift in critical thought about who is "food" and who is "friend" could mean a less violent world for the chickens and other animals trapped in a food production hell hidden from view ("free range" and "cage free" birds are disposed of or meet their factory farmed cousins at the same slaughter plants). Each year in the US, over 10 billion chickens suffer from intense confinement, cruel handling and painful terrifying deaths. Although they represent over 95% of the animals raised for agricultural and other purposes, chickens are excluded from protection of anticruelty laws, humane slaughter laws and laws that regulate experimentation.

International Respect for Chicken Day is May 4th. Can you tell us a little bit about that day?

Chicken Run Rescue and United Poultry Concerns encourage everyone to celebrate May 4th as International Respect for Chickens Day. Each year, Chicken Run Rescue holds the Chicken Run Rescue Photo Contest and people who love and respect chickens submit photographs that capture the beauty, joy, intelligence, dignity, agility and zany exuberance of chickens. Each year, twelve winning photos are published in a calendar and winners receive a free calendar. All of the proceeds of the calendar sales enable CRR to continue to help chickens for another year.

TO ENTER: Photograph everyday activities that are natural for chickens- no costumes, staged stunts or props. CRR reserves the right to decline any images that conflict with our mission to promote the adoption of homeless chickens as companion animals and discourage breeding or buying. There are never enough homes for displaced animals. Send high resolution digital photos to [email protected]. Include your name, title or bird’s name, address, phone and email address.Submission and voting closes May 15, 2010.

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