Bloomberg News

Hoarding Jams Hens in Couple’s Fecal Swamp: Mike Di Paola

January 08, 2013

Woodstock Animal Farm Sanctuary

A pig living well at the Woodstock Animal Farm Sanctuary. Photographer: Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg

At the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York, a rooster’s eyes were closed by infection while another was missing tail feathers. Yet both looked healthy and strutted around the coop.

Sheila Hyslop, the farm’s shelter manager, said the one who is now just short a few feathers “was bald when he came here.”

The birds are recent evacuees from an animal-hoarding case in nearby Wawarsing, New York. The sanctuary rescued more than 130 chickens, geese and turkeys that had been sharing a trailer with a married couple.

Some adult ducks involved in the rescue were featured in a popular Internet video that showed them having their first-ever encounter with water.

Hoarders are generally people who collect more animals than they can care for. They tend to deny or have no awareness that the care is inadequate. For animals kept in close quarters and squalor, sanitation is usually the first casualty, creating health risks.

“We pulled 25 birds out of the inside of the trailer,” said Jenny Brown, co-founder of the Woodstock sanctuary, describing the Wawarsing rescue. “The floor was a slippery fecal stew.”

The animals living outside the trailer fared little better. “Many of the birds were missing toes, roosters were missing their combs, that sort of thing, from exposure,” Brown said.

TV ‘Confession’

No one knows how widespread hoarding is. A recent study by the Fund for Public Health in New York Inc. found that there are about 100 hoarding cases reported in the city each year, and as many as 7,000 nationwide. The phenomenon has been chronicled by the Animal Planet series “Confessions: Animal Hoarding.”

“It’s a mental illness,” Brown said. “Hoarders are seriously blind to the fact that animals are suffering in their care.”

Not all of the animals at the 23-acre Woodstock farm are hoarding survivors. Four gigantic steer browsed languidly in a spacious paddock, a far cry from the veal crates they were destined for.

Part of the sanctuary’s mission is to educate the public on the consequences of eating meat. Staff members at Woodstock are all vegan -- at least when they’re on duty -- and signs at the sanctuary remind visitors of the cost of an unconscientious diet. One reveals that “98% of eggs come from chickens living their entire lives in cages.”

Creamer Crime

Brown wasn’t shy about educating me, only a partial vegetarian, on the subject.

“So you say you’re against veal? Well the creamer in your coffee is contributing to that,” Brown pointed out. “There wouldn’t be veal calves without the dairy industry.”

A lot of vegans can sound a tad sanctimonious, but Brown has a disarming sense of humor to mitigate any preachiness.

“Dairy cows don’t magically shoot milk from their breasts,” she added. “They’re mammals, like us.”

I took a brief tour of the farm and visited some of the other mammals on site. It was a rainy day and several goats kept warm and dry in a large barn powered by a sizable solar array and adorned with Tibetan prayer flags.

One of the goats, Albie, is a minor celebrity. He was rescued in 2007 in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. He was emaciated and wounded, and an apparent escapee from a live-kill market.

Showing Leg

Albie lost a leg to infection, an event with particular poignancy for Brown, who lost a leg to bone cancer when she was 10. She prefers not to draw attention to her missing limb, but admits that a New York Times article in 2008 -- which included a photo of Brown and Albie -- was good publicity for the sanctuary and for her.

“When that story came out, four literary agents contacted me within a week,” said Brown, who parlayed the interest into a book: “The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals,” published by Penguin subsidiary Avery last August.

The attention was the inspiration for a joke Brown trots out: “I never knew that in order to be successful in our work I just needed to show a little leg.”

The spacious farm and its well-tended tenants are pretty much the opposite of hoarding environments. You can help out with a donation or by adopting an animal via the website.

(Mike Di Paola writes on preservation and the environment for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include James S. Russell on art, Richard Vines on dining.

To contact the writer of this column: Mike Di Paola at mdipaola@nyc.rr.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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