50,000 Chickens Left to Die, Rescuers Say

     MODESTO, Calif. (CN) - Three animal rescue shelters that say they saved 4,500 starving and abandoned chickens sued the owners of a poultry farm for the costs of saving the animals - 45,000 of whom died.
     Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary sued Andy Keung Cheung, Lien Diep and their company A&L Poultry in Stanislaus County Court.
     Animal Place claims Cheung and Diep abandoned their 50,000 chickens in early February, leaving them locked in their cages with no food or water.
     The nonprofit animal groups say that by the time Stanislaus County authorities discovered the hens on Feb. 22, 20,000 hens had starved to death.
     "As many as 30 of the hens had escaped their cages and fallen into giant manure pits below the building," the complaint states. "Still alive, these chickens were struggling to keep from drowning in the manure."
     The groups say county authorities called them to help rescue the chickens and they saved 4,460 hens.
     "Each of the surviving hens was in a state of deprivation and suffering caused directly by the failure of defendants to provide them with food and veterinary care," the complaint states. "All the hens were in poor medical states, many to the point that they could not stand or hold up their heads. Many were in clinical shock. Hundreds were so emaciated their skin stuck to their bones."
     The animal groups say that 460 of the rescued hens were too weak or sick to survive and died after the rescue. In addition to these and the 20,000 chickens found dead, authorities euthanized another 25,000 hens at the scene because of their deteriorating health, according to the complaint.
     Almost 45,000 chickens died because of the defendants' conduct, in violation of California's stringent anti-animal cruelty laws, the nonprofits allege.
     "These violations were intentional, malicious and willful or, at the very least, grossly negligent. Those who abuse animals and cause animal suffering, like defendants, should be held responsible for the costs of caring for and rehabilitating the animals they have harmed," their complaint states.
     California's anti-cruelty laws "create a legal duty to the animals they were designed to protect. They also create a legal duty to animal rescue organizations, including plaintiffs, that were established to prevent cruelty to animals and to rescue and care for animals that have been abandoned, tortured and subjected to needless suffering," according to the complaint.
     "Defendants breached their legal duty by failing and refusing to care for the hens they owned, by abandoning the hens and by failing to provide the hens appropriate care, including food, subjecting them to needless suffering as they slowly died from starvation. Defendants' breach of their duty proximately caused damages to plaintiffs, who rescued 4,460 of the surviving hens, and have since provided them with food, water and medical care at considerable expense to plaintiffs, and for which plaintiffs now seek reimbursement from defendants," the groups say.
     They say the cost of rescuing and caring for the hens is more than $25,000, and climbing daily.
     A&L Poultry claimed in a statement at the time that the chickens were abandoned by accident. It said that an attempt to deliver the chickens to a third party to avoid euthanizing the birds after it ceased operations resulted in "an unacceptable situation A&L Poultry did not intend, and profoundly regrets."
     The animal shelters seek an injunction and damages for negligence, unfair competition, implied contract and restitution.
     They are represented by Rocky Unruh and Bruce Wagman of Schiff Hardin in San Francisco, and Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati.