MODESTO, Calif. (CN) - Stanislaus County arraigned two farmers Monday on felony animal cruelty charges related to 50,000 chickens that they abandoned to starvation.
A&L Poultry owners Andy Cheung and Lien Diep face up to three years in prison and $20,000 fines for violating California's animal cruelty law, which makes it a crime to deprive any animal of food, water or shelter. The pair drew outrage last February when they left 50,000 hens without food for weeks.
Law enforcement officers discovered the chickens nearly three weeks later, but by that time 20,000 hens had starved to death or drowned in giant manure pits. Authorities euthanized another 25,000, while three animal rescue shelters managed to save 4,460 of the hens.
The shelters - Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary sued Cheung, Diep and A&L Poultry for the costs of the rescue operation, the farmers' negligence and wrongful injuries to animals.
A Stanislaus County judge recently advanced the suit, as well as claims for punitive damages.
That decision is on appeal, while A&L Poultry claims that its abandonment of the chickens was an accident.
To avoid euthanizing the birds after it ceased operations, A&L allegedly tried to deliver the chickens to a third party, but this maneuver resulted in "an unacceptable situation A&L Poultry did not intend, and profoundly regrets," the company previously said in a statement.
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