Nanday Conure Forum

Message #104.

Date:Sunday April 13, 2003 12:37:43 am MDT
Subject:Warning! Government agents are killing parrots!
Message:Government agents are killing millions of birds, including parrots, to protect the poultry industry.

The following article is from the Los Angeles Times:

Disease Task Force Eyeing Pet Birds

By Tina Daunt and Bob Pool, Times Staff Writers

April 12, 2003


Authorities are going door-to-door searching for parrots and poultry
alike. If the avians appear sick, they are killed on the spot.

State and federal agents trying to control the spread of a deadly avian
disease have killed 3.4 million birds in Southern California -- some of
them household parrots and parakeets -- and have enlisted hundreds of
investigators, mail carriers and talkative neighbors to help identify
homes with birds.

Officials with the Exotic Newcastle Disease Task Force say they must take
extreme measures to halt the disease, which spreads like a virulent flu,
before it wipes out the state's $3-billion poultry industry.
Since the disease was discovered in September in a backyard flock of
chickens in Compton, task force members have placed wide swaths of
Southern California under quarantine. They walk door-to-door, searching
for sick birds. If a bird is suspected of having the disease, it is killed
immediately, in some cases in front of crying owners.

Bird lovers complain that they are more frightened of the task force than
the disease.

Actor-producer Jeff Maxwell, who owns a 22-year-old parrot, said he
watched in shock as a task force agent last weekend jotted down the
address and a description of his Alhambra home and then entered its global
positioning satellite coordinates into a hand-held computer. He later
learned from his mailman that USDA officials have enlisted the Postal
Service into reporting the addresses of bird owners.

The task force has been given "carte blanche to kill any feathered thing
on your property or your house regardless of whether it tests positive,"
Maxwell said. "The thought of somebody driving to my door, which now could
happen because I've been identified as being a bird owner, and coming in
and killing my bird in front of me is outrageous."

Annette Whiteford, who helps manage the task force on behalf of the state
Department of Food and Agriculture, has spent months fielding similar
complaints from angry and distraught bird owners.

"Being on this task force has been depressing because I have been trained
to save animals," said Whiteford, a veterinarian. "Now my mission is to
save animals by killing animals. This disease is not pretty."

Exotic Newcastle is harmless to humans but affects virtually all bird
species, especially chickens. The uncurable disease causes sneezing,
coughing and diarrhea, and can be spread by a speck of saliva carried on a
feather blowing in the wind.

The last time the virus hit the state's poultry industry was in the early
1970s, when 12 million chickens had to be destroyed at a cost of more than
$50 million. The disease took almost three years to eradicate.

Following the discovery of Newcastle last year, authorities ordered birds
in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties
quarantined. The lockdown was recently extended to Santa Barbara, Ventura
and Imperial counties. New cases have been discovered in Nevada and
Arizona. People who move birds out of the quarantined areas could face a
$25,000 fine.

The task force, formed by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and
the USDA, has been trying to control the virus by killing seemingly
healthy birds living within approximately half a mile of infected fowl.
Nearly 2,000 people, many of them out-of-state veterinarians and other
USDA workers, have been brought in for 21-day rotations on the task force.

Agents have set up two busy headquarters, one in Garden Grove and the
other in Colton. The task force makes wall-sized charts of infected and
quarantined areas in Southern California. Giant red circles blend together
in parts of San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties.

So far, the task force has killed 3.2 million birds at 22 farms and
commercial businesses, most of them in San Bernardino and Riverside

Nearly 137,000 birds making up 2,343 backyard flocks have also been
killed, including 417 such flocks in Los Angeles County, two in Orange
County and three in Ventura County. Some wild birds have also been killed.

Cases of the disease have been identified in 28 Los Angeles County
communities. Lancaster, Little Rock, South El Monte, El Monte and La
Puente account for the highest instances of disease in backyard flocks.

"Newcastle disease is the hoof-and-mouth disease of birds," said Jack
Shere, a veterinarian who is leading the task force on behalf of the USDA.
"People don't seem to grasp how important that is. The bottom line is you
have to euthanize the few to protect the many."

Earlier this year, the task force targeted parts of the Westside after a
bird suspected of having the disease was dropped off at an animal shelter.
Eventually the area was declared safe, but only after agents fanned out
through West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, warning residents that
government has the authority to kill pet birds if necessary to halt the
outbreak of disease.

In February, task force members accompanied by Los Angeles County
sheriff's deputies eradicated more than 100 birds at the Little Rock home
of Amalia Piceno -- chickens, ducks, some peacocks and a pair of turkeys
named Thelma and Louise. One peacock was shot from a tree with a
.22-caliber rifle. Piceno said the family was paid $1,254 for the losses.

"They don't care about your feelings," Piceno said Friday, breaking down
in tears as she recalled the incident. "They even destroyed all the pens
we had. I said, 'Who's going to pay for that?' and they told me, 'Not us.'"

Last month, task force members, accompanied by police officers, showed up
at Deanna Wood's home in Mira Loma. Carrying a forced-entry warrant, they
pushed through her backyard gate and seized her pet rooster, four hens and
two ducks. They placed the birds in a large cardboard barrel. Wood said
she stood in horror, listening to the birds shriek as task force members
filled the barrel with carbon dioxide.

She said she was later told that agents had found an infected flock of
birds "around the corner and up the street" from her house. "I feel like
I've lost seven members of my family," Wood said.

Jittery leaders of the Parrot Society of Los Angeles are circulating a
bulletin to its members:

"Be prepared not to allow a task force member entry into your home, no
matter how polite they seem.... If no law enforcement officer is with
them, call 911 for help. Keep a video camera handy, with fresh film and

Daina Castellano, a Parrot Society board member, said she has spent hours
consoling traumatized bird owners.

"The violation of people who have lost their pets is overwhelming," said
Castellano, a Santa Monica resident who owns eight macaws and an African
Grey parrot.

Meanwhile, several groups of bird owners in March sued Gov. Gray Davis and
governmental agencies, demanding that due-process protections be
instituted to block officials from "arbitrarily" killing pets and show

Lawyer William Dailey of West Hollywood said more than 800 healthy birds
belonging to petitioners named in the complaint have been killed so far
and hundreds of others are in jeopardy.

"We're asking that birds not be killed unless they need to be," Dailey
said. "If they were doing this to people's dogs and cats, there'd be such
a scream down here it would be heard clear in Sacramento."

Maxwell, whose roles have included that of Private Igor on the "MASH"
television series, said he was told that his parrot, George, would be
granted a reprieve if he implemented "a bio-security plan" that meets
standards being set by the task force.

He quickly installed troughs filled with bleach at his front and back
doors to disinfect the bottoms of shoes. Visitors must wear freshly
laundered clothing and wash their hands 10 to 20 seconds in hot, soapy
water upon entering his house.

"I love my bird dearly," he said. "I've had him 22 years. We don't have
kids -- George is our kid."

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