Sunday, June 12, 2011

Response to the Humane Society's Position on Food Producing Animals

On June 10th, Holly Tarry (the Colorado Director of the Humane Society of the United States) sent the following letter to the member of Denver City Council: click here to view. [The link will take you away from this post. Just come back to us after you've finished reading the letter!]

The following is Sustainable Food Denver's response, sent to Ms. Tarry and cc'd to the members of the Denver City Council:

June 13th, 2011

Dear Ms. Tarry,

Thank you for the work that you do with the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society is a wonderful organization, and it contributes many valuable things to our communities.

I would like to respond to your letter addressing various aspects of Denver’s proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance. I was happy to see you mention the many benefits of backyard chickens. I also appreciate your recommendations regarding best practices for urban chicken care. As you may know, Denver’s Animal Care and Control department is planning on putting together information regarding suggested care for Food Producing Animals, which would be distributed to new chicken and dwarf goat owners with their license following the passage of the new ordinance. I’m sure that they will take your recommendations into consideration. Of course, the ordinance itself does not contain all of the details you included regarding animal care (in the same way that Denver does not legislate best practices for the care of dogs or cats). Nonetheless, the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance does contain space requirements for the animals that go above and beyond anything that is legislated for other pets, as well as above and beyond what some other cities with Food Producing Animals ordinances have mandated.

I am not sure I understand your request for permits and annual license fees for individual animals. A one-time Food Producing Animals license accomplishes two main goals: 1) It provides Animal Control with the opportunity to present citizens with both the requirements of the ordinance and suggested best practices for animal care; and 2) It allows Animal Control to know where Food Producing Animals are being kept, in the rare instance of an animal escape or other problems. There is no benefit in Animal Control knowing whether a specific home has 6 hens or 8 hens, as long as the owner is complying with the guidelines of the ordinance and not creating a nuisance. Additionally, there is not a need to use annual licensing fees as a way to raise funds. Other cities with progressive Food Producing Animals ordinances have not reported an increase in enforcement costs as a result of the keeping of chickens or dwarf goats. Dogs and cats require a license renewal as a way to document rabies vaccinations; backyard chickens and goats in Colorado do not require a comparable vaccination to protect the public health.

I take considerable issue with your statement that including dwarf goats in the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance is leading Denver into “unexplored territory.” Seattle and Portland allow the keeping of 3 dwarf dairy goats without any sort of permit. Oakland and Chicago place dwarf goats in the same category as other pets, and they’re allowed without any sort of permit or special regulations. In addition, there are several other cities across the country that have some type of urban goat ordinance.

Because of their compact size, dwarf goats can (and do) thrive in urban backyards. In mandating a minimum space requirement for the keeping of dwarf goats, Denver is going above and beyond the ordinances in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and Chicago (which have no minimum space requirement). In addition, if an animal is being abused, neglected, or mistreated, Animal Control has the ability to intervene, even if the owner is meeting the minimum space requirement for care.

The risk of parasitic infection in dwarf goats relates to the condition of the goats’ pen, not its size. If a dwarf goat owner is concerned, they can use an herbal de-wormer to further protect their goats.

Goat diseases are typically region-specific. Soremouth (orf) is not highly prevalent in Colorado. If the disease was to transfer to a human, the consequences are mild (the symptoms resolve themselves in 6-8 weeks without requiring treatment). I think we run the risk of losing perspective when we point selectively to the zoonotic disease potential of certain animals. Let’s remember that our cats and dogs can potentially transfer the following disease to humans: rabies, toxoplasmosis, hookworms, roundworms, dog heartworms, cryptosporidium, campylobacteria, helicobacter pylori, bartonellosis, lyme disease, ringworm, and sarcoptic mange. And yet, they exist successfully in our cities.

I am disappointed that you spoke so eloquently about the benefits of backyard chickens, but neglected to acknowledge that identical benefits (reduction of suffering in factory farms, increased appreciation for the animals, greater compassion, etc) exist with the keeping of dwarf goats. Please remember that dwarf goats are already legal in Denver, and there are many people who are raising them successfully. The proposed ordinance does not seek to legalize dwarf goats (or chicken and ducks); rather, it streamlines a bureaucratic and unnecessarily expensive process, while adding some common-sense guidelines for the keeping of the animals that did not previously exist.

I appreciate the mission of the Humane Society, and I hope that we can work together in the future to encourage the sensible, responsible keeping of backyard Food Producing Animals. The continued increase in urban residents obtaining their eggs and/or dairy from backyard animals will result in a decrease in the consumption of factory-farmed animal products, and a concurrent decrease in animal suffering.


Sundari Kraft
Sustainable Food Denver


Teresa said...

Hi there. Congratulations on the passage of Denver's chicken keeping ordinance. I have concerns regarding the urban keeping of goats; that there will be an overpopulation of unwanted male goats. As you know, they are mammals like ourselves--the females must produce offspring in order to lactate. What is the plan for the newborn males?

Sundari Kraft said...

Hi Teresa -- Thanks for your comment. It's very timely, because tomorrow I'm going to be re-homing my latest male goat kid (Wesley) and plan on writing a blog post about it!

Male goat kids (bucklings) have several options for re-homing. One possibility would be to re-home the buckling with someone who wants to use him for breeding, although that's rare. Most re-homing options will involve wethering. Once a buckling becomes a wether, he will grow up to be similar in size as a doe, and he won't have the awful smell or aggressive behaviors of a buck.

Wethers can be used as companion animals to a milking doe. It's very important to have 2 goats (owning just one will lead to an unhappy, unhealthy goat). So, families who only want to keep one milking doe can get a wether as a companion -- which is advantageous because wethers cost half/one-third the price of a doe.

Wethers can be used as brush-clearers on larger properties (which is what is happening in Wesley's case) and compost-makers. They are also great for hiking, and like to carry a little pack. Wethers can be used by kids for 4-H projects, and there's a lot of ag land and 4-H stuff happening in the communities surrounding Denver.

Last but not least, wethers make great pets. Goats are just as smart, social, and affectionate as dogs. Luckily, Denver's new FPA ordinance allows the keeping of wethers along with doe goats, so all of the above options are available within Denver as well as in the surrounding communities!

Sundari Kraft said...

As a side note, I find it interesting how often people don't understand that a goat has to give birth to kids in order to produce milk, but those same people often think that you have to have a rooster in order to get eggs from chickens!