How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm When They Can Roost Next Door?

On July 16, the Long Beach City Council will read an ordinance to amend city regulations regarding urban livestock and will forward it for a final reading at the following regular council meeting. The proposed changes ease current restrictions on chickens, goats and honeybees with regard to distance from other dwellings and the number and kinds of animals permitted. Also defined were particulars of sanitation, shelter, prohibition of sales of any animal or animal product, and humane treatment. Urban farmers will also be required to pay certain fees and be subject to inspection of the premises. Permits for chickens and goats will be required: a one-time inspection fee will be required for more than five chickens, and goats will be subject to a $20 annual fee per pair, which is the cost of two cat licenses. Goats will also need to be microchipped and be kept in pairs. Up to four beehives will be permitted, and there are restrictions as to their placement. No bees will be microchipped because no one wanted to volunteer. (Click here for the entire text of the ordinance.)

Heads have been butting full-bore since the idea of relaxing the laws regarding urban livestock was introduced last year. Proponents cite self-sufficiency, household economics, pest control (chickens eat bugs), rejection of factory farming, and being able to eat fresh food from a source that’s not only local but produced without chemicals or hormones. Opponents worry about the impact on our shelter, backyard slaughter, animal cruelty and neglect, and sanitation and odor. After my former cowriter and I attended a community meeting last June that didn’t flesh out as a scene of bucolic tranquility, I wrote an article detailing the meeting. I included opinions and research of the animal and sustainability advocates as well as my own. A year later, after dialogue and Googling, I still sit not on the fence but over it on the side of animal welfare.

If the ordinance passes, I don’t have any concern that Long Beach is going to metamorphose into Green Acres. I don’t know how many people would actually purchase goats or chickens or put beehives on the roof, but I am concerned about people who will and don’t know what they’re doing. Would I mind a neighbor with a clean coop of chickens clucking happily as they produce their eggs, or a couple of pygmy goats romping in a regularly clean yard, or one of those bee towers buzzing with activity? Not at all; in fact, I’ve seen it done effectively in someone’s large backyard. Would I mind one with neglected hens and unattended goats and the awful stench and misery on the part of the animals that goes with this? Yes.

Bees I’m not too worried about. First of all, if there are serious beekeepers who want to stave off colony collapse disorder by maintaining their own hives, then they’re a help to us all. I also can’t imagine that anyone would want to fiddle with bees without knowing exactly what they’re in for. Fortunately, there’s a beekeeper’s society, Long Beach Honeybee, that meets every month in Signal Hill. Prospective beekeepers may want to attend a couple of meetings before they head for the hives. The only fly in the honey would be if the bees were located next door to someone who goes into anaphylactic shock if stung and are afraid, and they have every right to be so. There hasn’t been much discussion about that issue, and I really hope that there will be.

During the meeting and after, I was taken to task by a couple of the sustainability advocates because I admitted that I knew nothing about urban livestock and therefore didn’t know what I was talking about. That I knew nothing was exactly the point: there’s no way in hell that I’m going to keep chickens, goats or bees. I have enough trouble taking care of myself. This was underscored when out of curiosity I bought a book titled Keeping Chickens, written by Michael Hatcher (no joke—that’s his name). There were a full 19 pages devoted to housing to ensure the birds’ both comfort and protection from predators, and there was plenty of ink about choosing hens, feeding them, and diseases. Pp. 69–71 addressed advisories about taking vacations—apparently, you can’t have a chicken sitter to come over for a few minutes to scatter feed and cluck at them affectionately. About veterinary care, “a great proportion of veterinarians will admit they know little, if anything, about poultry.” There may be a couple of them in our area, but a Gsearch showed only six. When I visited the websites, the closest one that treats birds was in Hawthorne, and I could find nothing on goats. If there are any closer ones available, post them. What I’ve learned about goats, too, is that they can’t be left to their own devices either because they’ll wreak havoc. This I was told by another of the sustainability people.

keeping chickens 

I’m impressed by anyone who can maintain an urban farm, but what happens with the critters that get abandoned, returned to the shelter or posted as sketchy Craig’s List entires by camp followers who’ve jumped on the urban-farm bandwagon—or the hay wagon, in this case—and then tire of the novelty or the work?

One of the things that concern me is the added burden to our Animal Care Services. ACS will be charging inspection and microchip fees as do other shelters in cities such as Portland that have passed ordinances to allow certain livestock in urban areas. I spoke to a number of shelter managers who said that so far, urban farm animals haven’t been that much of a problem but that there have been scattered instances of animal abandonment.

“It’s very surprising, but we haven’t,” said Don Jordan, executive director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. “We’ve had only two goats, but we always seem to be getting chickens. We get 20 per year—not huge numbers, but the number hasn’t been influenced by urban farming—we work with people in rural communities. People end up realizing that to properly manage domestic fowl, it takes a lot of work. So we help them. And we don’t want them [the hens] to be part of the food chain.”Charles Poetz, program supervisor at Multnomah County Animal Services, said that they occasionally get livestock. Portland, the county’s main city, occasionally yields chickens and ducks. They’ve also taken in peacocks and on one occasion, a llama, and there was a recent eviction case involving a few humans and 60 chickens. The county has permits for goats as well as chickens, and they’ve impounded a couple of goats, but farm animals are relatively rare.

“People typically don’t have these animals,” said Dan DeSousa, deputy director at San Diego County Department of Animal Services. “People in animal control have seen this with potbellied pigs when they were all the fad and they got too big to keep. I don’t see a gigantic chicken coming in, but we have the idea of a lifelong commitment, be it dog, cat, chicken or goat. We shouldn’t frown on anyone doing this, but we expect everyone to be responsible.”

But DeSousa also mentioned an NBC report he’d seen recently and that had interested him. The report told of the hundreds of chickens abandoned each year at shelters from here in California to New York after “hipster farmers” realized the brevity of hens’ laying periods, after which the birds can live for an average of 10 more years. The cost and labor involved coupled with a growing flock of premenstrual hens discouraged many a would-be Old MacDonald.

“Unfortunately, shelters are no strangers to trends,” said Madeline Bernstein, spcaLA president. “When something becomes trendy, like Dalmatians or Chihuahuas as the result of a movie or celebrity, the shelter is where they end up when the thrill is gone. People must remember, raising chickens is not just a passing fad—they are living breathing beings that need food, water, shelter and medical care.”

 pygmy goat

People abandon goats, too—the cute female pygmy above is one of six up for adoption at LA County Animal Control in Lancaster. True, it’s only six; shelters and rescues are crammed with cats and dogs, but it reflects the thus far relatively small number of people who picked up urban farming on a whim. The percentage of goats and in shelters would doubtless rise as more people get involved in urban farming. Long Beach’s Shoestring City Ranch’s mission is to teach urban children about humane care and teamwork and also offers young people a rural experience that they may never have otherwise had. A number of rescued goats permanently live on the property along with horses, chickens and a donkey, and there are a slew of farm-animal rescue groups and sanctuaries across the country that offer a permanent home or the opportunity to find a new, responsible one for animals from failed urban farms.

goats enjoy walks too

Little kids walk big kids at Shoestring City Ranch (child not pictured as requested by parent)

When I was visiting the man who kept chickens in their backyard, I asked him what he did after the laying life of his hens had past. He gave me the scenario in the same gentle way that my father did when my childhood frenemy Judy Abramowitz announced that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I don’t eat animals, and I know that if I were to keep chickens, I’d have a backyard like Ma Kettle’s. But the reality is that chicken is also food to majority of people, and to a much smaller number, so is goat. While I wouldn’t impose my dietary philosophy on other people, I sure as sheet cake don’t want to see slaughter for myself. Another friend I have who grew up in farm country described to me how her aunt tried to show her how to wring a chicken’s neck by grabbing it and shaking the bird until the neck broke. My friend with the chickens in his yard has a room where he does this, but will everyone? Will kids who’ve been making kissy noises at the birds have nightmares after they inadvertently witness one of their favorites being throttled? I looked through the requirements in the latest ordinance, and this was not addressed. It should be.

I hope that if this ordinance is approved that anyone wanting to participate will educate himself or herself through Long Beach Honeybee or anywhere local that may deal with urban farm animals (Long Beach Local may have some ideas). Those of you with strong opinions either way are encouraged to come to the city council meeting, which opens Tuesday at 5:00PM at Council Chamber, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.,to express them. It’s item 19, but considering the number that will probably show up, it may be moved to an earlier part of the meeting. I seriously hope that we can come to some sort of an agreement with little squawking, but feelings run strong on both sides. Whichever side of the barnyard fence you sit on, I couldn’t have said this better than Madeline Bernstein did: Before adopting a pet or animals for a backyard farm, consider that the responsibility is for the lifetime of the pet, not the lifetime of the trend.”

Virtually Pets

No goats or chickens here—just another plea to find homes for the kittens that are crowding shelters and rescues because of human irresponsibility. These two are only 2 months old, and there’s plenty more. Meet them at ACS, 7700 E. Spring St.

 tortiedsh

Female tortie domestic shorthair, ID#A499803

 flamepoint

Male flame-point-and-white Siamese, ID#A499802

Pet Projects

Many of us have been greatly disturbed by the recent police shooting of Max the Rottweiler in Hawthorne. I frankly don’t think that there are many police officers who like the idea of shooting a dog, and I’d go so far as to say that if there were a choice between a human criminal and a canine—well, let’s not get myself into trouble. But there are better ways to handle it, and spcaLA’s Madeline Bernstein has stepped up to the water bowl with an offer of assistance in using best practices for handling dogs who may be attacking or trying to protect their owners as well as reminding owners how to take their own responsibility for actions such as these. Read the recap of the chat that Bernstein had with the Los Angeles Group Opinion staff as well as the article preceding it. Thanks to not only Bernstein but also to the presence of social media that made the video of the shooting go viral, something good may come of this sad occurrence after all.

Every Thursday in July and August, Free Yappy Hour, Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E Ocean BlvdLong Beach, 5–8PM

LBMA’s Architecture for Dogs is celebrating human’s best friend in the best way. Yappy Hour, sponsored by Pussy and Pooch provides doggie snacks, and leashed pets can play outside on models of the très modernes living spaces for dogs featured in the exhibit. Your dog is welcome to view the exhibit with you as long as you can carry him or her; a free pet valet by Wooftidoo is available for larger dogs to wait for their humans.

Fix Long Beach Free Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic, Donation Info

Delighted to announce that Fix Long Beach has spayed or neutered a total of 38 pets of low-income families and helped pass the education forward. Stay tuned for the next event. This stuff doesn’t come free; if you can donate or volunteer your help, visit Fix LB’s Facebook page (and see the photos) or their website.

Thursday, July 18, Friends of Long Beach Annual Meeting, Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, 6–8PM

The public is invited to Friends of Long Beach Animals’ (FOLBA) 24th annual meeting. Find out how you can help support spay/neuter programs, humane education and our shelter through fund-raising, community activities and educational seminars as well as work toward zero euthanasia of any healthy, adoptable animal. The meet and greet with refreshments and entertainment begins at 6, followed by our business meeting. Become a part of our leadership team, and be a voice for animals!

Wednesday, July 17, Secrets of a Pet Whisperer Book Signing, Apostrophe Books, 4712 E. Second St., Long Beach, 5:30–7:30

Animal communicator and author Terri Steuben will offer tips to pet owners and sign copies of her book, Secrets of a Pet Whisperer: Stop Telling Your Animals to Misbehave. The signing will be held during the Belmont Shore Stroll and Savor event, and dogs are encouraged to come with their humans! Steuben, a Long Beach resident, developed an easy communication technique to help pet owners, called “Talking Pictures,” that she describes in her how-to book. The communication approach involves saying the right words while picturing the right behavior in your mind. “If your cat or dog is acting up, you may be the problem. Most owners give their pets mixed messages that actually encourage bad behavior,” Steuben says. Read about Terry Steuben on this Pet Post article.

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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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