Parrots in peril
Roy breeding operation leaves birds in squalor, and despite complaints and investigations, Pierce County Council rejects change in ordinance
MIRA TWETI; For The News Tribune
Last updated: December 18th, 2005 01:16 PM (PST)
At Martha Scudder’s Parrot Depot in Roy, hundreds of parrots, including many endangered species, have lived in cold, wet, filthy conditions for years, according to eyewitness accounts, experts, deposed testimony and scores of post-mortem reports.
The people and documents indicate Scudder’s has neglected hundreds, and possibly thousands, of parrots over its 25-year history. A veterinarian working with the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County called the 5-acre farm on 332nd Street South a “concentration camp” for birds.
Plastic sheeting covers eight ramshackle wooden sheds. It flaps in the wind and offers little protection to the 800 parrots living there. At least one roof has been leaking unfixed for years, according to the veterinarian in a lawsuit deposition. Seven other sheds are equally dilapidated.
Several complaints about Scudder’s have been made to the Humane Society and one to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Plus, animal control inspectors have checked the property and warned Scudder that they believe the facility violates the state’s animal cruelty law.
Still, not a single bird has been removed or a fine issued.
In the past, Scudder has denied her birds are mistreated or diseased. She has said in a legal document that she cleans the birds’ cages only monthly during breeding season so as not to disrupt the process.
Her partner, Bob Vincent, declined a request from The News Tribune to see their aviaries and, after agreeing to an interview that included Scudder, did not return several phone calls to set the meeting.
Reached last week, their attorney, Jack Maichel, declined to make Scudder and Vincent available for an interview. A message left Friday at Scudder’s home was not returned.
The story of Scudder’s, which is considered the largest parrot-breeding operation in Washington state, is a drama marked by legal battles, family feuding and estrangement. Primarily, it reveals how little protection there is for birds in the pet trade and how little oversight there is for bird-breeding businesses, locally and nationally.
Parrots were the fastest-growing pet of choice through the 1990s. An estimated 50 million to 60 million of the pet birds live in the United States today. Each year, breeders produce about 2 million young parrots.
According to two Washington state experts, veterinarian Tracy Bennett and former parrot broker Lori Rutledge, a big percentage of the state’s major breeding facilities for large parrots keep their charges in bad conditions – a situation other experts say occurs nationwide.
Nevertheless, no federal legislation protects birds in the pet trade. Neither do measures in most states, including Washington. Basically, anyone with a patch of land can set up shop as a bird breeder away from prying eyes and without minimum care standards.
The problems at Scudder’s continue, in part because of inaction by the Humane Society and the Pierce County Council.
Until this year, the county contracted with the Humane Society to provide animal control and shelter services, and the administrative infrastructure to support them.
The Humane Society received five complaints against the breeder since 1999, citing filthy conditions, dead or deformed birds, overcrowded incubators and general neglect. Animal-control inspectors went to the farm each time, but no further action was taken.
When urged to oversee pet breeders, the County Council – which has the power to license, and thereby inspect and regulate the facilities – tabled an ordinance that would have required inspections.
For now it is just the birds at Scudder’s that suffer. But the threat of an avian flu pandemic raises the question: Is public health at risk from thousands of exotic birds being kept in unlicensed, unregulated and unmonitored circumstances in Pierce County and across the state?
New parrot fan gets involved
The situation at Scudder’s came to light in part through Seattle resident Larry Gallawa, an engineer by trade and an animal lover by vocation. His battle against Scudder led her to sue him for defamation, a lawsuit a judge eventually dismissed.
Gallawa’s passion for animals revolved around cats and dogs until a decade ago, when his daughter, Ronda, got a state job that required her to travel.
She asked her parents to take care of Bailey, her 3-year-old Umbrella cockatoo. They did, and he’s been with them ever since.
“I take him everywhere,” said Gallawa, 59, “in the car, to the supermarket, to the dry cleaners. There’s not many places he hasn’t been.”
Now smitten with parrots, Gallawa endeavored to learn as much as possible about them.
He found out parrots test higher than most primates on intelligence tests and that the average parrot is believed to have the intelligence of a 3- or 4-year-old child. Parrots can master large vocabularies and speak in sentences with comprehension, and even learn to count. Sophisticated, complex and social animals, parrots bond for life and are more loyal than dogs. And, unlike dogs, they are long-lived: A large parrot can live to 100.
Gallawa also found a local expert, Lori Rutledge at Cockatoo Rescue, a parrot sanctuary in Stanwood, who told him about parrot-breeding conditions in the state. Rutledge estimates Washington has 20 large exotic bird-breeding facilities and countless smaller ones.
Eventually she got around to talking about Scudder’s, which Rutledge said had a bad reputation.
“I’d heard that so many times from so many people it was almost an urban legend,” she said in an interview. “Everybody that had anything to do with the bird-breeding business knew about Scudder’s.”
Not liking what he was hearing, Gallawa contacted the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood in late 2002.
Two volunteers, Donna Diduch and Stephanie Beecroft, went to check out Scudder’s, saying they were interested in buying a bird.
Scudder, 65, wouldn’t allow them into the aviaries, but what they saw in the main house prompted them to file a report with the Pierce County Humane Society. They wrote that the place was “dark, filthy and cold.” One parrot was lying on its stomach, obviously sick and in distress. Scudder said it was fine.
After reading the report, Gallawa insisted Wally Hall, field coordinator for the Humane Society, go with an avian veterinarian for an inspection. Tracy Bennett got the call.
Of about 85,000 veterinarians in the United States, 97 are certified for avian practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Avian certification is considered the hardest to get because birds are behaviorally complex, physiologically unique and there are so many different species.
Bennett, 40, is one of the 97. For the last 11 years, parrots have made up 90 percent of her practice at the Bird and Exotic Clinic of Seattle. When Bennett was called to inspect Scudder’s, she was one of three vets certified in avian practice in Washington state. (Now there are five.)
Although she’d never been there, Bennett had seen evidence of the situation at Scudder’s in her own veterinary office. Her findings and later impressions, stated in reports and letters to the Humane Society, became part of the defamation lawsuit against Gallawa.
Bennett said the new owners of several young birds from Scudder’s had brought them to her for veterinary care. She said they were uniformly in poor condition, tested positive for disease, showed signs of stress and were underweight.
On Jan. 23, 2003, the investigators went to Scudder’s, which Bennett later described in an interview as “horrifying – a scummy, filthy, horrible” place.
Bennett said the main house was filled with cages and filthy with feces.
“We went downstairs, and there was feces all down the wall,” Bennett said. “It was all green with it.”
Downstairs was the nursery where Scudder incubated and fed baby birds.
“Across from the babies were some incubators the size for chicks but one had an adult bird, and he barely fit,” Bennett said.
The next room was filled with birds in stacked wire cages.
“Some of the birds were brought in from the aviaries because Martha said she thought they were sick,” Bennett said. “Some had clubbed feet walking on bare wire, which was very bad. Others she was boarding and had no idea of their health status but they were mixed in with the rest.
“All of these were next to her nursery, close enough to contaminate the baby birds with any diseases they might have.”
Bennett said she saw only a fraction of the flock because Scudder would allow her into only two of the eight bird barns that house African Grey parrots, Amazons, macaws and different kinds of cockatoos, and some rare species, such as Vasa parrots.
Bennett described the aviaries as “rotten old ramshackle wooden shacks with hanging wire cages.”
“They had what I call ‘fecal stalagmites’ at least 6 inches high, maybe higher,” she said. “You would think seeing giant accumulation of feces would be a bad thing but Martha Scudder didn’t comprehend that. I got the impression that she saw no problem.”
The automatic watering system was leaking badly and poorly maintained, Bennett said. Where there were water bottles for the birds, algae was growing in them.
“Water was coming into the barns because the buildings were open to the elements,” she said. “It was bad, but at the time I was happy about it, because all the drinking water those birds would get is what they could lick off the bars.”
The birds that especially haunt Bennett are the ones left on their own.
“I remember this one double yellow-headed Amazon just sitting on the bottom of the wire cage – no perch, no mate – in this cold, rainy place in winter, sitting there alone with just filth underneath it,” Bennett said. “And I thought, ‘This is torture for this bird.’”
Questions over what to do
Hall, the Human Society field coordinator, and Bennett dispute what happened after the inspection. Hall said he asked Bennett what she wanted to do.
“I told her, ‘You’re in control. … Is there enough to pull (the birds)?’ And she said, ‘No, I believe we can work with Mrs. Scudder to clean it up.’”
Bennett said she didn’t want to wait.
“I told Wally Hall in the car that we needed to shut the place down,” she said. “He told me, ‘To shut it down, we need to show dead bodies.’ I told him birds were sick, and the conditions were deplorable.”
Hall’s now-retired assistant, Nancy Groves, 53, accompanied him and Bennett to Scudder’s. Groves said that, to the best of her recollection, Hall preferred not to take the birds but deferred to Bennett.
“Bennett said she didn’t think there was enough cause to pull the birds,” Groves said. “She wanted Scudder to reduce their number and said she would write a letter of recommendations” for improvements.
Retired Humane Society veterinarian Betsy Larson, 53, accompanied Hall and Bennett to Scudder’s. She said Bennett asked Scudder to relinquish the birds.
“The doctor said she knew rescue groups that would be very happy to take these birds immediately and give them a wonderful home,” Larson said.
According to Bennett, Hall told Scudder he knew she had good intentions but, because her husband had died, the place had fallen into neglect. She had to make repairs, he said.
“He figured she’ll just fix it up and everything will be fine,” Bennett said. “They didn’t want to make waves, and they didn’t want to get stuck with 500 birds. They told me it was very hard to take these things to court.”
Larson explained the difficulties in having to prove animal cruelty in court.
“It’s not the seizing of the animals that’s hard, it’s building your case,” she said. “With abuse cases, you don’t get people’s attention sometimes until there are dead animals – overt suffering that the layperson, the judge and the court will recognize.
“Here we get into how to make this case in a court of law. This is why it’s so hard to go after puppy mills and places that raise animals. Nothing’s worse than having the animals go back after a year.”
Confiscation of animals rarely happens on animal control inspections, Hall said. “It is a lot easier to work with someone to change their attitude,” he said.
Confirming the birds were sick would take work, Bennett said. As a defense mechanism, they mask their illnesses. Plus, many severe illnesses can have mild signs, such as lethargy, anorexia and ruffled feathers, that make them hard to confirm without a blood test.
Bennett said she told Hall she could prove the animals were sick if they let her run tests.
“They said there was no money for that,” Bennett said.
Based on Hall’s stance, Bennett sent a report March 7, 2003, outlining recommendations for improvements. Among a long list of actions, Bennett wrote that Scudder should get rid of most of her birds, reducing their numbers to fewer than 100, replace the watering system and improve the birds’ diet.
Bennett also reported Scudder’s to the local U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service office, citing ill health of the endangered birds and the conditions she’d seen. She later faxed a list of the endangered species.
Citing confidentiality issues, Fish & Wildlife supervisor Philip Knudsen in Redmond declined to comment on any follow-up that might have been done on the complaint.
Steve Pierce, Hall’s boss, said he called Bennett after reading her report. He said he was appalled by the sanitation conditions she described.
“I spoke to her personally and talked to her about seizing those birds,” he said, “and I can promise you nowhere in that conversation did she tell me that we should seize those birds.”
Bennett said the opposite and that she felt sure Pierce would take action after they hung up. In retrospect, Bennett said, she should have plainly stated, “All these birds need to go and right now.”
Scudder received Bennett’s report, which had a deadline of May 31, 2003, for her to complete the changes. But she didn’t take the recommendations seriously.
Later, in deposed testimony in the lawsuit against Gallawa, Scudder said she thought Bennett’s recommendations “were not conducive to flock management” and that she didn’t feel required to reduce her flock just because the Humane Society sent her a letter saying so.
“She has no right telling me how to run my business,” Scudder said in a deposition, referring to Bennett.
On March 31, 2003, Hall got a written reply from Scudder, asking what right he had to make her change anything.
On April 16, Hall provided Bennett with the state’s animal cruelty statute and asked her to write a response outlining whether the situation at Scudder’s situation met the state’s requirements.
A week later, in a letter to Hall that became part of the defamation lawsuit, Bennett outlined how Scudder’s situation met the five points of the state’s cruelty regulation.
Scudder had balked at making the requested changes, and Hall had it in writing that the conditions were cruel under the law. So why didn’t he confiscate the birds?
“The intent of the communication was to go to Scudder so she could make changes,” Hall said. “It wasn’t for Wally Hall to get a search warrant to pull the birds.”
How the Scudders started
In the early 1960s, John and Martha Scudder moved from Moses Lake, Grant County, where their three boys were born, to Southern California. There, they bought their first bird, an Amazon parrot, at a swap meet.
They soon became hobbyist breeders, and by the time they bought land in Roy and moved the family to Washington in 1979, they had about 80 parrots. John Scudder drove a truck, and Martha worked at a hospital. By the early 1980s, they were selling birds commercially as a side business.
With three sons, there was plenty of help. The oldest, John Jr., planned to be a veterinarian and had been accepted to college. But when his father suffered a debilitating back injury that required several surgeries, John Jr. gave up that idea and took over his father’s truck route.
He married his first wife, Suzanne, had two sons, and started an aviary on the land adjacent to his parents.
Some blame the decline in the elder Scudder’s aviaries on John Sr.’s death from cancer in 2002. But John Jr. says they have been bad since the early 1980s, when he no longer was involved with them on a daily basis.
“Long before John (Sr.) got sick, those aviaries were never properly maintained,” he said in an interview. “You’d go out from one day to the next and birds would be dead in their cages. They thought of the parrots like livestock and saw themselves as management. It was someone else’s job to clean the cages and feed the birds. As they got bigger, they got worse.”
John Jr. said Martha rarely was in the aviaries taking care of the birds.
He said poisonous deadly nightshade vine grows into the parrots’ cages because the ground under them isn’t mowed, and the food dishes aren’t cleaned once a week as they need to be.
“They’d scrape them out rather than wash them, so they were never really cleaned properly,” he said. “Aspergillis bacteria, a mold that grows in the birds’ lungs, grows in them.”
After John Sr. went into the hospital, the birds were neglected so badly it was “scary” to go into the barns, said his daughter-in-law of 25 years, Robin Scudder, 42, who lives in Alaska and had been close friends with Martha Scudder.
“From 2000 on, things started getting really hairy, and the flock started dying,” she said in an interview.
Finally, John Jr. and Robin Scudder fired the caretaker.
“He would turn off the water system and forget to turn it back on and didn’t remember how many days it had been off,” Robin Scudder said.
The two cleaned the place up, but problems continued.
“Martha stopped taking birds out for necropsies to find out what had happened,” Robin Scudder said. “At first we buried them, but as the quantities jumped and jumped they went to the Dumpster. I know of at least 50 to 75 birds in the Dumpster.”
John Scudder Jr., 47, and his wife, Kathy Scudder, 47, live on the 7 acres adjacent to Martha Scudder’s property. The two run their own aviary, Happy Hookbills Ranch, which has gotten a clean bill of health from Bennett.
Even so, says Kathy Scudder, Martha Scudder’s reputation has affected their business.
According to documents in the defamation lawsuit, Martha Scudder had Washington State University’s Disease Diagnostic Laboratory write necropsy reports on 90 birds that died at her farm. Those included 50 from 2002 to the first quarter of 2004.
Lab technicians found diagnoses of aspergillis, a long-term, chronic infection in which the bird dies gasping for breath; proventricular dilatation disease or PDD, a highly contagious virus commonly called “avian AIDS”; polyoma, which causes birds to bleed to death; and mycobacterium avium, an avian tuberculosis contagious to humans.
“I can’t sell birds in the Pacific Northwest because my last name is Scudder,” said Kathy Scudder. “And I won’t put my birds in the same stores with Martha’s anyway. I don’t know what diseases her birds have. If my bird gets sick, they’ll think it was sick from my place and say, ‘See, their birds are just like Martha’s.’”
John Jr. and Kathy Scudder had helped clean Martha Scudder’s barns for a follow-up inspection by the Humane Society on June 12, 2003.
This time, Bennett said, the birds’ condition still was worrisome. But she was optimistic for the first time because it looked as if Martha Scudder were going to have help from her family in running the aviaries.
That didn’t happen, in part because that August, Martha became involved with Vincent, 49.
By all accounts, Martha Scudder had been deeply saddened by the death of her husband 18 months earlier.
“Martha was at her lowest and looking for anyone,” Kathy Scudder said. “Bob was supposed to do the feeding, cleaning and landscaping. The next thing that we know Bob is no longer the worker – Bob is the lover.”
Then, after Vincent and Kathy Scudder got into a shoving match, Martha Scudder took out a restraining order against her eldest son and his wife. There now are mutual restraining orders between the families.
John Jr. and Kathy offered to take Martha Scudder off their restraining order, but she refused if they wouldn’t accept Vincent on her terms.
“I’d love to see the animals taken care of properly, but there’s nothing I can do about it anymore with the restraining order,” John Jr. said.
When Robin Scudder moved to Alaska, she boarded some of her birds at Martha Scudder’s. She says in a court document taken as part of the Gallawa lawsuit that Vincent told her 10 birds died, though she was never told the circumstances. He sent her a certified letter ordering her to come and get the rest of the birds when she visited Roy in December 2004.
When she came, the cages were in front of Martha Scudder’s house for her to collect. The birds were in terrible shape, Robin Scudder said.
“I opened the Amazon’s nest box and there was a nest of mice,” she said, “and the two Umbrellas’ (cockatoos) nest box had so much fecal matter in their shavings it was just soup.”
Last August, Robin Scudder came to Washington to visit Kathy and John Jr. and ran into the garbage collector who services both Scudder properties.
“The Dumpster guy says, ‘Robin Scudder, where the devil have you been? And what’s going on with your mom? Do you know the amount of birds that have gone in the Dumpster since you left?’”
The conditions at the farm
Vivian Graves, a friend of Martha Scudder for six years, moved her mobile home onto Martha’s property 21/2 years ago. She lived rent-free with utilities in exchange for taking care of the birds.
Until the end of September of this year, Graves was the caretaker for the aviaries and has most recently seen the conditions there.
Graves says Vincent, who has taken over operation of the farm, wouldn’t allow the birds to be fed until so late in the day that she often had to use a flashlight to feed them after dark in the winter.
That doesn’t work for parrots, which rise at dawn and sleep at dusk, Bennett said. The birds need fresh food in the morning because they awaken hungry and need energy for the day.
The watering system, which Bennett wanted replaced, still “leaks like a sieve,” causing cesspools under the birds’ cages of moldy seeds and feces, with flies everywhere, Graves said.
“It was disgusting,” she said.
Vincent has covered the cages of some of the birds, depriving them of daylight to facilitate their breeding, she said. However, Bennett pointed out, keeping birds in the dark produces the opposite result, because the birds’ internal breeding clock is based on following the sun.
“Every time I brought up the idea that those birds cannot see anything,” Graves said, “they’re not getting any sun, that it’s not healthy, they’d say, ‘You’re trying to make pets out of everything.’”
Graves said the birds are deprived of heat in the winter and, without perches, some freeze their toes off on the cage wire.
In her deposition, Martha Scudder said she provides heat only when “absolutely necessary.” She contended her birds are acclimated and don’t require heat because they are “neotropical.”
In fact, virtually all parrots need warmth because they do not have the thick down that insulates birds from cold climates. The term “neotropical” means only that the birds are from the tropical areas in and near South America.
Tropical birds don’t become acclimated to the cold, Bennett said. At best, their immune systems become compromised. At worst, they die.
Vincent and Martha Scudder brought legal action to evict Graves. She recently moved to Utah but said she felt compelled to come forward with what she knew about the Scudder operation.
“I always thought of myself as a stand-up kind of person,” she said. “I can’t walk away knowing what I know and having seen what I’ve seen and not try to do something to make it better. I felt ashamed that I was letting the birds down.”
Details from depositions
After Bennett’s two visits and without any action by the Humane Society, Gallawa went online to avian Internet chat rooms in fall 2003 to rally support and raise awareness of the conditions at Scudder’s.
On March 2, 2004, Martha Scudder and Vincent sued Gallawa for defamation and damage to their business resulting from his comments.
“After two years of discovery and everything, he has yet to pull up one document that we have exotic Newcastle disease or some of these other things (like) psitticosis,” Vincent said in a phone interview with The News Tribune.
Gallawa denies ever saying the Scudder birds had those diseases and contends he only quoted from Bennett’s report. Nevertheless, he welcomed the lawsuit.
“Most people aren’t happy to get sued, but I was ecstatic. It meant Martha Scudder had to open her life to inspection,” Gallawa said. “Under our state laws, my attorneys could go in and seize documents which otherwise wouldn’t be available and that’s exactly what they did.”
Among the documents subpoenaed were the necropsy reports by the WSU laboratory.
“The most shocking,” Bennett said, are the necropsies showing birds died of Pacheco’s disease, a highly contagious and sometimes fatal herpes virus.
Most of Scudder’s ill birds would have looked very thin before they died, Bennett said in an interview.
“The PDD birds are emaciated to look at,” he said. “They died with no one ever caring, taking them to the doctor, or putting them in a warm area.”
Martha Scudder had an expert of her own testify in the lawsuit about the necropsy reports.
Brian Speer, a board-certified avian vet and a bird breeder, testified that some of the reports were inconclusive and that there was no proof the birds had psitticosis and exotic Newcastle disease.
“There were diseases present, just not those,” he later told The News Tribune.
Martha Scudder, under oath in deposed testimony in the lawsuit, contended there were no diseases in her aviaries and said no bird had died of starvation.
However, Kathy Scudder said Martha Scudder once pointed out a bird and identified it as dying of PDD.
“That bird was laying in the bottom of the cage. It wasn’t even able to get up on a perch,” Kathy Scudder said in a deposition. “It was skin and feathers and bones. Two days later, she told me the bird was dead. It did not receive medical treatment and it was not euthanized. She just let it waste away until it died.”
In the end, the judge hearing the lawsuit ruled Martha Scudder couldn’t prove damages from Gallawa’s actions and dismissed the legal action. Scudder and Vincent asked the judge for reconsideration and were denied. They are now appealing the ruling.
An appeal to county council
To crack down on bad breeders, Gallawa lobbied the Pierce County Council in mid-2003 to have the Kennel, Cattery, Grooming Parlor and Pet Store Ordinance include aviaries. The expanded ordinance would have allowed inspection of any aviary wanting a license and would permit follow-up checks without advance notice.
All that was required was adding the word “aviaries” to the ordinance with the number of birds defining an aviary. (A license is required for six or more cats and dogs.)
The Humane Society’s Pierce said expanding the ordinance would enable animal control to monitor Scudder’s facility in a meaningful way.
“We were working with Scudder’s voluntarily for nine months, then they shut their doors to us,” he said. “Then there was no way to verify they were continuing to do what we were asking them to do. If we’d had a license program in place, we could continue to access the property.”
Hall said the measure would help animal control officers do a better job.
“If we had like a kennel license,” he said, “they would have to be clean, they would have to have their food in airtight containers so there’s no rodents. They have to clean up after their animals, they have to dispose of things in a certain way. Now we’re just relying on the cruelty law for birds, and they do fall between the cracks.”
He said he thought four aviaries he knew of in Pierce County would not meet the standards of a revised ordinance.
The breeders were quick to react.
“We had a mountain of people against it,” County Councilman Dick Muri said. “Dozens and dozens of my constituents (were) calling me, saying we didn’t need to regulate because there was a system in place.”
Muri said he thought 90 percent of those who contacted him were breeders or bird hobbyists with an interest in keeping the status quo.
Muri went out to see Scudder’s before a hearing on the proposed ordinance and was welcomed by Martha Scudder and Vincent. Muri toured the property and didn’t see anything amiss.
“That in itself doesn’t mean anything,” Hall says. “Of course, they are going to have the place looking spick-and-span when they know someone like that is coming out.”
And Graves said she, Martha Scudder and Vincent would “clean for days” if someone important were coming to the farm.
The County Council held a hearing on the ordinance Feb. 24, 2004, and breeders argued against the amendment and the inspections it would bring.
One after another, 11 breeders said they either didn’t think they needed regulation, or that any inspection would be disruptive for the birds and would cause serious problems if strangers came into the aviaries.
As a result, they said, the county would have to pay what could be thousands of dollars in damages.
“The minute anybody comes in that the birds don’t know, the chance for disease and stress is very high,” said Jonna Kelly, co-owner of the Cripple Creek Avian breeding farm. “What happens if a vet comes out and any number of these birds that they’re inspecting die? Whose fault is that? Who eats that money? Who replaces the birds?”
Also testifying against the amendment was Laurella Desborough, then the legislative vice president of the American Federation of Aviculture, the largest organization in the U.S. representing the breeding community.
“We see this as an issue that could affect birds not just in this county but throughout the country when ordinances are proposed,” said Desborough, who traveled from Florida to testify. “If a stranger walks through a breeding aviary, and this is my concern about inspections, you can end up with scrambled eggs, dead chicks, damaged or dead mates.”
The organization’s president, Benny Gallaway, later said Desborough was not authorized to speak on its behalf.
Desborough also said at the hearing that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was about to pass legislation regulating aviaries and that a Pierce County ordinance would be redundant. In fact, the USDA officials drafting the legislation do not expect federal legislation to be enacted for at least five years.
Local breeders also were adamant that, though they had no diseases at their facilities, inspectors would have to don protective suits so as to not transmit any diseases from other facilities. And, they added, that while protective suits were absolutely necessary, they would traumatize the birds to such a degree as to make inspections impossible.
Hall and Pierce argued that the revised ordinance would help them do their jobs. Bennett testified and discounted the breeders’ concerns.
In the end, the breeders prevailed. Without further consideration, examination or investigation, the council tabled the proposal.
Chairwoman Barbara Gelman ended the hearing saying, “This is not an issue that is going to be decided on at this particular committee meeting. We’re going to have other committee meetings and other hearings.”
None has been held in almost two years since.
“This is not an (ordinance) where the public is beating down our doors,” Councilman Shawn Bunney said later. “There was no public outcry and we didn’t have compelling evidence to do anything.”
In addition, he said, it was a strike against the proposition that its main advocate, Gallawa, was from outside the county.
“In hindsight,” Bunney said, “I can reflect that maybe we should go back and re-examine this issue.”
Bennett says the council fell for a smokescreen set up by the breeders.
“This is the tactic that they’ve come up with to say birds are so sensitive you can’t have anyone walk through their enclosures. It’s ridiculous and it’s just not true,” she said. “I’m an avian veterinarian, I certainly know how to walk through a facility without disturbing the birds. Quietly walking through and inspecting is not going to cause any of the problems they said.”
Laurence Hawkins, regional public affairs officer for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, sides with Bennett and against the breeders.
“I sympathize with their concerns but I don’t believe that they’re valid,” he said. “Our people are very familiar with how to go into bird facilities, including handling parrots, to monitor them.”
Eighteen months ago, Gallawa was diagnosed with a rare kind of terminal cancer. It is his dying wish is to see Scudder’s aviary closed and the birds there in a safe place.
“I only hope,” he says, “I can make a difference in at least a small way that will make life better for these animals that deserve so much more than the human race has given them.”
Originally published: December 18th, 2005 02:30 AM (PST)