LETTER: Animal Compassion Is More than Just Pets

February 16, 2015


I read Wayne Creed’s article (“Animal Abuse, Theft Highlight Longtime Problems”) with great interest, being aware of the minimal care frequently afforded companion animals by their owners on the Eastern Shore. Friends who moved to Accomack three years ago were so distressed by the harsh treatment of dogs and other animals they observed in many yards that they started providing straw bedding, food and education, even doing repairs in some instances.

Their experience was that while some of the pet owners they helped were happy to receive the purchases and labor, it did not appear they would follow up on their own. Last time we talked, my friends said they had to step back from the toll the situation was taking on their own mental health and resources.

But it isn’t only dogs and cats who suffer from abuse and neglect on the Eastern Shore (and in other parts of Virginia). Chickens and many other animals suffer through every phase of their existence as a result of their status as agricultural animals.

Many of those who abuse and neglect their companion animals work in animal agribusiness where a total lack of compassion for animals, even pleasure in watching them suffer, prevails. People who spend their days being violent toward chickens and other farmed animals as part of their job often bring the violent culture of their employment home with them.

How many residents know that a Virginia statute titled “Care of Agricultural Animals by Owner” (Section 3.2-6503.1) allows the owners of agricultural animals to deprive their animals of food and water up to the point of starvation and dehydration and exempts the owners from providing bedding or shelter, regardless of the weather, for their animals?


In 2011 I worked on a case in Nelson County, where 25,000 hens were left to starve to death by an owner who suffered no penalty for his cruelty. In January 2014 a resident in Campbell County reported that roosters on a local farm were locked separately in wire pens in freezing winds and snow without any bedding, cover, or perches. The head of animal control was sympathetic, even visiting the owner to urge that straw and covering be provided for the birds, but he explained to me in an email that since the animals were chickens, “no laws are being broken.”

Understandably, those of us who care about animals and are working to protect them can’t take on every cruelty situation. As Wayne Creed wrote in his article, “the situation on the ground is overwhelming.” But this does not mean we should confine our sympathies only to the animals we think of as household pets. Other animals, particularly chickens on the Eastern Shore, need our compassion and help.

If we see backyard chickens or other farm animals being neglected or mistreated, we should try talking to the person, and if that doesn’t work, report the situation to animal control and request an investigation and a record of the investigation including what legal action, if any, was taken.

An animal shelter fundraiser should not include chickens or other animals on the menu. The food that is served should be vegetarian. Actions like these and others will help foster the climate of care and respect that all animals need and deserve from those of us who already care about animals and who are working to bring others around to our point of view.


Karen Davis is president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Machipongo.



13 Responses to “LETTER: Animal Compassion Is More than Just Pets”

  1. Karen Davis, PhD on February 17th, 2015 6:12 am

    Thank you very much for publishing my letter and for sharing the concerns and ideas about animal care with your readers. The weather we are having right now reminds us forcibly of all those who are unprotected and unloved, because of their circumstances, and whom we need to bring out of the cold and into our hearts.

    For the chickens and all precious creatures.

    Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

  2. Janet Sturgis on February 17th, 2015 1:02 pm

    A funny thing happened when I shared this article on Facebook. An ad for a local BBQ restaurant, serving BBQ chicken, attached itself to my post. You can’t make this stuff up.

  3. Richard J. Peppin on February 17th, 2015 1:04 pm

    I read Dr. Davis’ letter and agree with her completely. All sentient beings, especially helpless chickens and other farm animals, who have done nothing evil to us humans, deserve to be left alone. Their only “crime” is to be non-human. It is sad. The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.
    Hurrah, Dr. Davis. Thank you.
    Rich Peppin

  4. Victoria Worthy on February 17th, 2015 1:16 pm

    Pets and farm animals should not be considered commodities! They need basic health care and food and water. They should all have access to grass and the outdoors during good weather. STOP the insanity of Farm Factories!

  5. Mary Finelli on February 17th, 2015 3:50 pm

    Many thanks to the Cape Charles Wave for bringing desperately needed attention to the needless and preventable human-caused suffering of companion animals and farmed animals. The latter are just as susceptible to fear and pain as the former, and equally deserving of protection.

    Stricter laws need to be promulgated and enforced to protect companion animals. The best way that each of us can prevent harm to farmed animals is to not support their exploitation. There are marvelous vegan alternatives to every type of animal product imaginable. They’re better for the animals, for our own health, and for the environment.

  6. Dean Shifflett on February 17th, 2015 4:48 pm

    The most abused farm animal is the chicken. It is small, defenseless, and dependent on humans for survival. Chickens are subjected to interstate transport on the backs of trucks in sub-freezing or sweltering temperatures; being slaughtered while alive and fully conscious; and abuse from birth to death — male chicks are ground up alive, as they do not produce eggs. On top of all of these horrific conditions they are often abused even more by their handlers: thrown against walls, floors, into crates, stomped, etc. The Animal Welfare Act provides little protection against these horrific and routine offenses. When humans are treated like chickens, the perpetrators are referred to as psychopaths. But like sexists who minimize women, or racists who minimize minorities, speciesist give themselves a free pass for all of these unconscionable behaviors, under the ruse that the animals are inferior. The fact is: animals feel pain, fear, discomfort, and stress. It is time to stop treating animals in a way that, if perpetrated upon a human, would result in a life sentence for the offender. The link between animal abuse and violence toward humans is well-established. Case in point: Jeffrey Dahlmer.

    Commercials by the chicken industry fraudulently portray a chicken’s life as idyllic, fun-filled, and enjoyable, which is quite perverse, given their intention of raising and killing as many animals as quickly as possible. Purdue can only use cartoon images of a chicken, as authentic, undercover images of the chicken houses and slaughter houses would be too much for most to bear.

    There are a multitude of vegetarian “chicken” meals that taste and look like “nuggets” but are healthier, do not cause listeria in a factory farm neighbor’s well water, and are CRUELTY FREE. Visit websites like LightLife.com, United Poultry Concerns, PETA, HSUS, etc., to learn about healthier, earth- and animal-friendly options.

    Similarly, it would be just as sickening, if the Nazis referred to their concentration camps (modeled after chicken farms, by the way) as “resorts” for their condemned. Shame on Purdue, and Tyson’s too!

  7. Melanie Waleski on February 17th, 2015 9:18 pm

    Very interesting letter. I agree that people who are sadistic to animals in their workplace are also cruel in other aspects of their life. Animal control here in Charlottesville does nothing more than make sure that the dogs tied or penned outside 365 days a year in this city have a shelter. It doesn’t matter if there is no food or water or bedding. The situation is horrible. I am thankful that there are people who stand up and speak for the animals!! Without them our world would be so much worse off — thoughtlessness and cruelty would win.

    Thanks! Keep up the good work!

  8. Scott Bono on February 19th, 2015 2:18 pm

    Pet Worship is alive and well on The Eastern Shore of Virginia.

  9. Mary Finelli on February 19th, 2015 2:49 pm

    Scott, are you translating concern for basic needs and living conditions for companion animals into “pet worship”? If so, I certainly hope there are no animals who are dependent on you for their care. It’s a matter of having basic decency and respect for our fellow sentient species.

  10. Susan Bauer on February 19th, 2015 3:11 pm

    Dr. Karen Davis is one of the bravest people I have ever met. She established a poultry rescue in the very heart of the chicken industry here on the Eastern Shore. I have visited her sanctuary where chickens and other birds socialize in flocks, sleep on a heated porch, and have abundant good food and fresh water. If you are lucky, and patient, they will approach you with their expressive eyes and inquisitive demeanor, and if you have any humanity at all you will recognize these complex and emotional beings do not deserve to end up in your deep fryer. This is not about “pet worship” Mr. Bono. It is about having respect for other living creatures. Fortunately, they have a relentless advocate in Dr. Davis. She works tirelessly to enlighten and educate people like you.

  11. Susan Bauer on February 20th, 2015 9:18 am

    I would like to host a monthly vegan potluck in Cape Charles, for vegetarians, vegans and the vegan-curious. I need to know if there is interest. Please e-mail me at [email protected].

  12. Christine Flye on February 21st, 2015 3:36 pm

    I would like to know how citizens of the shore can get laws on the books that prevent ignorant people from chaining their animals and leaving them in the cold and heat! I would love to be part of a movement like this. We have to give them a voice!

  13. Daniel Burke on February 22nd, 2015 8:54 pm

    My wife and I would also be interested in getting laws enforced to prevent tethering and continuous penning of dogs. One way to help fund this would be to enforce existing laws requiring licenses and rabies shots. If you forced marginal animal owners to spend the money to properly care for their animals a lot of the abuse would dissappear.