People who keep parrots are as close to them as other pet owners are to their cats and dogs, so imagine how these pet owners feel when government officials, who are trying to control the spread of a deadly bird disease called Exotic Newcastle, come into their homes and kill their pet bird?often right in front of them. So far, the disease has killed 3.4 million birds in Southern California, many of them household parrots and parakeets. The state and federal government is talking to everyone from mail carriers to nosy neighbors, trying to identify the owners of sick birds. If a bird is suspected of having the disease, it's killed immediately.
Officials say they need to stop the disease before it wipes out the state's $3 billion poultry industry. It was first discovered in September in a backyard flock of chickens. Now are investigators going door to door, looking for sick birds.
Jeff Maxwell got nervous when he learned a task force agent wrote down his address and a description of his home, then entered it on a hand held computer with GPS. He says the task force has "carte blanche to kill any feathered thing on your property or your house regardless of whether it tests positive. The thought of somebody driving to my door?and coming in and killing my bird in front of me is outrageous." He has a 22-year-old parrot.
The disease has also been discovered in Nevada and Arizona. People who move their birds out of quarantined areas could get a $25,000 fine. "Newcastle disease is the hoof-and-mouth disease of birds," says veterinarian Jack Shere. "People don't seem to grasp how important that is?You have to euthanize the few to protect the many."
The bulletin of the Parrot Society of Los Angeles says, "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 batteries."
Lawyer William Dailey says, "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."
California poultry farmers Arie and Will Wilgenburg fed 30,000 live chickens into wood chippers because they were no longer able to produce eggs. They couldn't be turned into soup because the farms are under quarantine for Exotic Newcastle Disease.
District Attorney spokeswoman Gayle Stewart says the farmers asked the Agriculture Department for permission to use the wood chippers. She says, "Once they had permission we decided that they did not have any criminal intent."
Wayne Pacelle, of the Humane Society, says, "The act of feeding live chickens into a wood chipper is an extraordinarily callous and barbaric act and I can't imagine any person with a whit of common sense would use a wood chipper as a killing tool. No person with any experience in killing animals would sanction the use of this technique."
Rupert Sheldrake has studied psychic parrots that seem to be as conscious as humans?something parrot owners are familiar with.
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