You love animals. Who doesn’t? You already have a dog, two cats, a goldfish and a miniature pig. But you’re looking for something more.
Chickens! Chickens are the answer. Then you’ll have fresh eggs every morning, and maybe it’ll even be fun to chase them around the backyard once in a while.
Solid plan. Except… it’s a lot of work, and before you know it you’re sweating trying to clean and feed those animals, and you really didn’t consider that if you want to go away someone else has to take care of them.
So you abandon them. Like hundreds of other people who had grand plans to be an urban farmer.
In Minneapolis in 2001, 50 chickens were dropped off at animal shelters.
Last year, that number rose to over 500, according to Chicken Run Rescue, a Minneapolis-based group that provides temporary shelter and vet care to abandoned chickens.
Hundreds of urban chickens are abandoned across the U.S. every year -- and that number is on the rise, according to a spokesman for the Humane Society in the United States.
The trend is being seen in Canada, too.
Sayara Thurston of the Humane Society International Canada, who is based in Montreal, said chickens are being dropped off at the SPCA in Montreal every week.
“A chicken is a pet like any other and they need to be cared for throughout their lives, which people need to take into consideration if they’re thinking of adopting some chickens into their home,” she said.
Chicken Run Rescue’s owner blames the problem on “hipster farmers” who don’t understand what they’re getting into when they decide to purchase chickens for their backyard.
“People don’t know what they’re doing. And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there,” Mary Britton Clouse told NBC News.
The problem drove one woman to turn her backyard into a sanctuary for chickens abandoned by wannabe urban farmers in Seattle, MSN reported.
Urban hens are allowed in cities like Niagara Falls, Brampton, Kitchener, Kingston and Victoria.
In Vancouver, people are actually encouraged to produce their own food and keep chickens in their backyard. There are rules though; you’re allowed to have a maximum of four hens (and no roosters), and you cannot use eggs, meat or manure for commercial purposes. You’re also not allowed to perform any backyard slaughtering (thank goodness).
The City of Vancouver also wisely encourages people to learn how to care for the hens before they purchase them.
“People may get some cute fluffy chicks in the spring for Easter and not realize that caring for these animals and having a safe place for them to live year round is a lot of work,” Thurston said.
“We’re talking about a society that already has abandonment issues when you look at dogs and cats so you’re just adding another animal into that equation,” she said.
Toronto, on the other hand, has a long and complicated history with backyard chicken coops. In 1987 there was a bylaw banning them, and yet there are estimated to be hundreds in the city today, hiding from the watchful eyes of bylaw officers. Those who own them in Toronto say they have to be so secretive, they can’t even tell their neighbours they are keeping farm animals. Loose lips sink ships, and all that.
“We’re not in favour of people having birds. As romantic as it might seem, it’s not a good idea,” said Stephanie Brown, a director at the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, an animal welfare advocacy group.
She said she doubted those urban farmers would be willing to cough over costs – that can get high – that come with caring for a sick bird.
Chickens are pretty cute, and they do have a lot of benefits, but if you’re going to raise them, do it the right way – know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared for a lot of work. If you’re not ready for that, maybe stick to watching Chicken Run at home for now, or going to visit the chickens abandoned at animal shelters, quite possibly by your neighbours.