California Killed 1.2 Million Birds To Stop a Virus. Pet Owners Say They Were Terrorized.

The euthanasia campaign may be necessary to prevent the spread of the Newcastle disease, but bird owners say that it's being carried out in a cruel manner.


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Kerri Hand became a chicken owner for the eggs, but then she fell in love. A retired cop who lives in rural southern California, Hand and her children came to view their flock as part of the family.

In late 2018, Hand returned home to find a notice stuck on her door from the California Department of Food and Agriculture stating that there was an outbreak of a highly deadly avian virus in her neighborhood, which can wipe out massive flocks. State and federal health officials had ordered all birds across several counties under immediate quarantine, including Hand's.

To date, officials have searched thousands of homes and farms and identified just under 500 infections. After determining that quarantine wasn't enough, they ordered the mandatory euthanasia of over 1.2 million birds in high-risk areas surrounding the infections, including healthy birds. The euthanasia campaign may be necessary to prevent the spread of the Newcastle disease, but according to the bird owners who spoke with Reason, health officials have carried out their duties in a cruel manner, leaving bird-owning families with lasting emotional scars.

Hand complied with the state's quarantine orders for months, and paid to have her birds tested by a veterinarian—tests that came back negative for Virulent Newcastle Disease. But as she and her family were preparing to celebrate Good Friday, a team of police and state workers dressed in biohazard suits unexpectedly arrived at her house, with a search warrant and an order to kill her family's flock. Hand's children watched their pets die.

Workers kill birds by breaking their necks, shooting them with firearms, or suffocating them with CO2 gas—methods that officials maintain are humane. But Hand disagrees. She recalls that workers placed her birds in a trash can with no viewing window, forcing them to lift the lid to check if the birds had died. Each time, oxygen leaked in, prolonging the process.

Hand recorded and shared live video of the slaughter in a Facebook group she created called Save Our Birds, and it went viral. The group gained thousands of members, and Hand began organizing volunteers to show up at kills and film on their phones. She alleges they've documented scores of abuses by state workers and police.

Produced, written, shot, and edited by Justin Monticello 

Camera by John Osterhoudt

Music: "White Hats" by Wayne Jones; "I've Just Had an Apostrophe!" by Spazz Cardigan; "Butchers" by Silent Partner; "Versace Beat" by Yung Logos; "Gaia in Fog" by Dan Bodan; "Grasshopper" by Quincas Moreira; "Pinckney" by The 126ers