The Real Poop on
My Duck Saga
If you have not heard, you soon will, the false and lurid press headlines taken straight from State’s talking points have appeared in the press about me neglecting ducks.
Now that the trial is over, I can report on things I couldn’t reveal during the proceedings.
Despite what has been reported, I want to assure all that I unequivocally have never mistreated my ducks or ‘deprived them of sustenance’.
Since 2013 have raised ducks for eggs, and I took care of my animals in every meaningful way, they were well fed, healthy and happy ducks, laying eggs daily, and having my flock was otherwise uneventful for all that time.
I even named each one for their individual quirks and behavior.
Not one of the ducks was underweight, unhealthy or had any infections or diseases.
My ducks were raised from baby ducklings, which grew from hatchlings in a custom made brooding pen — a sophisticated homeostatically moderated environment with automatic heat, ventilation, feeding and watering systems integrated into the brooding pen.
All this was shown and proven at trial, and indeed conceded by the State’s expert witnesses.
You would think the very reason one goes to trial, is to prove their innocence and show that their animals were healthy and well fed, and that should be enough.
However, that apparently is NOT enough. Having healthy and well cared for animals does not prevent the state from convicting you nonetheless.
Apparently the State can convict you on an ambiguous standard called “sustenance”.
This standard as used has nothing to do with properly fed and happy animals, but has become a way for the State to prosecute normal biological behavior and traits, misinforming the jury by posing them as unusual or pathological.
It is a very depressing situation to see your reputation besmirched in the public sphere when you know that you have not harmed any animals, and actually proved it at trial.
I am writing this public statement to inform everyone who is interested, what really happened and to correct the misrepresentations that have been published by the authorities to maliciously defame my reputation and justify their prosecution.
What Actually Happened?
It began with a false allegation from a tenant, Michelle Rice, who wanted me to pay a $500 vet bill for a cat that got injured while in her care,
when I declined, she called the SPCA and complained that I wouldn’t pay for the cat, when they didn’t respond to that, she called again and said I was abusing ducks.
When the SPCA showed up in the Spring of 2016, they cited me for not treating my farmyard ducks as if they were domestic pets, and objected to letting them roam free.
They kept coming back, four more times, for over a year trying to find a violation of the Agricultural law, but failed. They had to give up recognizing there was no violations, particularly after they saw I had built an extension to the existing pen .
Then, in April of 2017 when two storms had wreaked the pen days earlier, they waited for the one day I was out of town at a Syracuse Political Convention, and conducted an illegal search of my property without my presence or permission.
During that search, they turned off the incubator/brooding pen’s ventilation and heating system for my baby ducks, and left my baby ducks to die from hypothermia and lack of air.
with thermostatic controlled heater/ventilator
(ducklings exposed to cold & lack of air
after system was turned off by SPCA)
They then turned off my outdoor electric fence protecting the adult ducks, and sprayed huge volumes of water into the pen and on my ducks, frightening them and drenching them with stirred up mud.
Ducks being drenched and muddied
by SPCA Investigator Karen Wilson,
during non-permission search
When I came back the next day, I was aghast to find the baby ducks close to death, the big pen all muddied and basins thrown about.
I also found another citation on my door demanding I rebuild the pen, which I was already in process of doing, but instead of giving me time to complete the repairs, they were already securing a warrant and seized my ducks two days later. When I later went to the SPCA coops, a facility open to the public, so as to check on the condition of my ducks and to see how they were being treated, I was ejected, and threatened with arrest if I came back.
WTF is going on?
They came on my property without permission, timed intentionally when they knew I was away, and actually endangered the animals they purport to protect.
When they couldn’t find a crime, they literally manufactured the crimes and evidence onsite that they would then use to actually get a real search warrant.
Later when they seized my ducks with dozens of officers roaming about, they took sedate, relaxed and clean animals, and terrorized them, chasing them throughout the pen to catch them, to corral them into a tiny gated area.
Then after corralling them, they stirred up the mud bedding of the pen and then literally smeared mud all over the animals before taking them away, letting the mud dry them for 24 hours, and then later accusing me for the filthy mud encrusted conditions of the ducks they had mistreated.
The SPCA is not a neutral law enforcement agency. They get away with things normal police would never even do, and they do it with an assumed moral superiority that they know will always be viewed as right and good, no matter how awful their behavior.
If they stuck to cases of real cruelty and neglect no one would have a complaint, but they don’t.
In fact,they are a private organization, not part of any governmental department, an organization that depends upon money donations that flood in after they publish horror headlines showing their heroism. In many ways this is like vigilantism or bounty hunting, the more cases they can manufacture, the more money they make.
The fact is, the Ulster County SPCA is infested with extremist animal rights activists who don’t believe in people eating meat or raising animals in “captivity,” and use the police powers given them by the state to enforce their ideology, and punish otherwise innocent people.
The Wildcard Charge of “Lack of Sustenance”
Lack of sustenance sounds awful, but it doesn’t mean lack of food or water. It’s a catchall term that covers anything the SPCA says the animals need, whether or not it is necessary for their health and welfare.
As even they conceded I was feeding the ducks with basins full of duck pellets and an on-demand gravity fed water nipple feeding system, they had to find something else to charge me with – enter the “sustenance” standard.
They thought they found paydirt after misidentifying the breed of my ducks as Pekins (which weigh 9-12 lbs.), they concluded that my ducks were grossly underweight, inferring I was not feeding them properly. My ducks were only 4.5 lbs. – which is the right weight for Khaki hybrid 300s, the only breed of duck that I was raising.
It is like declaring a Chihuahua dog is actually a Golden Retriever, and then saying that Golden Retriever is drastically underweight.
The second thing they did was ignore the fact my ducks were free range, roaming at will all over the yard and the woods feeding themselves on natural duck food from insects to slugs, and using the rock pool outside the pen. They micro-analyzed every little scrape and scuff on the bottom of their feet or underneath their wingtips, assessing their condition as if they were show birds or a single domestic pet that lives in the house. Every tiny scratch on the soles of their feet was then said to be an act of neglect by me.
They were very happy ducks, spending more time in the pen, but still able to go outside of it at will.
I also built a huge extension to their pen which housed the ducks at night, 25’x14′. One of my friends who helped called it duck heaven, as it had everything they needed: feed, water to drink, bedding and a plastic pool, and as before they always had access to the outdoor rock pool I fashioned into the adjacent stream.
The SPCA described the extended pen as a “minor improvement”, and cited me for overcrowding, even though each duck had over 10 square feet for each of them.
They claimed that because I didn’t have separate feeding bins, that somehow the large ducks would crowd out the small ducks at feeding time — ignoring actual duck behavior that once a duck was full it would leave the bin for any other duck to eat from, and that the bin was always filled with food.
By the time trial started, it was clear they wanted a conviction at all costs.
They began by renaming all my ducks, assigning nursery-room names written on signs attached to each one, so as to cast them all into idealized domesticated pet ducks.
Muckraker, the rummager, was now Andromeda, Houdini became Bliss, Randy became Demeter, Pushy became Cassiopeia, and so on.
From there it went substantively bad.
The allegations and presentation of evidence at trial was based upon complete misrepresentations of the actual facts, relied on perjured testimony, admittedly unqualified experts, and intentionally presented out-of-context ‘evidence.’
Their first trial witness, Michelle Rice, provided testimony that contradicted everything she said at a pretrial hearing; making either one of her statements perjury. The major witness, the original lead investigator, Karen Wilson, had been previously fired from the SPCA for incompetence and violations in other cases, but then lied about it saying she did not know about why she was fired.
Press reports have hyped the alleged conditions of the ducks, but they didn’t report the facts shown at trial, that out of the 18 ducks, there were 4 cases of uninfected bumblefoot, and that 2 ducks had a small hole in the webbing of one foot – healed the year before, and not even a part of this investigation. What the press did not report was that the SPCA expert veterinarian admitted that bumblefoot is common, that there was no infections and such surface abrasions would naturally heal within two weeks as a normal course of living. Their same expert reported that none of the ducks had any disease, parasites, viruses, or infections, and out of the 18 ducks he gave one foot an iodine bath, not for any infection but as an antiseptic for a surface scrape. The press also didn’t report that the expert did not know that these were free range non-flying ducks, and that such animals often get small holes in the webbing, they heal, and does not affect the animal’s walking or regular living.
Having seen all their photographs of the conditions, I had intended to use those that corroborate my account of food, water and bedding; but all those photos were excluded from the sets that they submitted into evidence. I had warned my lawyer they might pull that trick, but somehow they did not make it into evidence.
The ever-changing testimony.
The original allegations of overcrowding, lack of food or water, were dropped, and replaced by an emphasis on the amount of duck poop within the pen. Although it is well known that ducks will poop in the pens that they are in, I was cited for having duck poop in the duck pen! This was declared de facto unsanitary, regardless of the actual health of the ducks. The floor of the pen was mud and hay, but because they found some duck poop mixed in this barnyard environment, the pen was deemed unsanitary for ducks.
Considering that these ducks could come and go as they pleased, the ad hoc standard now was that I had a made a duck pen available for the ducks, that having duck poop in it, they considered that unacceptable, and abuse.
A happenstance windstorm blowing down the fencing and up-ending the wading pool, not repaired within one day, was considered abuse.
Whenever the examination of the witnesses undermined what they had said before, the SPCA immediately changed their story.
When I pointed out there was a stream and rock pool outside the pen for the ducks to swim in, that was not good enough for SPCA; the ducks had to be swimming inside the pen’s wading pool.
When I directed their attention to the well known phenomena of molting, where ducks periodically lose their feathers as a natural regeneration process, their duck expert, Karen Wilson, returned to the stand to testify she had never seen ducks do that, because Pekin ducks’ feathers are shiny, bright and white all the time.
When I pointed out I had built a drainage system in the pen so the poop and piss would end up in a septic tank, they insisted that would not work, even though it had for the years it had been in operation.
When I got them to admit that not one duck was actually weighed, on an actual scale, they argued they didn’t need a scale to determine a ducks’ weight, and could figure it out just by looking at them – a significant point, because different breeds have different weights and body structure.
These and many more examples of the fickleness of the SPCA position, prove they were making it up as they went along, and demonstrates they made up any ‘facts’ they needed to make their case, and change the goal posts mid-trial.
When I was on the stand, and provided the receipts to prove that all my ducks were Khaki hybrids, and that none of them were Pekin ducks, proving the claim that they were underweight was prima facie false, their duck ‘expert’ was recalled to the stand and now asserted that all hybrids contained some Pekin, and said she knew that mine were too because “they were white” and all white ducks were Pekins. That was astonishing. Khaki Hybrid 300 are a proprietary cross breed between Khaki Campbells, Rouens and Cayugas. Yet by merely saying so, the State can change the breed of my ducks. Facts don’t matter anymore, facts are what the State says they are.
The ultimate crime
Everything I did that proved the charges were ludicrous, was used to convict me. Treating those holes in two ducks’ feet myself, two years earlier with hydrogen peroxide, was somehow neglect now, because the SPCA said I should have taken them to a vet. Allowing the ducks to roam around was neglect because the SPCA asserted ducks should never ever be allowed to walk on hard ground.
But my ultimate crime was that all those scrapes, bumps and bruises on the bottom of their feet could become infected. The facts proven at trial that none actually did over years of husbandry did not matter. As ‘neglect’ in current animal law includes doing or not doing something that might lead to injury or pain to an animal, and allowing my ducks to roam free presented a risk of injury, and daring to treat them myself makes me guilty of neglect.
It appeared that the jury was similarly conflicted as to what exactly I was supposed to be guilty of, as they deliberated for over 8 hours, over two days of shouting at each other in the jury room, before coming back with a verdict of guilty.
So, in sum – yes I was convicted, convicted on an amorphous, undefined standard, where no ducks were harmed, and all were healthy.
“Lack of Sustenance” is unconstitutionally vague, and no one can be sure they are committing it until after a trial.
It is not over yet
Needless to say, I will appeal. While I have to keep the grounds and details of that to myself at this point, what I can say is this — From the moment I was charged I have not been fighting this merely for my sake and reputation. This is a libertarian issue.
They do not want individuals keeping animals for anything other than a family pet, which is to be taken to a vet the moment there is a insignificant scrape or nick, and you pay are to pay $200 for a problem you can can effectively treat yourself for a buck.
They know that calling the vet each time for each bird when a farmer has 2 dozen birds, is both unnecessary and would bankrupt such farmers from ever being able to have a few ducks in the first place.
They can get away with this because ‘lack of sustenance’ is treated as a strict liability charge, you’re guilty whether you aware of it or not, whether you know what it is or not, or where there is no intent for it to occur.
A branch falling on a duck that you own, is considered abuse,
a duck stepping on a sharp rock or stick is considered abuse,
natural molting is considered abuse,
having a full single feeding bin was abuse,
a predator eating one of your ducks is considered abuse.
I would encourage people to watch the movie “The Dog Lover”, to see what animal activists teamed up with law enforcement will comparably do to the people they target. The more headlines they can generate, the more they can justify soliciting donations from the public, who don’t know the particulars of a case, just the big headlines.
That’s why they are broadcasting my story as far and wide as they can, far beyond any local publications, but off and out to county newspapers far and distant from here.
I do not question that many of such cases are justified and right, but overzealous enforcement where it is unwarranted catches a lot of otherwise innocent people in their wide net.
Most people do not appeal, though they should as most cases of this type are reversed unless the neglect was obviously intentional and took the animal to death’s door.
What makes strict liability and my charges absurd is that I could not be prosecuted for intentionally chopping the ducks heads off, but I could be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime for some duck poop in the pen and letting my ducks walk around and scuffing the bottom of their feet.
If they can do this to me, a small time farmer just having a couple dozen ducks, they can do it to anyone here in Ulster county, effectively making it too dangerous to raise any ducks at all, which is no doubt their ultimate goal.
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