First, there were mostly dogs and cats. Then came the chickens.
Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter officials said a spike in abandoned hens and roosters since pandemic lockdown lifted has created an unexpected need for chicken rescue.
Now instead of just hosting furry friends, they've had to make room for a new flock — creating a challenge for the facility.
The town experienced a boom in chicken keeping after 2020, according to Leigh Wixson, the shelter's supervisor.
“People were home, they wanted to take on projects … And they are very affectionate birds, so we saw a huge uptick in the amount of people owning chickens," Wixson said in an interview.
But as time passed, the number of chicken abandonments locally began to rise and the shelter ran out of room for them, according to the shelter official.
The facility went from having no chickens in 2020 to taking in a total of nine chickens since then. At one point, the shelter was getting so many stray or abandoned chickens that the town's Parks Department had to build enclosures at the shelter to keep the birds secured, Wixson said.
This year, the shelter has rehomed four chickens and at this time doesn't have any available for adoption, officials said. They've partnered with nonprofits and animal groups to find suitable homes for the birds.
Roosters can be especially problematic, drawing complaints from neighbors because of the noise they make, according to animal advocates.
John DiLeonardo, who heads the advocacy organization Humane Long Island, said he helped place several roosters and chickens from the Smithtown shelter in new homes. He said there is a “massive fowl abandonment problem” on Long Island.
Usually, DiLeonardo finds chickens are abandoned following the Easter season after people take them home as holiday impulse buys.
“Whether they’re dumping them on the shelter or the parks … it’s a big burden on nonprofits like ours,” DiLeonardo said.
Licensed wildlife rehabilitator Christine Miceli, 58, of Bay Shore, said people often adopt chickens because they make good pets.
But she said raising them is a lot of work and since they stopping laying eggs after a number of years, some people "will just toss them, get rid of them, throw them in the woods because they're not serving a purpose anymore."
Kurt Andernach, founder of the And-Hof Animals, a sanctuary for farm animals in the Catskills, said he took in a young rooster from the Smithtown shelter in September.
Andernach, who has 75 roosters from different parts of the country on the 60-acre property, said he has found most people don’t educate themselves when they take in hens or roosters as pets, which he highly advises.
“If you’re serious about adopting chickens, educate yourself,” Andernach said. “Ask people who already have chickens to really understand what’s involved so that you don’t throw the animal away.”
A new shelter flock
- Smithtown Animal Shelter has taken in nine chickens since 2020.
- The town had to build new enclosures for the animals.
- The shelter has rehomed four chickens so far this year.