Tilden Little Farm2 Mary Flaherty
Pets dumped at Tilden Little Farm (above) can be eaten by wild foxes, raccoons, bobcats and hawks. Photo: Mary Flaherty

The abandoned chickens appeared one afternoon in December, in the parking lot near Tilden Park’s Little Farm. Nine of them, right next to the bus stop. Whoever dumped them had sprinkled feed on the ground, and apparently hoped the Little Farm would adopt them. Not so.

“It’s as much as I can do to keep these animals clean, alive and fed,” said the man known as Farmer Stanley, gesturing to the chickens, cows, sheep and pigs he has taken care of at the farm for more than a decade.

At least two of those abandoned chickens became dinner for the local wildlife, judging by the piles of feathers found on the ground, said park staff.  They think – or at least hope – that some of the chickens were adopted, in response to an ad posted, because a bunch disappeared all at once.

The month before the chicken-drop, it was a white bunny, left in a cage at the same spot. Last summer there were five kittens.

Tilden Little Farm4 Mary Flaherty
One reason for abandoned pets is people get chicks and discover they are roosters which are effectively banned in Berkeley. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Animals have been abandoned in the park as long as any of the staff can remember — fancy show chickens dropped over the barnyard fence, hamsters stuffed into the bunny hutch — even though dumping animals is against park ordinances and the park can take legal action. Farmer Stanley (last name Ward) said it happens maybe five times a year. That doesn’t include the turtles and goldfish dumped in the ponds.

And then there are the phone calls, around twice a week, mostly about roosters.

“People gets chicks at Easter and they become roosters by summer,” Farmer Stanley said. Anti-rooster laws and noise ordinances effectively ban roosters from Berkeley and neighboring cities.

Dumping pets in the park creates all sorts of problems. The pets can be eaten by wild foxes, raccoons, bobcats and hawks. When they’re not, they can spread disease in the farmyard, upset the park’s ecosystem, and place a burden on park staff.

So why can’t the farm take them in? The deserted animals can spread mites, lice, worms and viruses to the Little Farm’s well-cared-for residents, according to Farmer Stanley. (“We spend a fortune on routine veterinary stuff,” he said.) When someone dumped some really unhealthy hamsters into the rabbit cage, he had to empty the cage and sterilize it.

Furthermore, new birds wouldn’t find a welcome home with the Little Farm’s 40 chickens. Any newcomer would be 41st in the pecking order, Farmer Stanley explained. And if the new arrival were aggressive, that’s no good either. Those don’t mix well with the farm’s toddling visitors.

Tilden Little Farm - Mary Flaherty
Abandoned animals can spread disease in the Tilden farmyard, upset the park’s ecosystem, and place a burden on park staff. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Then there’s the threat to wildlife: goldfish dumped in park’s ponds eat frogs’ eggs, said naturalist James Wilson, and abandoned turtles, mostly red-eared sliders, outnumber the native western pond turtles in Jewel Lake, competing for food

As for the burden on the staff -– they didn’t want to admit it, for fear of encouraging drop-offs, but the naturalists and volunteers have spent many hours, after work, delivering abandoned animals to new homes or shelters. (The problem of abandoned animals isn’t limited to the farm. The Berkeley shelter finds animals left in the night, apparently by people who don’t want to pay the $5-$20 surrender fee.)

Farmer Stanley offered a little insight into the type of person who might dump a pet in the park.

“I caught a person dropping off rats, red-handed,” he said. “This was not a well person.”  He told them to stop, but the rats showed up later.

A humane society worker added that occasionally animals are dumped by angry roommates or neighbors.

Other owners may be simply frustrated by the search for a new home for their pet. Calls to several animal rescue organizations revealed that they don’t take animals directly from owners. The sanctuaries would be overwhelmed, so they focus their attention on abuse cases, or on animals in shelters, facing immediate extermination, and hope that owners find a new home for their pet.

The same goes for private rescuers –- who don’t list themselves online and take animals only via word of mouth.  The Berkeley Humane Society handles only dogs and cats.

What do do if you are looking to give up an animal

  • First, try the store you bought it from. They might be willing to take in back.
  • Advertise with friends.
  • Rivertown Feed (707-762-4505) in Petaluma and the Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa (707-545-0721) will take healthy roosters to resell, if they have cage space. Call first.
  • Animal rescue groups Animal Place (530-477-1757) in Vacaville and Harvest Sanctuary (209-244-7174) offer a place to post adoption ads, but won’t take your pet directly.
  • Bay Area Turtle and Tortoise Rescue in Castro Valley (no website) takes in red-eared sliders, among others (510-886-2946).
  • Berkeley Animal Care Services (510-981-6600), which also serves Albany, called themselves a “last resort,” after adoption attempts, because not all those animals can be adopted out. Some may be euthanized.  Ditto for the Oakland Animal Services (510-545-5602).

Advice from Tilden Park staff for those seeking pets:

  • Don’t adopt on impulse (no matter how tempting chicks and bunnies may be at Easter).
  • Before adopting, have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out. Keep animal lifespans in mind; rabbits live 10 years on average, chickens, about eight.
  • If you want chickens, consider adopting adults. You’ll know you’re getting hens, not roosters, and they’ll start laying eggs immediately.

Do you know of other sources for placing pets? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments below, after checking to confirm they provide that service.

Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Mary Flaherty is a freelance reporter who has lived in the Berkeley area for since 1994. She earned a masters in journalism from UC Berkeley, and has reported for several local papers and copyedited for...