Nearly 100 protesters arrested outside Petaluma duck farm

Nearly 100 animal welfare protesters were arrested Monday, hours after descending onto a west Petaluma duck farm as part of an organized demonstration, authorities said.

Hundreds of activists with the Direct Action Everywhere animal rights group arrived by the busload at Reichardt Duck Farm on Middle Two Rock Road around 10 a.m., some chaining themselves together by the neck at the main gate of the property.

Local and state police made a show of force with more than 50 officers, including about three dozen in riot gear, stationed around the property. They arrested 10 demonstrators who walked onto the farm to remove birds, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said.

By about 4 p.m., deputies had made 88 more arrests, mostly for trespassing.

Wilmar firefighters had to cut the farm’s gate to remove some of the protesters. The animal rights group came prepared with water, food and music, with the bulk of protesters staying on the property until around 5 p.m.

Cassie King, a group organizer currently facing seven felony charges in Sonoma County related to previous animal-rights protests, said the demonstration was intended to spur Sonoma County authorities to take action against the farm for alleged animal cruelty.

“Whistleblower footage has come forward from this facility (showing) clear animal cruelty,” she said. “Authorities in Sonoma County have ignored those reports, so activists have come together to take matters into their own hands.”

In 2014, protesters with animal-rights group Mercy for Animals accused the Reichardt Duck Farm of animal cruelty after one of its members got a job at the longtime ranch and secretly videotaped what they said was evidence of mistreatment. The video showed employees searing off ducklings’ bills to prevent pecking injuries and swinging the ducks by their necks, which activists say is in violation of state law.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office investigated the facility following the video’s release, but authorities said they turned up no evidence of animal cruelty. However, a Mercy for Animals veterinarian who was invited to observe said investigators did not spend enough time at the farm to actually witness the alleged abuses, and did not tour many of the farm’s buildings.

King said the group had seen additional footage taken as recently as Sunday that showed what the group describes as continued abuses at the farm.

She attributed the large turnout at Monday’s protest to anger over previous arrests of animal-rights activists in Sonoma County.

“Hundreds more people have been inspired to come out and demand they investigate animal cruelty and not animal-rights activists,” she said. “Cracking down on peaceful activists, grandmothers and teachers and children, is only going to make this movement grow in response.”

Shirstin Rosenberg, a veterinarian associated with Direct Action Everywhere, claimed video footage from inside the farm showed ducks that were too sick to stand on their own and were unable to access food and water.

Several calls to the farm went unreturned Monday.

Sonoma County Farm Bureau warned its members early Monday that about a half dozen buses with members of Direct Action Everywhere were in Petaluma. Bureau staff members also went to a Petaluma poultry ranch visited last year by the activist group to help farmers in case the activists arrived, said Tawny Tesconi, the bureau’s executive director.

The bureau has developed a system for alerting its members when animal rights groups come to town so that they can close their gates and take measures to try to prevent trespassing, Tesconi said.

“Our members have asked to give us a call so others can be prepared, so they can ensure animals aren’t stolen or hurt by the activists,” Tesconi said.

Direct Action Everywhere asserts that its entry onto the farm was legal under a California law that allows citizens to give food and water to impounded, or confined, domestic animals in need.

The group live-streamed the demonstration on its Facebook page, showing several people in matching royal blue T-shirts chained together and blocking the entrance while sitting in the driveway. Some protesters held ducks that they said they found dead in a dumpster on the farm.

Activist Dean Wyrzykowski sat blocking the entrance to the farm, cradling a dead duck in his lap. The animal had decayed enough that its rib cage was visible through a gaping hole in its side.

“We’ve tried countless times to go through official channels … begging them to comply with animal cruelty laws, and they never did,” he said. “That’s why we’re carrying these birds, to show that we care about this issue, and we know other people care about this issue too, and we want to empower them.”

Law enforcement officials began to detain protesters blocking the entrance, including Wyrzykowski, at about 3:45 p.m.

While the business driveway was blocked, most protesters appeared to be trying to keep to the sides of the roadway to avoid being accused of an unlawful assembly.

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies, Petaluma police, Santa Rosa police and CHP officers mobilized as soon as reports came in of several buses of activists headed for Sonoma County from the Bay Area.

The sheriff’s helicopter flew above the buses, tracking their path to the duck farm. Just before 1:30 p.m., more than two dozen law enforcement officers, some carrying rifles and others in SWAT gear, arrived on the farm.

Some protesters went onto the property, taking 31 ducklings, King said.

Another group of activists said they’d connected their necks to equipment where the birds had been hanging, forcing workers to turn off a conveyor belt. King said the conveyor belt was turned back on, injuring at least one man.

The man later was checked by paramedics at the property and taken by ambulance to a hospital for further medical attention.

Staff Writer Julie Johnson contributed to this report.

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