Chickens bound for pot will get to fly the coop

The Plain Dealer - 05/02/01 By MICHAEL SANGIACOMO

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The 150 chickens at West Side Poultry Inc. are the luckiest cluckers since the great escape in the movie "Chicken Run."

These birds will end up as pets, not potpies.

The Cleveland Department of Public Health closed the butcher shop on W. 25th St. for unsanitary conditions and possession of undocumented meat. Then health officials had to decide what to do with the chickens, which could not be sold because they had not been inspected.

The choice: Kill them or find homes for them as pets.

United Poultry Concerns of Machipongo, Va., offered the poultry sanctuary.

"We're happy to do it," said Karen Davis, president of a chicken rescue group whose members filed complaints about conditions at the market in January. "We have people ready to come up, get the chickens, and distribute them to sanctuaries around the area where they will lead long and happy lives."

Mark Vilem, health department commissioner of environment, is coordinating the transfer of the chickens, 24 ducks and four rabbits to United Poultry.

"We are finalizing the details," he said. "We want to make sure that the chickens do not end up as food, since we don't know where they came from. They need to go to a petting zoo or some place of that sort."

Davis said that Vilem told her the transfer will first be discussed by city attorneys.

Market owners are responsible for keeping the animals fed and watered, pending approval for the move.

The small building behind the West Side Market was padlocked Friday when city inspectors closed it during a routine inspection.

"Last week we found several sanitation violations, such as uncleanliness, excessive chicken droppings, unclean utensils and equipment and strong odors," said Vilem.

"We returned Friday and saw that some improvement had been made," he added. "But while we were there a man came to deliver chickens he bought at an auction, which is a threat to public health. We don't know where those chickens came from and they cannot be butchered and sold."

Vilem said the shop will remain closed until all sanitation violations are corrected and the owners present a method of documenting future purchases to ensure that the poultry is coming from approved sources.

United Poultry became aware of the market in late January when a local member reported what a friend found there.

Attila Balogh, a vegetarian, went to the market to buy chicken entrails as a last-ditch effort to get his dying cat to eat.

"I walked in the door and I was disgusted," said Balogh, of Solon. "The smell was so horrible. I don't know how people could stand it. There were dozens of chickens jammed into cages, chirping really loud, that looked extremely neglected. How could animals live in those filthy conditions?"

Balogh told his friend, Beverly Whalen of Eastlake, who informed Cleveland health officials and United Poultry.

Health inspectors checked and approved the business, but returned a second time, which led to the shutdown.

"I don't know how much impact our complaints had, but at least the place is closed down," said Whalen. "It was a place where people would go, pick out a live chicken to eat, and it would be killed, plucked and given to them. It was a nightmare."

West Side Poultry was shut down in 1992 for sanitation problems but reopened after improvements were made.

E-mail: msangiacomo@plaind.com Phone: 216-999-4890

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