United Poultry Concerns Nov 10, 2001
Letter From Former Dallas Zoo Employee Fired For Saving Chicks

To whom it may concern:

I was fired from the Dallas Zoo yesterday. It really is an interesting story, at least for those who have a liking for animals. You see, I wasn't fired for missing work or even being tardy. I wasn't axed for insubordination or lack of initiative. In fact, I was a pretty darned good employee. So what could have caused my untimely dismissal from the job that I loved? It seems that the reason for my discharge is the fact that I have a conscience. I saved twelve baby chicks from being gassed, after surviving all night in the deep freezer.

In order to give sufficient perspective, I'll start from the beginning. It was the twentieth of august that I had been hired on with the Dallas Zoo. Another person was hired downtown on the same day as I. Let's call her "Becka". "Becka" started a week before I did. Our assignment was to work at the Zoo commissary. That's where all of the animal diets are prepared and stored. Even from day one, I wasn't crazy about this position. I had applied to be a keeper. While preparing the diets, I handled horsemeat, dead rats, mice, quail and chicks. Nearly all of the work was finished in the morning hours, leaving very little, if anything, to do in the afternoons. The existing staff in the commissary has been in place for years...I suppose they are used to this sort of inactivity. That wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I applied for a job with the Zoo.

I realize and appreciate the fact that the carnivores in the Zoo must eat, so I tried to stick it out. I couldn't. I am not the sort who would enjoy handling animal carcasses for a career. There was something else. I soon came to discover that the chicks that are on display in the Children's Zoo are delivered to the commissary to be euthanized. It seems that they outgrow their "cuteness", so they get gassed and fed to the other animals. They are referred to as "animal feed" once they leave the Children's Zoo. I understand the "circle of life", but I was not about to be the one to gas healthy animals, especially when the commissary receives cartons of pre-frozen chicks to serve as a diet item for the carnivorous animals. The act of gassing the dozen or so chicks that come in every week or two seemed unnecessary. I was finding that this job was not something I was willing to continue with. I attempted to give notice of resignation to the supervisor. I was asked to stay, even if I worked only part time. I gave it another shot. Maybe if I wasn't sitting and staring at the wall all afternoon, because the work had been finished hours prior, it would be more acceptable. Any animal euthanization would take place in the afternoon, so I would not have to be around for that, either. It turned out to be a slightly better situation, but I still dreaded coming to work. I simply found the nature of the job distasteful and dull.

On Sunday, September the twelfth, a batch of two dozen chicks arrived in the commissary from the Children's Zoo. I grew up on a farm. I know that the chickens found in the grocery store don't come, all wrapped in cellophane, from the poultry fairy. Still, I couldn't help but to play with the chicks for a minute, and give them one last meal and some water before they were to be killed. I left work, and the remaining employee was to be the one to gas the chicks after I was gone. This is not what happened.

The next morning, "Becka" was already in the commissary when I arrived for work. She was very irate, so I asked her what was the matter. She showed me a box, saying that she had found it in the freezer. It was full of two dozen chicks, half of which were frozen. The surviving dozen had clung to life, huddled in the middle of their dead companions. They had been stuck in the freezer the night before...alive. Protocol for euthanasia had not been followed. I, too, was very angry. I decided that the surviving chicks would not be gassed. They had lived through a night of living Hell, and would not be subjected to the indignation of being killed after that. I wasn't going to allow it. "Becka" told the employee who had committed this act that we were not going to stand for this sort of behavior, and that if it happened again we would go to the proper authority. Meanwhile, I knew that if we did report this incident to the supervisor, the chicks would be taken and killed. It is, after all, protocol.

I took the chicks home, while "Becka" contacted one of her family members who has property in the country. I brought the chicks to her, after work hours, a couple of days later. The surviving chicks now live happily on a farm and, at last report, were showing no ill effects from the horrible ordeal. We decided to keep the incident to ourselves, as long as it didn't happen again.

I was soon transferred to the Bird Department, at my request. Had the transfer not taken place, I was prepared to give notice of resignation once again. Things were looking up. I now truly enjoyed my position as a keeper; it was something I was very good at. The hours were early, and the pay was lousy, but I liked it. The other keepers are all caring and compassionate and dedicated. The supervisors are supportive and professional. A far cry from the old days in the commissary. I thought everything was going to be great from there on out. I was about to get a surprise.

It seems that "Becka" had quit. She came to work and discovered yet another incident where chicks were cruelly left to die without being euthanized. "Becka" was livid. She took the remaining chick (only one survived this time) to the management and told them she would not suffer this sort of ignorance any longer. She resigned then and there. Of course I was not there when this happened, but I was told of the incident by someone who still works in the commissary. Rumor has it that these are not isolated incidents. If it happened twice since September, how many animals have cruelly died without proper euthanasia in the past?

I was soon called to speak with Dr. Alvarado, the Zoo's lead veterinarian. I'm still not exactly sure why I was being questioned by a veterinarian rather than an administrator...but I went ahead and discussed the issue with him. He was performing an "investigation" about the now infamous "chick incidents." He asked if it was true that I had taken chicks off of Zoo property. I told the entire story, just as "Becka" had done days earlier. He didn't seem at all interested in what I had to say after that, aside from wanting to know if I had told anyone outside of the Zoo what had happened. This didn't surprise me...I had been given the impression before that he rules his mighty kingdom through the antiquated "intimidation and preeminence method." I left his office, feeling as though I had just been interrogated, and went back to work. A few days later, on Friday, November ninth, I received a phone call at home...after work. It was Chris Brown, the Curator of Birds. He's my supervisor's boss and, other than firing me, he's a pretty nice guy. Mr. Brown told me that he had been given the responsibility of "letting me go" by the order of Chuck Seigel. I've never even met anyone by that name. I may not even have the correct spelling, but that's inconsequential. I suppose he's some ill-informed bigwig who hasn't got a clue as to the gravity of what is actually taking place in his zoo. I asked for the reason behind my termination. I was simply told "the chick incident". No other information was forthcoming. I'm still not exactly sure why I was fired. Were the people actually responsible for the abuse of these animals fired? I wouldn't know, though that will be easy enough to find out. The new guy is always an easy scapegoat, however, and I suppose I was to be simply swept under the rug while the whole disgusting mess was wrapped up in a tidy bow. No. I am too intelligent a person not to know that I have been railroaded, for the simple act of showing compassion to twelve fuzzy chicks.

I hope people who are in the position to conduct an investigation into this situation will read my story. Perhaps what the Dallas Zoo needs to do is clean house. It is, after all, our tax dollars that keep these people employed. I trust that the Dallas Zoo will be a wonderful place to take the kids, once these problems are taken care of. My daughter, however, will not be visiting any time soon. I'd hate to lie to her when she asks where all of the "big chickens" are.

Joe Harvey

The Dallas Observer
The Dallas Morning News
The Advocate
American Veterinary Medical Association
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Dallas Humane Society
United States Department of Agriculture
American Zoological Association
American Association of Zookeepers

Related Links:

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

(Letter From Former Dallas Zoo Employee Fired For Saving Chicks)

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