The City of Oakland is currently considering changes to zoning codes intended to clarify the law related to urban agriculture. While the City should be applauded for its efforts to establish a sustainable and equitable food system in Oakland, any consideration to allow, without restriction, animals to be raised and slaughtered as backyard livestock should be strongly opposed.
For the following reasons, the City of Oakland should prevent maintaining and/or slaughtering backyard livestock within city limits:
Public health. Livestock animals attract other, often unwanted, animals such as rats and mites, which can quickly spread throughout entire neighborhoods. While some excrement can be used in gardens, the droppings of most livestock animals must be carefully composted prior to use, or the possibility of spreading disease via produce is extremely high. Basic veterinary care costs can far outweigh the worth of an animal as meat. Therefore, many animals will go untreated for parasites and other health issues. As seen in recent pandemics throughout the world, untreated animals living in a compressed urban space are very likely to spread disease amongst each other and to humans.
Public nuisance. Proper enclosures are required to prevent animals from escaping their backyard confines and running through the streets of Oakland. Irresponsible, untrained, or lazy animal owners will allow animals to escape and, in some cases, develop into feral colonies. Complaints about stray animals and noise already overburden animal control. These complaints will increase if livestock animals are allowed to proliferate. While some neighbors will find noise and odors from backyard livestock offensive, most will be horrified by the sounds of a fearful animal being killed just feet from their homes.
Impact on City services. Our animal control officers, shelter staff, and shelter volunteers are already overburdened dealing with existing cases of neglect, abandonment, and the abuse of animals. An increase in neighbor complaints due to unwanted pests, noise, and smell associated with urban livestock have the potential to overwhelm Oakland Animal Services and the Oakland Police Department. As a result of the urban livestock trend, animal rescue organizations across the country have seen an increase in the number of requests to rescue chickens. In some cases, the increase has been over 500%. Enforcing regulations governing an entirely new set of animals will result in an overall reduction in the ability of Oakland Animal Services to protect Oakland’s animals and its citizens.
Increased risk of animal cruelty. Allowing livestock in Oakland increases the risk that animals will be abused or neglected. The lack of access, in Oakland, to trained veterinary care for backyard livestock means these animals will necessarily suffer, since all living beings at some time require medical care. In addition, well-meaning but novice, untrained, and inexperienced hobbyists will inevitably cause tremendous suffering as they experiment with raising their backyard herds and flocks. The slaughter of backyard animals by untrained and inexperienced hands will most certainly result in untold numbers of painful and inhumane deaths. A common justification used by advocates of urban livestock is that, while they are alive, the animals are treated better than the animals at a factory farm. A quick look at the lives of urban livestock reveals a different story though. Related services, like chicken hatcheries that send day-old chicks in the mail without food or water, are brutal and provide animals no relief from the horrors of the factory farm.
We have the ability to create a sustainable and equitable food system in Oakland but we simply cannot do it with urban livestock and backyard slaughter. Encourage the City of Oakland to prevent increased risks to public health, additional complaints related to offensive sounds and smells, increased numbers of stray animals and feral animals colonies. Tell the City that we can't afford to add additional burdens on our already depleted city services. Let the City of Oakland know that code changes that increase the potential for cruel and inhumane treatment of animals will not be tolerated.
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