While driving through a remote village in Liberia in November, 2016, Jenny Desmond, who runs a nearby chimpanzee sanctuary, saw a dying puppy lying on the side of the road. After confiscating the dog, who she named Snafu, she brought him home in an effort to save his life.
According to Jenny’s husband, Jim, who is one of two veterinarians working in Liberia, Snafu was digesting his own muscle and near death. TheirTurn, who was in Liberia documenting the Desmonds’ chimpanzee rescue and conservation efforts, captured Snafu’s rescue and his extraordinary journey from rags to riches.
After saving Snafu’s life, Jenny and Jim Desmond brought him to Colorado to live with Jenny’s sister and her family.
The Desmonds moved to Liberia in 2015 to oversee the care of 66 former research chimpanzees who had been abandoned by the New York Blood Center on six islands on a river about 1.5 hours outside of Monrovia, the country’s capital. Shortly after the Desmond’s arrival, forestry authorities began bringing them baby chimpanzees who they seized from poachers attempting to sell them as pets on the black market. With 35 chimpanzees in their care, the Desmonds are racing against time to build sanctuary in the forest that can house rescued chimpanzees and serve as a conservation center to help protect Liberia’s remaining wild chimpanzees in their forest home.
When she turned 87 years old, Natasha Brenner, along with her husband Noah, decided to leave behind their quiet lives in suburban Long Island and move into New York in order to join the city’s burgeoning animal rights movement. With great humility and oversized hearts, they brought their wisdom and positive energy to wherever bodies were needed — from circus, fur and horse-drawn carriage protests to rallies on the steps of City Hall. On the eve of her 97th birthday, Natasha sat down with TheirTurn to talk about her life and her advocacy.
Public health and animal rights advocates in NYC staged a rally at City Hall on November 27th to demand that the NYPD and Department of Health enforce the 15 laws that are broken each year during Kaporos, a ritual sacrifice of 60,000 chickens that takes place before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.
“Mayor de Blasio instructs his health commissioner to defend the health code violations and his police commissioner to aid and abet in the crimes because he wants to maintain favor with the powerful Orthodox voting bloc that commits them,” said Jessica Hollander, an organizer in the grass roots effort to stop the illegal slaughter. “If any other group were breaking laws, the NYPD would be arresting, not assisting, them.”
Nora Constance Marino, an attorney who has represented The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos in litigation against the City, told demonstrators at the rally that the legal battle will continue, in spite of a setback at the NY State Court of Appeals in which six judges ruled that they did not have the power to compel city agencies to enforce their own laws.
During Kaporos, which takes place over the course of several days, ultra-Orthodox communities truck thousands of crates of chickens into the city and kill them in approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses that they erect on public streets without permits.
Practitioners of Kaporos erect approximately 30 makeshift slaughterhouses on public streets without permits. (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
“If I wanted to host a block party, I would need to need to fill out an application and get approval from multiple city agencies. It’s a rigorous process” said Jill Carnegie, the Campaigns Director with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. “Yet Kaporos practitioners can, without a permit, build illegal slaughterhouses and kill tens of thousands of animals on residential streets with the financial and logistical support of the NYPD.”
Advocates argue that the city is aiding and abetting in the crimes by not only dispatching a massive number of police officers but also providing Kaporos practitioners with barricades to cordon off public streets, floodlights and traffic cones in which the chickens are bled out into the streets.
In 2015, residents in the neighborhoods contaminated by the blood and body parts of chickens killed during Kaporos hired a toxicologist to investigate the impact of the waste on their health. In his report, Dr. Michael McCabe concluded that Kaporos “constitutes a dangerous condition and poses a significant public health hazard.” Advocates have, on multiple occasions, sent the toxicology report to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the head of Infectious Disease Control at the NYC Department of Health, and to Drs. Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett, the City’s current and former health commissioners, but they have refused to acknowledge it. Advocates speculate that acknowledging the risks outlined in this “damning” report would put them in a position to have to take action to prevent a potential disease outbreak.
Mayor de Blasio’s Health Commissioners have refused to address a toxicology report that outlines the risk posed by the mass slaughter of 60,000 animals on public streets during Kaporos.
“I got violently sick. I had very bad E. coli for weeks,” said Kurt Andernach, the Director of And-Hof Animal Sanctuary who took in some of the chickens rescued during Kaporos. “When you have high concentrations of sick birds, it’s just a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.”
Every year during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, several sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens in makeshift slaughterhouses that are erected without permits on public streets. The practitioners of the ritual slaughter, called Kaporos, violate multiple city health codes:
The NYC Department of Health defends the illegal sacrifice, arguing that the city has not observed any “disease signals” associated with the practice. The NYPD, which is charged with enforcing the laws, instead aids and abets in the crimes.
A toxicology report confirmed that Kaporos poses a “significant public health hazard.”
“The Chief of Police and Health Commissioner are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in the illegal Kaporos massacre because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out into public streets.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instructs the NYPD to aid and abet in the illegal slaughter of an estimated 60,000 animals on the streets of NYC (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
On October 17th, during oral arguments about Kaporos in the the New York State Court of Appeals, a city attorney confirmed that laws are broken but argued that the city has discretion over which laws to enforce.
City health codes that are violated during Kaporos
During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported commissioned by residents in the neighborhoods that are contaminated with the blood, feces and body parts of chickens states that the ritual a “significant public health hazard.”
On October 17th, in New York State’s highest court, lawyers for New York City Mayor Bill Blasio’s administration defended the City’s decision to ignore animal cruelty violations and to assist in crimes being committed against animals.
The case in front of the Court of Appeals centers around Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice during which ultra-Orthodox Jews swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads, slice their throats in open-air slaughterhouses erected without permits, and dispose of them in garbage bags, sometimes while they’re still alive. In 2017 and 2018, thousands of chickens held in crates on the street died of hunger, thirst, disease and heat exhaustion before the ritual even began.
In 2015, an advocacy group called the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents who live in neighborhoods that are contaminated by the mass slaughter sued the City of New York, the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. Nora Constance Marino, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has been asking the judicial branch of government to issue a “Writ of Mandamus,” which would compel city agencies to enforce the laws.
During the arguments, the city’s attorney, Elina Druker, did not deny that the animal cruelty laws or health codes are violated; she merely argued that city agencies, not judges, have discretion over which laws they enforce. She also argued that the city should decide how to allocate its resources. Marino responded, “This is a farce. The resources are [already deployed] there. There’s police everywhere during this event, facilitating the event, assisting the event, aiding and abetting the event.” Marino continued, “crimes are being committed, and the public health is being put at risk here.”
After the oral arguments, advocates expressed their frustration with the city’s “ludicrous” claim. “The City wouldn’t have to invest any resources into enforcing the animal cruelty laws because the ritual wouldn’t be performed in the first place,” said Rina Deych, a plaintiff in the case against the city. “The NYPD would inform community leaders that, moving forward, they can no longer truck 60,000 chickens into Brooklyn and erect open-air slaughterhouses on the street due to the multiple city and state laws that are violated.”
When running for Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio said that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected, yet his administration is using tax dollars to defend its decision to ignore an animal massacre that violates 15 city and state laws.
When asked by one of the Court of Appeals judges why the city was aiding and abetting in the crimes, Ms. Druker argued that, by providing a police presence, the city was merely maintaining order. The advocates say this response is also disingenuous.
“The NYPD provides massive flood lights and the orange traffic cones where the chickens are bled out onto the street after their throats are slit,” said Jill Carnegie with the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos. “If Druker was being honest with the judges, she would have acknowledged that our tax dollars are, in fact, being used to facilitate and partially underwrite this illegal massacre.”
Advocates who attended the oral arguments noted the irony of the city’s decision to defend crimes against animals. “When Bill de Blasio was running for Mayor of New York City in 2013, he publicly stated that animal rights would move into the mainstream if he was elected,” said Jessica Hollander, an animal rights activist in NYC. “Yet, five years later, he is defending animal torture in order to curry favor with the Orthodox Jewish voting bloc that commits it.”
A decision in the case is expected in forty to ninety days.