Baby chicks are sent to a freezer along with one zoo worker's job
November 22, 2001
BY CHARLES SIDERIUS
Joe Harvey was kind to his feathered
friends at the zoo --until he was canned.
[Picture of Joe Harvey]
Joe Harvey had just arrived at his job at the Dallas Zoo in early
September when a co-worker called him over to look inside a cardboard
"She was kind of like, 'You are not going to believe what I found
here,'" Harvey says.
She was right. He didn't believe it. At the center of the box, a
dozen baby chicks that were supposed to have been "humanely" gassed
the day before and then frozen as carnivore food were huddled and
shivering, barely clinging to life.
Incredibly to Harvey, the chicks had survived the night in the zoo's
subzero walk-in freezer, where it's difficult to remain for more than
a few minutes without heavy clothing and where food becomes "hard as
rock," one former worker says. A dozen other chicks, ones that had
frozen to death, surrounded the survivors.
Harvey put the dozen live chicks in a warm spot and gave them food
and water. He wanted to put a heat lamp on them, but he didn't have
one. Ironically, just the day before, all of those same chicks, both
the dead ones and the living ones, were spending blissful days and
nights basking in the warmth of a heat lamp and in the hands of
adoring children at the petting zoo. The chicks had outgrown their
cuteness when they were sent to die in the gas chamber.
"I decided that the surviving chicks would not be gassed," Harvey
says. "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."
Harvey, who grew up on a farm and has "no out-there issues" about
eating chickens, says he first took the live chicks home and then
sent them to a farm where they will be allowed to grow up. Zoo
officials learned of Harvey's chicken run a couple of weeks later,
and they weren't happy about it. They fired him. They said he took
"I wasn't axed for insubordination or lack of initiative," he says.
"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 12 baby chicks from being gassed, after surviving all night in
the deep freezer."
City officials say they didn't fire Harvey. They just didn't re-hire
him as a temporary employee. They also say they didn't close the
chick exhibit during the last couple of weeks because of the incident
Harvey describes or another, more recent incident in which all but
one of two dozen doomed baby chicks starved to death in the gas
chamber awaiting execution (for three days).
"He was not terminated," says Pam Deutsch, director of marketing for
the Dallas Zoo and Aquarium. "He was released from his duties at the
zoo. The city is free to assign him to a different position, and
questions about that have to come from civil service."
Besides "reassigning" Harvey to the unemployment line, the city also
suspended three zoo workers for five days for something connected to
the incident. Deutsch says the city can't disclose the details of the
disciplinary action but says the workers are appealing their
"We think that the chicks were improperly euthanized. After they are
euthanized they go into the freezer, and some of them weren't dead,"
she says. "They weren't all put in there to freeze to death."
Harvey disagrees. He says the worker who put the chicks into the
freezer admitted that he did not try to gas the chicks first. He just
put them directly in there, Harvey says.
"I think probably just sheer laziness because it actually takes some
effort to drag the machine out and put them in there and turn on the
gas. It's much easier for a cruel person to just throw them in the
freezer," he says. "The person admitted it the next day when we
confronted him about it. He was like, 'Well, you said not to gas
them.' And I was like, 'You certainly have the intelligence to know I
didn't mean to freeze them alive.'"
Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, a national
nonprofit animal advocacy organization based in Machipongo, Virginia,
says it's bad enough that the zoo used the chicks to attract paying
customers under the guise of education. Freezing the chicks just
demonstrates how little the zoo actually cares for these creatures,
"Putting these baby birds who crave and need warmth into a freezer is
kind of the ultimate cruelty," Davis says. "I think that putting them
in a freezer is just part of the general total lack of respect for or
empathy with the lives of these birds. I think that when you are
using creatures in this totally exploitative and cynical way in order
to promote business, it leads to an atrocity as this exemplifies.
Somebody putting them into a freezer and then when somebody
passionate discovers it, then that person ends up being sacrificed,
Davis says it's good that the zoo closed the baby chick exhibit but
that the practice of keeping predatory birds and other creatures in
cages just so people can look at them is wrong.
"You've got a fundamental problem in the very nature of the zoo," she
Harvey says the city didn't treat him or the woman who found the
chicks in the freezer and gas chamber fairly. (The woman quit after
discovering the sole survivor in the gas chamber.) Harvey says he was
set up as a fall guy.
"The new guy is always an easy scapegoat...I suppose I was to be
simply swept under the rug while the whole disgusting mess was
wrapped up in a tidy bow," he says. "No, I am too intelligent a
person not to know that I have been railroaded for the simple act of
showing compassion to 12 fuzzy chicks."
dallasobserver.com | originally published: November 22, 2001