One of about 10 protesters outside Gagan Farm Market and Petting Zoo holds a sign up high. Protesters were calling attention to what they say was an abusive environment for birds and other animals at the petting zoo. (Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News)

Group protests alleged mistreatment of birds at Abbotsford petting zoo

Rally ended on a hopeful note, with the owner of the farm working with the protest group

A rally against an Abbotsford petting zoo on Saturday, against what protesters called cruel conditions for the animals, ended on a hopeful note, says one of the rally’s organizers.

Gagan Farm Market and Petting Zoo is the subject of a Facebook group with about 200 members, and about 10 of those members were out at the petting zoo, which is closed for the winter, holding signs with phrases like “Stop animal abuse” and “Shame on you.”

Sarah Balez, one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally and another on Thursday, said the first rally caught the attention of the owners of the operation. And that’s when they began a dialogue between the parties.

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Much of the complaints against the petting zoo arise from video taken the weekend of Dec. 8 and 9. Gagan Farm operator Jagmandeep Samra says the video was taken by someone who “sneaked” onto the farm, as it is not open to the public after October.

In the video, Balez says the conditions were “horrendous.”

“Some of them (the birds) were barely moving, unable to walk, shivering, cold. Just disgusting,” Balez said.

Part of the issue, according to the protesters, is that there was no heating in the indoor portion of the petting zoo. But protesters also say the sanitation in the petting zoo was unsafe for the birds.

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“It was very bad. It was riddled in feces, water dishes haven’t been changed probably for a week, with feces in it. Birds are very susceptible, parrots are very susceptible to disease. Their immune systems aren’t the best. So when they’re drinking water that has fecal matter in it and stuff like that, they’re going to get sick.”

Warren Brundige, another protester, added that reviews on Google and Yelp for the petting zoo indicated similar issues.

The B.C. SPCA told The News this week that they were investigating the situation, but did not provide details.

Samra says he has been getting visits from the SPCA every two weeks. Every time they come up with issues that require attention, Samra says they have worked on those issues.

“They check everything. Whatever is wrong, they give us a notice: ‘OK, change this thing, or take this bird to the doctor.’ Their special doctor came here two times last year and they just came here two weeks ago, too,” Samra said.

“They found nothing wrong with any bird, or sick or plucking their feathers or eating anything wrong. Two times, morning and evening, we change their feed.”

During the winter, Samra said the farm only keeps a few birds – like peacocks – outside, which he said can stand the winter chill.

Samra offered The News a tour of the farm Saturday afternoon. At that time, feeding bowls appeared clean and relatively full, and a greenhouse where the majority of the birds were being kept had heating.

Protesters outside the farm, as The News left, expressed relief that the building had heating.

A member of the rally, Rosa De Sousa, was later allowed to check out the farm herself and was able to take a sick bird into her possession.

Balez said that bird was then taken to a veterinarian in Vancouver. Samra reportedly also agreed to allow De Sousa to attend the petting zoo unannounced once every two weeks to check on the farm.

And while Balez said there is some hope that Samra will work with the group, any optimism comes with a dose of cynicism.

“What our concern is you say you love these birds and they’re your personal property. Then why was it that bad? It doesn’t get like that over a couple of days.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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Jagmandeep Samra, manager of Gagan Farm Market and Petting Zoo, says he has done everything the B.C. SPCA has asked him to do regarding the welfare of the animals at the location. (Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News)

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