I’m Facing over 20 Years in Prison for Rescuing Animals, But I Am Not Afraid
Whether I lose my freedom for days, weeks, months, or even years, it is worth it to give even one or two animals a chance to experience freedom for the first time in their entire lives.
I am facing 7 felonies, 6 misdemeanors, and more than 20 years in prison for helping the criminally abused animals at Reichardt Duck Farm and the Petaluma Poultry slaughterhouse.
I'm a factory farm investigator and I openly show my face and tell the world about the horrifying conditions I've documented and the animals I've rescued. Even though I act to uphold the law to protect animals, I know there is always a risk of being arrested by law enforcement agencies that have been corrupted by the power of animal agriculture. However, if it means I might possibly be able to leave this world a better place than I found it, then I’m okay with that risk.
I’ve been an animal rescuer for most of my life. As a little girl, I’d help my mom, a veterinarian, care for abandoned animals people would bring her.
When I was seven, I started to spend hours volunteering at my local humane society. I founded an animal sanctuary in San Luis Obispo at the age of eleven, and started doing open rescues from factory farms and slaughterhouses at the age of fourteen. I’ve rescued over a thousand animals, many on the verge of death. But, in the past few weeks, something devastating has happened: an animal rescuer was sent to jail, simply for helping animals who were being criminally abused at Reichardt Duck Farm and a Sunrise Farms’ factory egg farm in Sonoma County.
While Wayne Hsiung was on trial, I knew we couldn’t be deterred by this corrupt prosecution, clearly driven by profit-motivated corporations. So, I returned to Reichardt Duck Farm. The suffering at this facility is impossible to comprehend. It is so horrific, so nauseatingly cruel that I regularly had to fight back tears while documenting the animals. I was able to rescue two ducklings, River and Oakley, who were so weak and injured that they couldn’t even get to food or water.
When I found River, he was on his back due to a neurological disease. Unable to get up, he flailed on the ground, flapping his wings and kicking his feet aimlessly while crying out for help. When I turned him over, I could see blood dripping from his wings. His entire body was covered in signs of struggle. He looked up at me, terrified, confused, and in pain. Something inside me broke, and I promised myself I’d do everything in my power to help all of the criminally abused animals at Reichardt Duck Farm.
When I took River and Oakley to a veterinarian, she was as horrified as I was to see their condition. I remember her saying to me, “I can’t even imagine the conditions where this could have happened.” Unfortunately, I could imagine them all too well and I will never be able to forget.
On November 2nd, I sat in a courtroom in Santa Rosa, documents in my backpack summarizing the atrocities we’d documented at Reichardt. The Sonoma County District Attorney, Carla Rodriguez, had previously promised that she’d meet with investigators about the criminal animal cruelty once Wayne’s trial ended, and I was prepared to hold her to that. Immediately after the verdict, we would release the investigation, release the stories of River and Oakley, and request an urgent meeting with the District Attorney. But as his verdict was read, the words “guilty” rang in my ears, and the risk of what I was about to do became clear.
Rescuing animals shouldn’t be dangerous, but it’s become an act that could land you in prison for many years, despite being entirely legal. The necessity doctrine allows ordinary people to help animals facing abuse and death. But, I’d just witnessed my friend be handcuffed in a courtroom and dragged to jail as if rescuing animals was a threat to society. The moments that followed were a blur.
I took out my letter, took a deep breath, and reminded myself that nothing the legal system could ever do to me would ever compare to the atrocities I’d witnessed in the previous weeks. I had to do this, for every single duck I left behind. I led my fellow activists to the District Attorney’s office, and found the door had been locked. I knocked, and a woman sitting in the waiting room began to open it. I thanked her, but before I knew it, people in the back were shouting, insisting she close it and not let me in. She pushed as hard as she could to slam the door in our faces, as if we, too, were a threat to society. What do you do when you can’t even report a crime to a district attorney’s office?
I slid the letter under the door, hoping that maybe, just maybe, they’d read it and finally do something to help the animals. But, I knew the chances were slim. I knew that I was more likely to be the one prosecuted, even though I’d done nothing illegal at all.
Over the past month, I have made countless additional attempts to contact various law enforcement agencies to request action to help the animals. As far as I know, no action has been taken.
Two days ago, my friend Wayne had his sentencing hearing. He was sentenced to three months in jail and two years on probation with a stay-away order from fourteen of his “co-conspirators,” including me. After his hearing, I began to lead a group of supporters to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in yet another attempt to report the criminal animal cruelty at Reichardt Duck Farm and other facilities in Sonoma County. As I was approaching, an officer began to walk towards me. He told me that he had a warrant for my arrest and began placing me in handcuffs. He then proceeded to arrest two other animal rescuers, Conrad de Jesus and Rocky Chau.
I was swiftly taken into an interrogation room where a detective from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office told me that I was facing felony burglary and a couple misdemeanors. After he left, a detective from the Petaluma Police Department entered the room and told me that she, too, had a warrant for my arrest, and that I was facing several additional felonies and misdemeanors, including theft. This past June, I rescued sick, abused chickens from a truck outside of the Petaluma Poultry slaughterhouse.
In jail, I was reunited with Rocky and Conrad as we were booked and processed for our alleged crimes. I learned that Rocky and Conrad were arrested on different charges from my own. They are each facing one felony and two misdemeanors. A detective is alleging that all 3 of us were recently spotted on a security camera at a factory farm.
Rocky and Conrad remain in jail as they await their hearing on Monday. Due to the jail insisting that they would confiscate my medical device, which I need to survive, I made the decision to bail out rather than remaining in custody while awaiting this hearing. We hope Rocky and Conrad will be released Monday morning after appearing before a judge.
On Thursday, as I sat in jail for more than ten hours, I thought of the world outside of it. I imagine that Rocky and Conrad are doing the same right now. Animal rights activists, including myself, often say that animals on factory farms dream of freedom. But, I actually don’t think that’s true. Animals on factory farms can’t dream of freedom, because they don’t know what freedom is. They’ve never seen or experienced it. There’s a quote by Richard Kadrey, “When you’re born in a burning house, you think the whole world is on fire. But it’s not.” The ducks at Reichardt Duck Farm, the pigs at Smithfield Foods, and the chickens at Perdue, they likely think the whole world is a factory farm, that the whole world is a place of misery and death. We have the power to show them that it’s not, that there is so much beauty and love. We have the power to transform their lives and their entire perceptions of the world. What an amazing power to have! And it is a power that no corporation and no law enforcement agency can ever take away from us.
Rescuing animals may have become something dangerous, but I will not stop rescuing animals, and you shouldn’t either. Whether I lose my freedom for days, weeks, months, or even years, it is worth it to give even one or two animals a chance to experience freedom for the first time in their entire lives. To give them a chance to see the sky, to feel the sun on their backs, to swim in open water, and to feel soft grass beneath their feet. I have been incredibly privileged to experience all of those things in my life, and even more privileged still to witness animals experience those things for the very first time in theirs.
Please do not worry about me. I’ll be okay, but the baby ducks at Reichardt who, right at this moment, have their tiny, fragile wings caught in wire as they slowly die of starvation and dehydration, they won’t be okay unless we do something. So I beg you, please take action for them, help them however you’re able. Together, we can create a kinder world for all.
You can learn more about the Right to Rescue campaign and how you can help Zoe and other investigators reporting animal cruelty in Sonoma County here.