Zoe Rosenberg

Published on:

August 30, 2023

This Disabled Duck is at the Center of a Felony Case. His Name is Bruce.

If you saw a little duckling on his back, paddling his legs and struggling to get back up, what would you do? Would you keep walking? Or would you help him? 
2 ducklings found stuck on their backs during an investigation of Reichardt Duck Farm in 2019.

That was the exact dilemma I faced when I saw Bruce fall on his back at Reichardt Duck Farm. He was flailing around, unable to right himself. I could see the fear and panic in his eyes as he cried out in distress. All I wanted to do was help him get back up, so I did. Now, my friends are facing felony charges.

When most people think of animals on factory farms, they don’t think of ducks. We tend to imagine ducks in the wild, floating on lakes with their ducklings in tow. Viral videos regularly circulate the internet showing concerned citizens and police officers stopping traffic to help ducks cross busy highways with their families. Some ducks have even become social media influencers, like this duck named Munchkin who loves to get ice water from drive-throughs. But animal lovers across the nation don’t know that there are billions of ducks who are not just being hurt, but being subjected to torture that leaves many flailing on a wire floor, crying in pain. 

Multiple undercover investigations of Reichardt Duck Farm, a facility raising ducks to be slaughtered for food, have uncovered criminal animal abuse. Reichardt has been exposed for mutilating ducks with no anesthetic, for leaving sick and injured ducks to die without veterinary care, and for forcing ducks to live on wire. Investigations have also found ducks routinely showing signs of severe neurological issues. Unable to maintain their balance, the ducks fall over onto their backs. They paddle their legs and try to get up but, no matter how hard they try, they just can’t. Many of them slowly die and eventually end up in the dumpster outside, which was always filled to the brim with bodies. 

Testing revealed that the cause of these strange symptoms and mass mortality was a disease called Riemerella Anatipestifer, a bacterial pathogen related to toxoplasmosis. In addition to causing ducks to lose their balance, Riemerella can cause nasal discharge, sneezing, scarred air sacs, watery eyes, necrotic dermatitis, septicemia, and more. From what we could tell, Reichardt wasn’t doing anything to stop the spread of disease or to provide veterinary care to infected ducklings. 

We reported our findings to law enforcement in Sonoma County, where Reichardt is located, but they failed to act. Sonoma County has a history of ignoring reports of criminal animal cruelty. A recent story has inspired outrage in Sonoma County of a horse being slowly torn apart by a dog. By the time animal services showed up, more than an hour later, the horse was already dead. Sonoma County’s priorities seem to lie elsewhere. They prefer to prosecute the people who report this cruelty and try to help the animals. So, if it’s your instinct to help a duckling get back up when he’s fallen on his back, you better watch out. Apparently, helping abused animals in Sonoma County warrants hundreds of police in riot gear and felony charges.  

On June 3, 2019, I approached Reichardt Duck Farm with a team of fellow animal rescuers. After suiting up in biosecurity gear, we entered one of the barns. We rescued 31 ducklings and began to exit. As we were leaving, I saw Bruce. He was flailing on his back, unable to get up. I picked him up and carried him off the property so that we could get him medical care, along with the 31 other ducklings we’d rescued. 

As we were leaving the property, police were beginning to arrive on site. Within a few hours, hundreds of police officers were lining up in riot gear at Reichardt Duck Farm. I wish I could say that they were there to help the sick, dying ducks on the property. Unfortunately, they were there to scare animal rescuers and arrest animal rights activists. 

In the several weeks after the rescue, I spent all day every day caring for Bruce and his brothers and sisters. I gave all of them oral medication every morning and every evening to treat them for Riemerella. Bruce would sometimes fall over and I’d have to help him get back up as he struggled and panicked. I was afraid to leave the ducklings alone, terrified that if I did, one of them might get stuck on their back and die. 

While I was caring for these sick ducklings, the Sonoma County District Attorney was busy filing felony charges against several activists they perceived to be members of DxE leadership. Next month, my friends are going to trial facing years in prison for the rescue that took place at Reichardt and for another rescue that took place at a factory egg farm in Sonoma County.

Meanwhile, Bruce is still alive 4 years later, but he has never fully recovered from Riemerella Anatipestifer. He lives with a permanent disability that impacts his life every single day. For Bruce, some days are better than others and he’s able to go on adventures around the sanctuary. Other days, he can barely walk two steps without falling over. Sometimes when he falls, his wings start to bleed as he struggles to stand. But unlike at Reichardt, he has people working hard to help him get back up. He also has a physical therapy sling where he can practice his balance and we’ve rigged his coop with tools he can use to help himself stay upright. 

Bruce in his sling with his best friend Willow by his side.

Bruce has a big personality, and he finds so much joy in his life despite all of the struggles he’s faced and continues to face. He is a very talkative guy, always quacking to his friends. He loves to chow down on bananas, seeds, grapes, and watermelon. While he needs a little help getting in and out, he loves to splash around in a kiddy pool to clean his feathers. But more than anything, he loves his best friend Willow, a black and white duck who was rescued from a feedstore. He follows her everywhere and cries out in distress when she gets out of sight. And when he’s having a bad day and has to take it easy, she stays by his side, too.

Sometimes I think, what if no one had helped Bruce get back up on June 3, 2019? What if we hadn’t been there? Would he have stayed there, flailing and crying for help, until he eventually starved to death? It pains me to think about what could have been, about sunny days he could have never seen, about friends he could have never made. 

I don’t think any reasonable person would think that helping a little duckling like Bruce warrants felony charges. That’s why I am hoping to share his story to the jury next month during the Sonoma Trial. I hope that if they hear his story, the story of a little duckling who just needed help getting back on his feet, they’ll agree that they would have helped him, too. I hope they’ll agree that animal rescue is not a crime, and I hope they’ll find my friends not guilty.