Episode 127 – Kelly Rutkowski

Kelly Rutkowski Kelly Rutkowski is determined to help make the world a better place for chickens. She is the founder of Adopt a Bird Network and PoultryDVM.com. Adopt a Bird Network is a non-profit dedicated to promoting the presence of the forgotten birds (especially chickens) in animal shelters across the United States. PoultryDVM.com is an online resource for pet chicken owners to go to which provides interactive tools, infographics, and case stories to help promote veterinary care. Kelly travels to animal shelters across the United States and puts on backyard chicken care workshops for local communities, to help encourage better care and adoption of birds from shelters.







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 Hey, Kelly, welcome to the program. Hi. Thanks for having me. Well, I’m really excited to have you. I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody on here before that’s focused on chickens. So I’m really excited to talk to you and learn more. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and your background and kind of how you got into this? Actually I always loved birds. I actually rescued my first chickens back in high school. They lived under my bed for a while, until my mom came into the room and heard them chirping and told me I needed to find them a home. So that was my first re-homing experience with them. I saved them from, it was like a petting zoo type thing, and they were gonna kill them. So I said, Well, let me take them. And then this kind of became a passion for you from there. Well, no. So I was passionate about it then, but then I went off to college and studied structural engineering. I wanted to originally design roller coasters but pivoted to designing marinas and realized the entire time that I was still continuing to rescue animals and I was bringing injured birds back with me to the office. So I finally realized, you know, I need to stop doing engineering, I don’t really like it and start helping animals full time. Which is really what I’m passionate about doing and have been doing my whole life. So that’s how I ended up deciding to get back into focusing solely on animals.

 So what year did you decide that, Alright, I’m done with engineering. And now I’m gonna dedicate my life to animals? That was 2013, 2014. And so I originally got into it through, actually, a big thing, was vet care. I ended up designing websites and worked with vets to come up with  horsedvm.com. poultrydvm.com, to try to help promote that veterinary care and I noticed that there was kind of a gap, especially for farm animals online. So I was working through poultryDVM, that made me realize that there was a growing interest in backyard chickens that not only was their interest that they were showing up in animal shelters, and so the more I dig, the more I realized that that was the big problem. And so I started a nonprofit, which focuses solely on helping these birds from the animal shelters, find good homes. Yeah, that’s really cool. So you started this because you were doing websites like you said, helping veterinarians. Just more like education and resource. Yeah, it’s a resource for them to go to find information and to find, like the directory of vets that will treat solely chickens, poultryDVM and like HorseDVM has one of the horses. And, like different tools that people can use just to help take better care, like their symptoms checker and toxic plants list. I see comparisons like infographics and all sorts of stuff that kind of help educate people so that they take better care of their animals and to treat them more like pets versus commodities. Which is what a lot of all the others, more of them as pets. And so it actually works out perfectly. Because as part of my adoptive bird rescue, I go to the animal shelters and I give backyard chicken care workshops to help promote adoption. And I use a lot of the information in my presentations, so it works out and actually works well together. Yeah.

 So now when did you start the adoptive bird network? That was in 2017. And what prompted you to do that? You said it was from the poultry DVM. So you realized that this was a bigger problem for chickens. And you said, Hey, we need a site where people can go to adopt a bird. I noticed nobody would realize there are shelters like the shelters didn’t do a super great job letting people know they were there. And even it was only within a small community that they were able to share that information. So I found that there were some birds that have been sitting there for, like, literally years.  And so once I started Adopt A Bird, I got them adopted. We try to make it so I mean, they still sit there sometimes for six months, you know, eight months, in some shelters. But we try to stop that, so they’re not waiting there any longer than that. Just because I mean, it’s total isolation, and you know, it’s not healthy for the bird, but that’s only some shelters. I mean, a lot of them don’t even give them that. A lot of them give them only, like, a couple of days. What I’m trying to do is inspire more people that want to help them from the shelter and often because people don’t realize you can adopt the chicken and add them to your flock. Or you can have multiple roosters living together, peacefully. And so I’m trying to promote these things, so people will help rescue them.

 No, I love that. And, you know, I think in the shelters I’m up in Wisconsin, but I don’t think a lot of the shelters in Wisconsin, that I’ve seen chickens, right? And I don’t know if it’s that they don’t have this problem or if they don’t take them in. So is this a common thing for shelters across the country? Well, not all the shelters will take them in. Only a handful do. But the ones that do, we have a huge influx. There are certain urban areas that are a lot worse than others. Like Colorado, Massachusetts, California are some of the biggest problem areas, and that’s mainly because there are towns that allow hens, but they banned all the roosters. Or in California, just the density of people. And there’s lots of breeders, so there’s a lot of birds there. So it’s a huge problem.

 And now where did these chickens go? So you’ve got a site up there. So now if somebody says, yeah, I’m gonna adopt this one. I mean, do they have to be nearby or how does all that work? Well, no, actually, a lot of them are not nearby because those towns, a lot of the towns don’t allow it there. They have to be adopted by people outside of there, which sometimes to be a distance. There’s a lot of people in other states that want to adopt them and they can’t. So we try to encourage people to transport and find transport to get them to, you know, either sanctuary or to other people that will adopt them. 

The transport is a big need as well. People willing to even help transport them from a shelter to a home, can save a lot of their lives. You don’t need to just adopt, you can transport or even just let other people know, word of mouth. More awareness seems to be a big challenge, for this as well, isn’t it? Yeah. A lot of people don’t realize they’re in shelters and they need help. And so it’s just trying to let people know and get them interested in wanting to.

 Now. I know one of the things you mentioned to me before was that there’s actually people that have chicken sanctuaries, where there’s farm sanctuaries and, tell me a little bit more about that. I didn’t realize that people were actually having sanctuaries that were that specific. I mean, they’re starting to pop up more and more, but because of the growing chicken, they’re starting to take them in and they’ll, granted, the majority of them that, they’re funny, have huge issues with is roosters. So like a lot of these things. The ones that do, they have multiple roosters. What happens is people buy the baby chicks, at the feed stores or the hatcheries, and they’ll claim they’re all hens.. But the problem is about 10% or so turned out to be roosters because the whole sexing process is difficult, depending on the breed, too. But the downside of that is all the 90% of male chicks that aren’t going to people are going in the grinder. It’s another thing, a lot of people don’t realize, about getting a baby chick. So anyway, these people will buy their chicks and they grow up and then they start crowing. And then they freak out there like, Oh, we can’t have a rooster, or you don’t want to a rooster. So then yeah they’ll dump them or abandon them. Or some people bring them to shelters that allow them. And the thing is even there, they still need homes.

 Yeah. No, you’re right. I mean, we don’t think about these things until somebody kind of points it out. Right? So then you see this influx of roosters and that in shelters. So tell me a little bit, I’m not somebody that’s all that familiar with chickens and roosters and that. What are they like to have as pets? Oh, they are wonderful. Wonderful. I absolutely love them. I mean, I have my own personal little flocks of rescue birds. The majority are roosters. I have a little bachelor flock of roosters, and they all get along and you could teach them tricks. I have one bird I taught how to jump through a hula hoop. Another one to ring a bell. I mean, they’re much smarter than people think, and they have their own little personalities. And a lot of people are keeping house chickens as well. I’ve had a house rooster before, and I’ve loved it touching them. You can put little diapers on them, and it’s just like, you know, you have a dog or cat, but it’s actually easier to be able to bring them out, to go to the bathroom. They’re wonderful, but.

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To be honest, I’ve never really thought about that. And then when you said a house rooster, like now what does that mean? That you explained obviously, it’s an animal that’s living inside the house so they don’t have to live out in the chicken coop or something outback. No, no. I mean, that’s the traditional way of having a chicken coop, coming in, you know, in the coop. But you can also help by just adopting even, you know if you want to have one house chicken or you could have multiple, some people of multiple house chickens, and then they just hang out in your house and watch TV with you and, you know, sit on top beds. They’ll alert you if someone stranger comes to the door and you can soundproof your house. You know, so the crowing is not as loud. Obviously, the crowing, it’s not any louder than a dog barking. So people are really like they’re loud, but they’re not really well, you kind of get used to it. I guess it’s kind of like owning a dog that barks a lot. You get used to it, you know. 

So now is the Adopt A Bird Network, is it just for chickens, or do you allow other types of birds as well? It’s all birds. Obviously, we try to help all the birds and shelters, but the reason why we’re focusing on chickens is just because they’re especially the problem. Because the thing is, there’s a lot of, you know, when you get more exotic birds in shelters, granted, you’re worried, but the shelters will have like, a larger, higher fee for them. So it kind of gives them more protection because someone’s not going to adopt like a really nice parrot for, like, $500 and kill it. But chickens, the shelter has them for free, some do. You know, people adopt them and you know the least, you know, others, I mean not so nice things. So that’s why I’m an Adopt A Bird, trying to get good people, that don’t wanna kill them, so that they could go adopt them and help them, so they can end up going to nice homes because, you know, they’ve been through a lot. These little birds, the ones that show up and they’re scared in the shelters, why should they have their life end, since they have, like, an opportunity to be happy after that. So yeah, their cention beings, after all. Right? And to your point, they may not be as traditional as a dog or a cat, but they sound to be very intelligent and definitely have feelings and personalities and all those other things. So it’s really cool that you’ve built this. And one more thing, I know the CDC sometimes says, Oh, you know, chickens can cause Salmonella and all this stuff. I kiss my chickens and hug my chickens and I don’t get that. Pretty much if you like, roll around in their feces, and put them in your mouth. Or, you know, like, if you see that, that’s how you get it or if you have a really poor immune system. I mean, hey, if you did that with dog feces it would be the same thing. But you’d end up with worse infections, so they’re not a health hazard, at all. That’s good that you point that out because I think a lot of people are probably, like me, where they just don’t know, right? We’ve never been exposed to this. We don’t know. We only know a little bit about what we might have heard. And as you know, it’s easy to sometimes learn things that are not necessarily true. So it’s good that you’re clarifying that.

 So where do you see this going? What’s your goal? What’s next for Adopt A Bird Network? I just like growing, getting more people interested in growing, trying to inspire more people willing to transport to help, get them, you know, to the homes they need to and help encourage more people to want to adopt the ones in need. And also help the roosters, educate more people about them and have more flocks. You know, I’m a little obsessed with roosters, because I just think they’re so wonderful and people are so nervous about them as well. You know, they think that they could be mean and not at all. It’s just simply taking the time to work with them and being kind to them. And they could be wonderful pets. And that relationship with them. I’d love to continue with growing that and then also get more workshops, more animal shelters and just help raise awareness about it and help the chickens. 

As you look back on this, Kelly, is this where you thought you’d end up? Is this how you thought things would turn out? Absolutely not. Not one bit. I did not picture it, you know? But then again, I did, I have always loved animals. So I think that this is the perfect fit for me. Especially because in the beginning I was helping them. So it’s kind of like I did a circle and came back to doing what I really wanted to be doing, in the first place. Yeah, from a structural engineer to Chicken Whisperer, right? That’s what it sounds like. You’re really making I don’t know what the,

No, but I think it’s really cool that you took the initiative right. And you noticed the need. And you’ve decided to, you know, make a site that is really gonna focus on this and really try and encourage people. I mean, it feels like you’re making a much bigger impact than what you could just do on your own. Yeah, that’s the thing. I’m a big picture person. And that’s why I felt like Adopt A Bird would help me versus, you know if I just started off a sanctuary on my own. I mean, that’d be great and wonderful, but I wouldn’t be able to help a limited number of birds. And so I feel like with Adopt A Bird, if I can inspire more people, than I would with just the sanctuary, I’d be able to help more birds and help connect the different sanctuaries and different people and just help service, kind of a, what do you call it? Middleman. PeaceKeeper? Yeah. So that’s what Adopt A Bird is. And just encourage everyone to be well, you know, kind of get to know chickens and like giving them a chance and then you help, too. It’s not just the dogs and cats and bunnies. It’s the chickens as well. They’re getting the bad end of it because, you know, you got there for that roosters. And you also got the cockfighting, you know, in there, and then you got the commercial ones and the egg-laying, the abandoned and then all the chicks. So it’s like of all the animals, first years of, like, the worst situation with respect to, like all these different parties, like using them for these different reasons, that are cruel. So, yeah, I think you’ve got such a passion for it. Now you’ve turned your passion into something to really make a difference. I think that’s really neat. And Kudos you for taking that on. Well, thank you!

Well, Kelly, this has been really great to talk to you today. Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up? Give roosters and chickens a chance and there are other ways you can help other than just adopt. But people can be sure that they can go to adopteabirdnetwork.com or poultrydvm.com, you mentioned as well if they want to get involved in that more. And I know you guys have a presence out there on Facebook and other social media as well, so we would definitely encourage people to learn more. And thank you so much for coming on the program today Kelly. It was great to talk to you. Thanks for having me, Chris.

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