CMU looks into the case of spray-painted chickens

Woman now caring for 9 hens says they were treated cruelly

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Just how did farm chickens end up inside campus buildings at Carnegie Mellon University last weekend? And who decided to paint them?

The university isn't saying much.

But Beth McMaster, a wildlife rehabilitator in Butler County who is caring for the birds, two of whom are sick, said it strikes her as a case of animal cruelty. She said the school owes the public an accounting of what happened and should punish whoever is responsible.

Ms. McMaster has nine hens that were removed from the campus beginning on Saturday, a number of them streaked with what she described as an oil-based spray paint.

One of the birds "is painted pink on her chest. There's one with purple on her back," she said. "There's another with yellow on her. One little hen has it on her back and face."

It appeared they had not eaten in nearly a week and two have a respiratory problem, she said. It's not possible to safely remove the paint, she added, so it will stay until the birds molt their feathers and "hopefully none of it will flake off into their mouth."

"It's toxic to them," she said.

Casey Brown, a volunteer who said she brought the chickens to the farm after being called to campus, said the bird painted in pink was loose on Saturday inside the University Center, the school's student center. Another one painted silver was found on a racquetball court. She said others were found on Sunday in the vicinity of fraternity houses near the corner of Forbes and Morewood avenues.

Carnegie Mellon said one of the hens was in the University Center but gave no specifics and would not say if fraternity involvement is suspected. After inquiries from the Post-Gazette over two days, the university released the following statement late Tuesday:

"Carnegie Mellon University campus affairs staff members are gathering the facts to understand what happened on Saturday, when farm chickens were found in campus buildings. Our students are fully cooperating with the university to gather details during this internal process. If disciplinary action is warranted, it will be handled through the normal internal judicial process."

Ms. Brown said university police were present when she arrived to pick up the birds. Tom Ogden Jr., university police chief, confirmed his department was involved but gave no specifics.

Student leaders of the Interfraternity Council could not be reached. Officials at Carnegie Mellon provided no additional comment Wednesday.

It's unclear if potential mistreatment of animals is part of the university's fact-finding. Chief Ogden and campus spokesman Ken Walters said that as of Tuesday afternoon, the university had no knowledge of the birds being painted or any indication of abuse, though the chief indicated he is aware Ms. McMaster has the animals.

Ms. McMaster said that as of Wednesday evening, no one from the university had contacted her about the animals, which surprised her.

"I would think if they're serious about this and they want to get to the bottom of it, somebody would have called to inquire about how they're doing," she said.

"Do they want to keep these things quiet? Is it routine for a college to hide crime? I mean, I think it's a crime," she said. "I'd love to see this go public, because this ... shouldn't be tolerated at these schools or anywhere else."

Mr. Walters issued a follow-up statement Tuesday night that said the act of university police arranging for the birds to be taken to a shelter "does not indicate that there was criminal activity. It is a normal function of many campus police departments to provide transportation."

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. First Published March 18, 2010 4:00 AM


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