Chicken thieves make off with fowl used for therapy exhibit at fair

Aug 8, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Fowl play at the 2012 Fremont County Fair has seven chickens missing.

Wind River Healthcare director Feike Van Dijk said the health care center's exhibit displayed the therapy chickens they bought for seniors to enjoy.

Van Dijk said he was around the chickens in the agriculture center building at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, and when he returned Sunday, seven were gone.

Fair director Barney Cosner said the agriculture center was supervised by a building superintendent, and the building was locked every night from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

"We believe the chicken thief had to be at work during the hours the building was locked, because that was the only time no one was inside the agriculture center," Cosner said.

Van Dijk said no one reported seeing them disappear from the center.

"Fair staff noticed at least four of them at the exhibit so we believe the chickens had to disappear between Saturday evening and Sunday," Van Dijk said.

A police report was filed at 7:10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Van Dijk said the missing chickens are unusual breeds in Fremont County.

Cosner said the birds are worth more than $1,000, and the rarity of the birds intensifies the crime.

"We are obviously upset someone would do this," Cosner said. "When you take into consideration these chickens are worth a lot of money, then the crime becomes more serious."

Cosner said the theft is frustrating and unnecessary for Riverton and the fair community.

"We had over 25,000 people attend the fair this year," Cosner said. "When you have a culprit like this it becomes finding one person within 25,000."

Van Dijk said because the chickens had been raised by the seniors at the health care center, they were friendly to humans and incredibly docile.

"I believe whoever stole them might have been someone who was aware that these breeds are really unusual," Van Dijk said. "Unfortunately, whoever took the chickens is not aware that the seniors at Wind River Healthcare are tremendously attached to these birds. Most of them have names, and we hope whoever took them will return them."

Van Dijk said the news has caused tremendous grief to the seniors who took care of the chickens and treated them as pets.

"There have been tears shed because of these chickens disappearing, and we are really upset that someone would have done this," Van Dijk said. "For a lot of these seniors, having the chickens around reminds them of a previous time when they might have lived on a farm and had animals around. It allows some of the seniors to reminisce about their former homes."

Van Dijk said the display at the fair was constructed to thank the community for supporting the Wind River Healthcare.

"If we had the opportunity to display the chickens again, we would," Van Dijk said.

Riverton chief of police Mike Broadhead said the case is under investigation.

"Sunday afternoon everyone that entered animals to show at the fair was coming to pick them up," Broadhead said. "I am wondering if during that time someone who wasn't authorized to take the chickens might have picked them up."

Broadhead said a police officer was stationed at the fairgrounds 24 hours a day.

"At this time there are no reports the officer on duty saw any suspicious behavior," Broadhead said. "The fairgrounds does not have a surveillance system, and currently no reports have been filed by people seeing the chickens disappear."

If anyone has any information on the seven missing chickens, they are asked to call the Riverton Police Department at 856-4891 or the Fremont County Fairgrounds office at 856-6611.

"If the chickens are returned at this point, we will have no issues," Cosner said. "We are hoping whoever took them will do the right thing and return them."

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