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Thousands of Californian hens escape being gassed thanks to mystery $50,000 benefactor

A charter jet will fly the birds to New York, from where they will be distributed to sanctuaries on the east coast

Thousands of hens in California have escaped being gassed after an anonymous donor paid $50,000 (£32,000) to have some of them flown on a private charter flight to New York to enjoy their retirement.

The hens, whose egg-laying days are behind them, were due to be killed - a commons practice in the US.

However, 3,000 of them will now enjoy a peaceful retirement after intervention from the Animal Place sanctuary in Northern California, the Guardian reports.

Thanks to the mystery benefactor 1,150 of the birds will be flown to New York to be distributed to sanctuaries on the east coast.

“It's certainly the first time this many adult birds have been flown across the country,” said Marji Beach, the education director at Animal Place.

The group were forced to turn to a private jet company after none of the commercial carriers would agree to take the feathered seniors.

Ms Beach said that the jet company did not seem shocked by the request and also expressed her surprise that the egg farm where the hens were kept allowed the sanctuary to rescue them.

“The big battery-cage operations – where the hens are crammed into cages so small they can't even flap their wings – we just didn't think they would ever be open to an animal rights organization going to their property and pulling hens, but this person was,” she said.

This brood of two-year-old rescued hens is expected to live between two to four more years on these farms.

“If you met a chicken, they have unique personalities like dogs and cats and we think they deserve the same amount of compassion and respect that we give to dogs and cats – I promise we're not crazy,” said Beach, speaking to the paper.

Another hundred hens from the group will be taken in by the Sasha sanctuary in Manchester, a village in Washtenaw County, Michigan. An employee from the sanctuary will make the nine hour drive to New York to pick the birds up to join its family of cows, pigs and other farm animals.

“It's going to be a challenge, it's going to cost us a lot of money, but we're glad to do it, these birds deserve a chance, unfortunately we can only take a small proportion,” said Sasha director Dorothy Davies, who started the sanctuary in 1981.

Davies said that the last time she remembered any rescue animals being flown across the country was after hurricane Katrina, when shelters took in displaced dogs.

She said that it was an uncommon sight and that hens raised to lay eggs are “almost never” rescued. “I don't know how they pulled it off,” said Davies.