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An Unsettling Reality in Tiverton

January 30, 2024

By Ruth Rasmussen

A screen capture from the "Fishtank" online reality show shows a cast member in the Cumberland house, with several of the since-rescued chickens pecking about.

In a bizarre mini-drama that played out over the past week, workers at the West Place Animal Sanctuary in Tiverton have rescued 10 young chickens from an online reality show being filmed at a home in Cumberland.

It all began when West Place received an e-mail last Thursday from a viewer of the online show "Fishtank," who claimed producers released the chickens inside the home and intended to abuse them on camera. The show consists of a 24/7 YouTube livestream in which eight strangers are confined to a house for six weeks and filmed constantly, participating in competitive tasks to see who can outlast the others and win $30,000.

Shortly after the complaint came in, the sanctuary's Patrick Cole said a staff member with the show called West Place requesting help in relocating the chickens. She said they had been purchased that week from a slaughterhouse/butcher in Providence and released inside the house, but the producers no longer wanted them and intended to return them to the supplier.

Cole, who had not heard of the show until last week, learned that it has a large following that is apparently international, since the person who e-mailed the original complaint lives outside the United States.

"People watch online and can make payments to prank the guests or ask the producers to do something crazy, and the more money they pay the more likely it is to happen."

Cole arranged with the show's staff member to pick up the chickens on Saturday, the last day of the show's second season. He said the two-story house, which is in a residential Cumberland neighborhood, was "trashed inside and out." The chickens were housed in a makeshift pen made of cardboard, in a garage that he said was in total disarray.

Prior to the pickup, Cole placed a call to Cumberland's animal control officer, and "it sounds like the house was already on their radar," he said.

Cole estimates the chickens are five to eight months old and appear fairly healthy. West Place will quarantine them for two weeks, after which most will be placed with community members who have already volunteered to give them homes.

Patrick Cole, left, and Lars Krahl of West Place Animal Sanctuary unload chickens rescued Saturday from a reality show being filmed in Cumberland.


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