Oblivious to the noontime sun, a group of protesters launched another salvo in their way on cruelty to chickens yesterday in front of the last live poultry shop in the District of Columbia.

Armed with placards saying "Blunt Knives, Sick Birds," 20 members of several humane organizations picketed the entrance of the Arrow Live Poultry Co. at 919 Fifth St. NW to demand that owners Mike and Connie Huneycutt close their shop and bring an end to what they called the animals' "unnecessary suffering."

"This is just another element of social justice," said Karen Jackson, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a four-month-old group devoted, Jackson said, to the "issue of animal awareness."

"You know, it's just like the way the blacks and the Jews were oppressed," she said. "It diminishes society if you exploit [the chickens]. It's just one more of the social injustices. We deny animals the right to live in an environment that doesn't oppress them."

Donna Kessler, another member of the group, said she objected to housing chickens in uncomfortable, unsanitary conditions that they are not used to.

"Chickens are very sensitive animals," said Kessler, who described herself as a certified animal technician employed by the D.C. Animal Shelter.

"They [the poultry store's operators] throw them down like furniture. When they're ready to slaughter them, they bind their feet and wings in front of all the other chickens. It's horrible."

Mike Huneycutt dismissed the protesters' complaints. He said the chickens feel no pain because he and his assistants use special knives that give the chickens a numbing electrical shock before their jugular veins are slit.

Huneycutt's operation received a clean bill of health three weeks ago from the District's Bureau of Consumer Health Services, according to its deputy director, Thomas C. Potter. Potter said that the company's sanitation rating had been "well within the acceptable range."

The antipathy between Huneycutt and the chicken lovers was fueled three months ago when a Washington Humane Society officer had a warrant issued for Mike Huneycutt's arrest on a charge of "cruelly killing" animals. The charge was subsequently dropped.

Protesters passed out leaflets yesterday that charged that Huneycutt was offering malnourished and diseased animals for sale. But U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Dr. Louis Burgman, whose office inspected Huneycutt's birds after receiving a complaint, said no evidence of disease was found in the live animals or in samples from dead animals taken back to the lab.

Nevertheless, the protesters, whose ranks included the Coalition for the Liberation of Animals and the Vegetarian Information Service, vowed to continue their fight until Arrow is closed down.

Pointing to her sign picturing a live chicken sandwiched between two slices of bread ("Know who you eat"), one woman summed up the campaign: "We feel that chickens have personalities, too."