July 7, 2012

Life's rough for abandoned roosters in Fair Oaks

Rocky would jump up and sit in your lap, but he got scrappy if it came to a fight. Limo was famous for surviving a collision with a limousine. Big Red, a sweet-tempered rooster, is a favorite at the fire station.

Rocky would jump up and sit in your lap, but he got scrappy if it came to a fight. Limo was famous for surviving a collision with a limousine. Big Red, a sweet-tempered rooster, is a favorite at the fire station.

The feral chickens that have lived in Fair Oaks for decades are symbols of the community, and residents celebrate them in the annual Chicken Festival.

Yet not every chicken is a familiar face. Residents and shopkeepers say several times a month, they see strange chickens – many of them young roosters – that likely have been abandoned by their previous owners.

Sharise Dianda's son showed up with a stray, she said. "I'm like, 'What am I going to do with a chicken?' "

She took the bird to Village Park in the old neighborhood where the chickens are concentrated.

The new rooster wasn't welcome there. "As soon as I put him down at the park, here come two males, and they tried to kill him," Dianda said.

She took the rooster behind her bakery and cafe, where she feeds cake crumbs and mashed Danish to a flock of about a dozen local birds. Those chickens also were hostile.

Dianda eventually found a home for the rooster, but not all of the roosters that wander into the feral flock are so fortunate. And urban chicken populations are growing in neighboring communities.

Last November, an ordinance in neighboring Sacramento made it legal to keep hens within the city limits. The Galt City Council is considering a similar provision.

Neither ordinance permits roosters, which can be noisy and aggressive. They do not lay eggs, and their meat is tough.

Since it is almost impossible to determine the sex of chicks before they mature, many roosters become unwanted – at potentially abandoned – at puberty.

Dave Dickinson, director of the Sacramento County Department of Animal Care and Regulation, said the diversity of breeds in the Fair Oaks flock indicates that many of the birds are abandoned.

To willfully abandon an animal in California is a misdemeanor. "They do it in the middle of the night so nobody sees. There's not much you can do about catching the people," Dickinson said.

For a cockerel in Fair Oaks, life on the streets can be rough. Between predators, rustlers, careless drivers and territorial roosters, the odds are long against survival.

"They all die. It's almost a guarantee, if you really befriend one of these chickens, it's going to die," said Hugh Gorman, a longtime resident who claims his chickens started today's feral flock when they escaped to public land sometime around 30 years ago.

Gorman remembered an attractive Plymouth Rock rooster named Pretty Boyd Floyd who lived on his property. When a car ran over and killed another rooster who was Floyd's dear friend, Floyd stood beside the bird's carcass and mourned for a week.

"Then it was a week later he got it himself," Gorman said. A coyote tore Floyd to pieces.

Intra-species violence is another danger. Dr. Lyndsay Phillips, a veterinarian at the Old Towne Animal Hospital in Fair Oaks, said concerned citizens bring chickens into the clinic about once a week, most of them wounded in cockfights.

Kung Pao, a majestic white rooster with feathery talons, crows at visitors to Sasha Hjerpe's Fair Oaks home. When Hjerpe found him, he was in the middle of a fight with several roosters from the flock.

Hjerpe believes Kung Pao had been abandoned by his owner and that the other roosters were protecting their territory when she intervened.

She has lived in Fair Oaks for 36 years, and started feeding and crusading for the welfare of the flock when she moved into the old part of town.

"I walk around and see the terror, the madness, and the hostility," she said.

She has also been pestering public officials, distributing fliers to businesses and generally ruffling folks' feathers all around.

"A few people call me the crazy chicken lady," she said. "I didn't know you had to be crazy to love animals."

Her goal is to discourage people from abandoning chickens. "I just really want to get the message across: It is not acceptable to abandon your animal," she said.

Sacramento residents can surrender unwanted chickens – roosters or hens – to the municipal Animal Care Services department for a $10 fee. Call the shelter at (916) 808-7387 for more information.

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