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Something to Crow About 

After a neighbor complains, one man fights to keep his rooster and his coop

To start off the morning, Art Rush likes to pour himself a cup of coffee, gather up his rescue tabby cat "Lily" and head for his small white bungalow's back porch to sit back and enjoy his brood.

There's his pair of ducks, "Daffy" and "Melissa," a speckled black hen named "Dot," two white ones called "Frozen" and "Frosty" and a cinnamon-colored foursome that Rush can somehow individually distinguish as "Gertrude," "Big Red," "Flossy" and "Bossy."

But even in that crowd "Giant Foghorn Leghorn" stands out as he struts across Rush's yard with a certain swagger to his step that seems to show this cockerel with a festoon of bright copper feathers knows he is one handsome bird.

Battling a life-threatening kidney disease that sees him undergoing three days of dialysis a week, Rush says he finds comfort in the simple daily routine of tending to his flock.

He feeds them, pets them, cleans out their coop, lays out hay and gives the ducks a garden hose shower before refilling the blue kiddie pool they use for splashing about.

"They keep me calm," says Rush, who had to step down from a job he loved as a hospital laboratory technician due to his medical condition. "They give me something to do."

For Rush, these are his pets, no different to him than Lily and her two feline companions "Tiger" and "Cosmo" — also rescues — or even his bearded dragon "Elliot" that spends much of the day lounging under a heat lamp.

"I raised all my guys — the ducks, the chickens, the roosters — from chicks," he says.

But not everyone is happy about the current arrangement.

While Rush says several neighbors also keep roosters, chickens and ducks, a new renter moved in nearby and filed a complaint with the county specifically targeting Giant Foghorn Leghorn. That complaint has landed Rush a series of visits from county code enforcement officials who told him the rooster needs to find a new home.

Chickens are allowed but crowing roosters are a no-go in residential neighborhoods under county code. And the inspections found something else — Rush's chicken coop is too close to the house next door.

Bob Russell, assistant director of the county's Planning and Building Department, which includes the code enforcement unit, says cases like Rush's don't come up very often. But when someone does call, his department is obligated to investigate.

"To be very clear, this is one of those things that is pretty clear in the code and when we have a complaint, we do have to respond to the complaint," he says. "It's clearly stated in the code that you can't have a rooster in a residential area, for obvious reasons."

Now Rush is left with a choice: Give up his rooster and move his coop to meet the 50-feet from any dwelling limit or face the possibilty the county will step in and charge any abatement costs to his landlord.

Rush says he was originally told he needed a 10-foot set back and was able to comply with the help of other neighbors but the restraints of the property leave only one option to meet the new 50-foot requirement — placing the coop in a grassy field that's separated from Rush's backyard by a large wooden fence.

Or, Rush says he was told he can let the chickens and ducks roam free without a shelter at night. Either way, he's pretty sure what the outcome will be in a neighborhood with regular bear visits and other wildlife sightings.

"They won't make it the night," he says.

Rod Ludlow, owner of the website www.BackYardChickens.com, says the problems Rush is facing are not uncommon as more and more people take up the pastime, bringing what was once a farm pursuit into more compact urban settings.

In fact, Ludlow has a whole section on his page devoted to navigating local chicken laws and ordinances — and how to change them. Having a good relationship with neighbors is often key, he says.

"More often than not, people already had tense relationships with the neighbors complaining," Ludlow wrote in an email to the Journal. "Also, make sure to stay within the limits of the local regulations/laws, and maintain good chicken raising practices (for example, not keeping roosters). Finally, it's often a case of properly educating people that chickens, when cared for properly, are no more of a nuisance than someone with dogs in their backyard."

But Rush says he does have a good relationship with most of his neighbors. A handwritten petition he circulated around his street and onto the next block to keep his chickens and Giant Foghorn Leghorn has 12 signatures, almost everyone who he believes is in crowing distance of his home.

Among them is Fong Her, who has lived next door to Rush for the last 11 years.

As far as he is concerned, Giant Foghorn Leghorn, Dot, Frosty, Frozen and all the rest are no problem.

"It doesn't bother me at all," Her says, adding that he and Rush, along with others on the block, look out for each other. "It's a good neighborhood here."

In fact, Rush grew up on this same small lane near Sequoia Park that still somehow manages to convey a country feel despite being tucked just a few streets away from the busy thoroughfare of Walnut Drive.

While he left the area for a time, the 58 year old with a quiet tenor to his voice jumped at the chance to move back into his old neighborhood when he returned in 2003. During his childhood, just as now, he says, roosters, chickens, ducks and geese were a regular part of the neighborhood scene.

"Everyone had them back when I was a kid," Rush says. "There were roosters running up and down the street."

Rush says he specifically selected Giant Foghorn Leghorn because his coloring reminded him of the roosters his grandmother kept just down the road when he was a boy. Meanwhile, he feels whoever filed the complaint about his rooster is using the county to harass him.

"I guess what bothers me most is the majority of people back here have them and, unless I complain, they get to keep theirs, but I can't," Rush says.

This week marks the county's deadline for Rush to find Foghorn a new home and move the coop but he has filed an appeal of the abatement notice. It is set to be heard on Jan. 8.

"I don't want to spend this good time that I have left fighting with the county," Rush says, adding that in the mornings you can hear crowing roosters up and down the street. "They're all over here. I don't understand. I'm just going to fight it and see what happens."

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor and a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or kim@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.

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About The Author

Kimberly Wear

Bio:
Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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