Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is Chicago Going to the Birds?

By Alan Burkhart

While it hardly seems newsworthy in a time of strife and chaos both at home and abroad, I believe recent events in the Windy City merit further thought. According to a recent AP article, the Chicago City Council is considering a ban on pet chickens.

This little tidbit of news is indicative (to me, at least) of just how shallow we've become as a nation. Too many of us expect the world to adjust to our every whim and desire. “Grin and bear it” is forever gone from the national lexicon. As a nation, we complain over just about everything.

I realize that under certain circumstances it may be prudent to regulate or even ban certain pets. One can make a case for potentially dangerous breeds of dogs, poisonous snakes and other unconventional pets. It has however been proven over the years that in most cases it is the animal's handler, not the animal itself, that leads to problems.

Chicago City Alderman Lona Lane states in the AP article that the city has received over 700 complaints this year related to pet chickens. Most of these are over foul odors, droppings and the rodents that feed on chicken droppings. A number of complaints also stem from the noise of crowing roosters. As I stated above, it nearly always goes back to the owner of the pet. If one does not take proper care with a pet, problems will ensue. Ask my former neighbor about my low tolerance for the little surprises his collie left for me in my backyard.

First, if you own a pet you should always make sure that it is not creating a problem for your neighbors. Keep your pet on your own property. Keep your pet's area clean and free of odor. This isn't just for the sake of your neighbors, either. It's also a health issue for your pets and for your family.

The flip side of the coin is equally important - be considerate of your neighbors and their pets. If Rover barks at the moon all night, that's a legitimate reason for complaint. If Fluffy leaves little kitty paw prints on your car every night, that's also a genuine problem. But you shouldn’t complain just because you don't approve of your neighbor's choice of pet.

Consider this tidbit from the AP article:
What may doom them in Chicago, say chicken supporters, is that for all the talk about noise, smell and disease, chickens simply do not look like they belong in today's modern city. "It's a gentrification issue," said Erika Allen of Growing Power, a nonprofit group that promotes urban gardening around the country. "People move in and they don't want chickens next to their house so they go and complain."
There was a time when chickens in the back yard were a common sight. During WWII, many people kept poultry on their property right along with their victory gardens. It was a matter of survival. Chickens were cheap to maintain and served as a double food source: eggs and meat. Nowadays, those who support the notion of raising chickens at home point to the freshness of the eggs and the way they aerate the soil in gardens, among other benefits.

Chickens in the back yard are also reminiscent of simpler, friendlier times. When I was a boy, I grew up across from the Richards family. These good folks operated a small game hen facility right in the middle of town. No one gave it a second thought. The place was clean and neat and the birds were kept inside a fenced-in area. Never heard one complaint, but then again people weren’t as bratty back then as they are in current times. The sound of all those little banny roosters in the morning was just another part of the day.

Not to be outdone, at the ripe old age of ten years I got my first chickens: Two little chicks from the local farm co-op. They were prolific laying hens, and I was of course insufferably proud when I could provide the eggs at breakfast time. The two birds had the run of the back yard, and I had the responsibility of making sure no bird poop showed up on Mom’s shiny new ‘68 Pontiac.

About a year later, I got a rooster, whom I promptly named “Brewster.” In retrospect, the only reason I can think of for naming him thusly is that “Brewster” rhymes with “rooster.” He was therefore referred to as “Brewster the Rooster.” Yes, I was rather weird as a child.

Brewster turned out to be an extremely personable guy. He’d come running up to me whenever I ventured into the back yard and follow me around like a faithful dog. When I’d sit on the back steps he’d hop up on my leg and stare at me while making various chicken-noises and stretching his wings. We had some clucking-good conversations on many a hot summer day, and to my surprise he enjoyed being petted and spoken to as much as any dog or cat.

I of course would always make sure his tail feathers were positioned off the side of my leg since chickens aren’t too picky about where they let go. One afternoon I was sitting there with Brewster when my father came home from work. Dad sat down beside me and Brewster hopped over onto his leg. Dad didn’t turn the bird, and I didn’t think about the possible consequences. A few moments later, the laces in Dad’s work shoes had been fouled (fowled?) rather severely.

Had I not scooped up the bird and ran like hell for the back fence we might have had broiled Brewster for dinner that evening. By the time he’d hosed off his shoe he’d pretty much forgiven the bird, and Brewster never had a clue he’d almost become a chicken salad.

The bottom line? Good neighborhoods start with good neighbors, and being a good neighbor starts in your own back yard. Please take good care of your pets, and please also realize that you do not live in a bubble. If your neighbor has a dog, you’re going to hear it bark from time to time. Likewise, if your neighbor has a rooster, he will doubtlessly engage in the roosterly practice of crowing in the morning. Come on, people... if that is the worst thing that happens to you all day, you’ve had a good day.
Related Reading:

Pet chickens may be plucked from owners?

Growing Power

Victory Gardens

Feather Site