When the New Orleans City Council amended a city ordinance earlier this year making it illegal to keep roosters as pets, Rob Schafer probably thought he'd be able to rest easy knowing his noisy neighbor was on the way out of the coop.
But Schafer said he still wakes up each morning to the crows of the urban outlaw next door. Some mornings it's 5 or 6 a.m., and others it's every hour and seemingly relentless.
"I have nothing against urban farming," Schafer says. "The rooster is just so persistent."
Schafer lives on the 1200 block of Carondelet Street and says his neighbor has kept hens in a backyard coop for many years. He says he remembers first hearing the rooster about a year ago.
The amended ordinance, which went into effect March 22, now classifies roosters as "wild and exotic animals," joining the ranks of alligators, monkeys and a long list of other animals that cannot be kept as pets in the city. And a section of the ordinance titled "Wild or exotic animals as pets prohibited" (section 18-7) stipulates that "No person shall keep or permit to be kept any wild, or exotic animal as a pet."
Councilwoman Susan Guidry authored and introduced the original ordinance in October 2012. Once the ordinance was introduced, she said, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA/SPCA) worked with several stakeholders to come up with a list of recommended changes.
"One of these suggestions was to ban roosters because of the frequent noise problems they create and because they are not needed for any egg-laying purposes in urban, backyard farms." Guidry says. " I can attest that my office routinely fields noise complaint calls regarding roosters."
Because there were so many changes to the original ordinance, Guidry said she felt it best to withdraw it and then introduced a new ordinance in December 2012, which included the rooster ban. And that was approved in March.
"Here it is about a year later and the rooster is still there and making noise," says Schafer, noting his bedroom looks out on the backyard that borders the area with the chicken coop. Schafer says he hasn't called authorities to complain.
Across the city, Tara Cox, keeps several hens and two roosters in the abandoned lot she's converted into a garden in the St. Roch neighborhood. The lot sits between two houses she owns, and the space forms a grassy "T," perfect for the animals.
"I haven't had any complaints, but I'm fairly isolated," Cox says.
One of her neighbors, who asked not to be identified, says the rooster doesn't bother her; she's more concerned with feral cats in the neighborhood.
Cox says she enjoys keeping the animals, but didn't plan on having a rooster. "I bought some silkie bantam hens, and one of them turned out to be a boy," she says.
While roosters are necessary to breed chickens, they aren't required for egg production. To that end, Cox says she's fine giving up the roosters.
"If someone complains, I'll get rid of them," Cox says. "It's only fair." The issue wouldn't be worth a fight with her neighbors, she says.
Many rooster owners seem to be unaware of the new city ordinance, according to Ana Zorrilla, executive director of the LA/SPCA, which handles animal control for the city. When interviewed in July, Zorrilla said the LA/SPCA had received eight complaint calls about roosters since the ordinance passed.
"We would want to clarify if it was indeed a rooster problem not a hen problem," she says.
Although most people who get the unwanted 5 a.m. wake-up calls can probably tell the difference, Zorrilla says one complaint call did turn out to be a hen.
Hens are legal in Orleans Parish, Zorrilla says, but roosters are not. If animal control officers find a rooster, the owner has 15 days to relocate the animal out of the parish. If the rooster isn't relocated, the LA/SPCA will impound the animal and euthanize it.
Of the eight complaints the LA/SPCA received, five were roosters that were relocated, Zorrilla says. Currently there are two active roosters complaints: One is "pending removal" and is within the 15-day window allowed, and the other is a stray that officers have been unable to locate.
There are many reasons to ban roosters in the city, Zorrilla says, and even the state Public Health veterinarian said the number of roosters in a city should be limited. Cockfighting, in which two roosters are placed in a ring to fight each other to the death, was a popular sport in parts of Louisiana in the past, and in June 2007, Louisiana became the last state in the country to ban the practice. Officer Frank Robertson, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said the police haven't received any complaints regarding cockfighting in the last year.
Zorrilla says a ban on roosters in the city will reinforce the prohibition against cockfighting.
"Because the LA/SPCA has investigated and charged individuals in Orleans Parish with animal cruelty who were actively involved in cockfighting, we believe making roosters illegal in city limits will further reduce animal cruelty," she says.
"The LA/SPCA acknowledged it was important to allow hens for the purpose of egg-laying but did not find any reasons for allowing roosters, who are often the source of noise complaints," she says.
The New Orleans law is similar to ordinances around the country. Few towns or cities allow roosters, according to a primer on chicken laws at www.backyardchickens.com, an online community for urban poultry enthusiasts: "Since one of the main reasons people keep chickens is for eggs, it is generally accepted to only allow hens," the website says.
Bryon Cornelison, who works in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's office, has lived in New Orleans for 20 years and has kept hens at two different homes. He says he had three to four hens but never a rooster. When purchasing chicks, he says, a person can buy them sorted by sex, or unsorted, which usually is less expensive but could include roosters.
"There's no need for anyone to have a rooster in the city limits if they just want to have fresh eggs," says Cornelison, who adds he frequently had enough eggs to share with neighbors.
Zorrilla says the LA/SPCA has been distributing brochures and "responding to complaints with education first."
One Mid-City resident says when she called animal control earlier this year to complain about a rooster on her block, she was told the ordinance had a three-month grandfathering period and that the animal could remain.
Zorrilla says that is incorrect. "There is no grace period on the ordinances," she says. Animal control officers work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., she says, allowing them to visit homes before and after work hours if necessary. Complaints can be emailed to email@example.com.
Most rooster owners cooperate once they learn about the rule changes, she says. "Our goal is to have the animal moved out of parish to a more appropriate setting," Zorrilla said.