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Roosters and chickens and pigs in urban L.A., oh my!

May 25, 2008|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer
  • Barnyard fowl are penned in a chain link enclosure in the backyard of a residence in South Los Angeles. Some area residents complain that their neighborhood is being overrun with roosters. The problem illustrates an ongoing divide in a traditionally black neighborhood that is transitioning into a Latino enclave.
Barnyard fowl are penned in a chain link enclosure in the backyard of a residence… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

When her neighbor's roosters and chickens persisted in running through her yard, G. Stone took matters into her own hands.

She marched next door and issued a warning: Do something about the uninvited guests or the birds "were going in my pot."

The incursions stopped. But Stone, a retired Los Angeles County librarian who lives northwest of Watts, shook her head in exasperation as she recalled the incident.

"I've lived here for 50 years," she said. "All of a sudden, there's an influx of chickens. You're not supposed to have chickens in the city."

For many, the image of South Los Angeles is that of a paved, parched, densely packed urban grid. But increasingly, it is also a place where untold numbers of barnyard animals -- chickens, roosters, goats, geese, ducks, pigs and even the odd pony -- are being tended in tiny backyard spaces.

"Most people don't realize just how many farm animals there are in the city," said Ed Boks, the general manager of the city's Animal Services department.

Indeed, about a block from the beauty parlor where Stone was getting her hair done earlier this month, a pair of goats chewed something dark and unidentifiable as they stood placidly near the traffic whizzing by on Avalon Boulevard. A pit bull next door eyed them lazily.

The cacophony of cock-a-doodle-doos south of the 10 Freeway is one of the louder manifestations of a demographic change that has transformed South Los Angeles in the last few decades.

Once primarily an African American community -- and still the cultural and political heart of the state's African American population -- the area has absorbed tens of thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America and is now predominantly Latino. In Southeast L.A., the black population has dropped from 71% in 1980 to 24% in the 2000 census; the Latino population grew from 27% in 1980 to 74% in 2000.

For some folks, the rooster has become a potent symbol of the way their neighborhood is changing.

"Sometimes, I think it's Mexico," said Tony Johnson, who lives in Southeast L.A. He confessed that after being roused early some mornings, he has fantasized about silencing the birds permanently. "Boom. Boom. Boom," he said, pantomiming how he would do it.

But a few blocks away, Jose Luiz, 43, seemed surprised that anyone would be bothered by the noise.

"It's natural to have roosters," he said as he surveyed a new community garden where corn, squash and tomatoes were growing. "I'm Mexican. We are accustomed to hearing them."

Zoning rules prohibit most of this husbandry, but overtaxed animal control officers rarely take action unless they get complaints.

Some of the birds may be being used in cockfighting. But animal control officers say most of the backyard roosters are not implicated in anything so sinister. They are simply part of the household, a hobby and a comfort for immigrants who hope to re-create a little piece of home in a faraway, foreign place.

Still, as deluged city officials and sleep-deprived residents have learned, one person's comfort is another's headache.

"I can't sleep," said Perry Partee, 55, who lives near Watts. He sternly dismissed the conventional wisdom that roosters crow at dawn; in fact, he said, they often get going much earlier.

Animal Services officials say there undoubtedly are more chickens and roosters in long-established Latino communities on the Eastside, such as Boyle Heights and El Sereno, where it is not unheard of to see flocks of the birds running down the sidewalk. But in those neighborhoods many residents are accustomed to, or at least not overly bothered by, the sights and sounds of free-roaming fowl.

In South Los Angeles, on the other hand, the crowing -- and bleating, quacking, honking, oinking and neighing -- has been a growing source of irritation, with callers lighting up city phone lines demanding that officials do something.

Take the recent rooster- related activities near 110th and Avalon.

An 11-year-old boy was chased home from school by a rooster, according to his mother, who did not want his name published.

Around the same time, on the same street, some roosters mysteriously disappeared out of a backyard, according to resident Dwight Johnson, who said the birds' owner walked up and down the street looking for them.

Animal Services Officer Jose Gonzalez, who patrols the southern part of the city, said he's getting around five calls a week about rooster noise. He's also had reports about a pig running down Central Avenue and a man who kept goats in his backyard and posted signs advertising slaughterhouse services.

Boks said Animal Services deals with about 150 reports of unauthorized slaughtering a year.

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