But no one asked about Hanz, the orange and white rooster that was pecking at feed in an outdoor kennel in the back. He didn’t even have a name card on his cage. And unlike the schnauzer inside, he had no sign that read, “Adopt me! I’m cute!”
Animal Control picked Hanz up in mid-October on Wild Cherry Lane in Germantown after some homeowners found him in their yard, according to Paul Hibler, deputy director of the county police’s Animal Services Division.
The question of what to do with Hanz — and other roosters like him — is an unforeseen byproduct of the growth of backyard chicken flocks, which proponents are touting as a more-nutritious and humane source of eggs. Recently, efforts to amend laws that prohibit chickens in densely populated areas have gained momentum. Montgomery and Fairfax counties allow residents to have chickens, with certain restrictions. And there are efforts to legalize them in Prince George’s and Arlington counties, Alexandria and the District.
But that has meant a proliferation of unwanted roosters, many of which arrive unexpectedly from hatcheries along with the first chicks. They are difficult to keep in urban settings, they crow and many places that allow chickens ban roosters. To get rid of them, some owners turn to Craigslist, sanctuaries and animal shelters.
When that fails, the less squeamish eat them. Others set them loose and hope for the best. In the Washington region, roosters have been found wandering in parks, cemeteries and D.C. alleyways.
Russell Crowe was one of the lucky ones: He was found five years ago, crossing Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington. (Why he crossed the road, no one knows.) Eventually, he ended up at the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville. The refuge stopped accepting roosters a few years ago because of a lack of space, director Terry Cummings said.
The region’s other main chicken sanctuary, United Poultry Concerns on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, reached maximum rooster capacity this past week. There are still farmers who are willing to take them, but finding suitable homes is getting increasingly difficult.
“It has become a huge, huge problem,” Cummings said.
The market is already ahead of the law, as evidenced by the growing cottage industry of backyard chicken Web sites, magazines and accouterments. There are toys, clothes and upscale coops that look like they were designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. There are even “designer chickens” — hybrids with such breed names as “Showgirl” and “Sizzle.”
In April, Tyler Phillips, 25, of Potomac gave up working for his parents’ traveling pet zoo and professional poker playing to start a business renting out chicken coops with Diana Samata, 24.
“I do not believe that our RentACoop would have been as successful as it is today even two years ago” because of changes in regulations, Phillips said. “I believe this is just the beginning.”