Rooster splits ears, and a Martha's Vineyard neighborhood
It is 4:53 am on Tuesday morning. The first rays of sunlight are more than two hours away. Most everyone in the closely situated homes on Leonard Circle off Franklin Street in Tisbury, is asleep.
Not Rupert the rooster. He is most definitely awake, and quite intent on inviting the rest of the neighborhood to join him in vigilant enthusiasm for the cold, moonless night. Sitting on the branch of an evergreen tree about six feet off the ground, he is doing what roosters do. About every 30 seconds, Rupert lets loose with a lung-bursting, night-piercing screech.
He cock-a-doodle-doos his way through the early morning hours, sometimes beginning as early at 2:30 am, and continues well into daylight, according to people who live there.
The wayward rooster apparently flew the coop when his former owner moved his brood to another Island location three years ago. Since then, Rupert has driven some residents to distraction. They complain of lost sleep and lost rentals.
Kathleen Phillips left a message at The Times, in response to a call asking about the crowing behind her house.
"I missed your call because I was sleeping," Ms. Phillips said in her message. "My days and nights are mixed up. I'm going to have some breakfast now, at 6 pm. Try me back at anytime. Call me at 3 in the morning. I'll be wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, listening to Rupert."
Catch as catch can't
"We have to live here, so we're trying to do this diplomatically," said Leonard Street resident June Parker. "It seems like we're running up against a wall no matter which way we go."
Ms. Phillips and Ms. Parker criticize town officials for failing to adequately address the disturbance. They accuse the town of playing favorites, because assistant town administrator Aase Jones Iives on the street, and is among Rupert's biggest supporters. Ms. Jones, and all town officials strongly deny allegations of favoritism.
Tisbury animal control officer Laurie Clements said she has received about a dozen complaints over the past three years. She said she has tried four or five times to catch Rupert, luring him with cracked corn, and chasing him with a net. "I can't catch it, I can't get anywhere near it."
An Island farmer and an animal expert both advised her the best way to capture Rupert is to track him down at night. "I'm not doing that, I don't work at night," Ms. Clements told The Times in a telephone conversation. "I am not going out there at night and trying to find where it roosts. Not going to happen."
In the Leonard Circle neighborhood, it is common knowledge where Rupert spends his nights. Even on a dark night, a Times reporter found him within minutes, simply by following his screeching wake-up call. He was sitting in a tree about 10 feet off the road.
Ms. Clements said most of the people in the neighborhood want her to leave Rupert be, and only a few object to the crowing. "I try to keep both sides happy, but one side never is," she said.
Town administrator John Bugbee said he wants to resolve the problem, but has few municipal tools to use. While he empathizes with the neighbors, he said Ms. Clements has other priorities. "I don't want her to spend her days running after a rooster," Mr. Bugbee said. "There are calls coming in, there's a lot to be done." He consulted the town counsel for an opinion on legal options. "They're working on it," Mr. Bugbee said.
Ms. Jones defended the town's response, and denied any leniency from the animal control officer. "Absolutely not," Ms. Jones said. "I would deny that vehemently. I work with the town and I would never put anyone's integrity at risk. She is supposed to be taking care of cats and dogs. We don't help people catch things. I'm fairly familiar with how her routine works with animals."
Neighbors on both sides of the dispute said Rupert has split the once congenial neighborhood into factions. They scuttled a popular annual block party last summer because of the neighborhood friction, according to residents.
His detractors say Rupert is more than a nuisance. Ms. Phillips, who rents her home in the summer months, says two of her best tenants won't be back this summer.
"I am very concerned about the outstanding rooster problem," Christina Ellison wrote in an email to Ms. Phillips. "That was an unpleasant way for me to start each morning last summer. I regret that I will be unable to rent your lovely home without knowing the rooster is already gone."
Ms. Phillips says if she gets a serious inquiry from a potential renter, she warns the visitors about Rupert, before they sign the rental agreement. Along with clean towels and sheets, she provides earplugs. "I have an air purifier, a humidifier, and a heater. With all of them running, sometimes it blocks him out."
Exhausted and frustrated, Ms. Parker said she recently put an advertisement in the Bargain Box section of The Times, offering a free rooster to anyone who could catch it. Many responded, but when apprised of the situation, only one person, a West Tisbury farmer took her up on the offer. On Monday, together with that man and his friend, she went to a tree Rupert currently calls home in Angela Murphy's front yard. Ms. Murphy, who said she was not called beforehand, ordered them to leave her property. Rupert was unscathed.
Ms. Parker has had enough. She said she plans to move out of the Leonard Circle neighborhood.
"This is no way to live," Ms. Parker said. "I have no desire to battle anyone over a rooster. I will be putting my house on the market as I have no desire to live amongst people who care more about a wild creature than the well-being of their neighbors."
His supporters insist Rupert is a wild animal, yet sometimes describe him as a neighborhood pet. No one claims ownership or responsibility for Rupert, and no one admits to feeding him, though several readily acknowledge he eats from their bird feeders and gobbles down their cat food.
"It's not my rooster," Ms. Jones said. "I wish it kind of was, but it isn't, and I don't think I would want to claim ownership of anything that's wild.
"I think he's gorgeous. He's hanging around. He's surviving. I think its kind of neat having a wild bird in my neighborhood. I like him. I have bird feeders in my yard and that may have been what attracted him to the area. I don't feed him specifically, but I have six bird feeders."
Even his supporters say Rupert takes some getting used to. "I have fans in my house now because of the rooster," Ms. Murphy said. "I bought a white noise machine. I just decided to live with it."
"A lot of other people in the neighborhood really like the rooster," Ms. Murphy said. "If I help catch the rooster, everyone else is going to be mad at me. He just hangs out in the whole neighborhood. He likes my yard because I have food in my yard. I feed my cats outside. He does come up and eat the cat food."
His detractors agreed Rupert is quite a handsome fellow. But they said they reached the limit of their amusement long ago.
Anyone who wants to keep fowl on their property needs a special permit from the Tisbury zoning board of appeals, according to a town bylaw. But with no one claiming ownership, the bothersome bird seems to have found legal limbo.
"That's the rub, right there," Mr. Bugbee said. If this was somebody's pet, it would make the issue much easier to resolve."