Being a part of a small community is wonderful and challenging. I think most Ridgway residents are aware of the ongoing conflict between the Town of Ridgway and Ms. Janet “Planet” Smith regarding the poultry ordinance. I have been intimately involved with this conflict because I am one of her neighbors. I complained to both Janet and the town manager last summer about her roosters and I testified in the recent trial between Janet and the town. Needless to say, roosters have been on my mind a lot this past year.
In the summer of 2009 I had noticed that there was an increasing amount of noise in our neighborhood that was chicken related, most notably, roosters frequently “cockle-doodle-dooing.” Prior to an incident with my daughter and Janet's roosters, I did not know how many chickens Janet had. In June of 2009 I had the unpleasant experience of retrieving my daughter and her friend who were cornered by roosters on Janet's premises. Let me mention that my daughter is a friend of Janet's and was invited to check in on the chickens while Janet was out of town. What I learned when I retrieved two frightened girls from Janet's buildings that day, was that Janet had a lot of chickens. At least nine of those chickens were adult roosters with gnarly talons and sharp beaks. By my count Janet had more than 50 chickens, culminating from a first batch obtained in 2008 and a second wave that she purchased in the spring of 2009. It was too many chickens. I supported Janet's “urban grocery” and sustainable living model ideas. I bought eggs from her. However, I feel that she surpassed a reasonable number of chickens and it became inconsiderate to her community.
I've heard Janet and several others cry out “Ridgway is a right to farm community.” By town policy, it is not. This is not a right to farm community, this is the town of Ridgway. Ouray County is a “right to farm county,” so the county residents can go for it, and I support that. I think it should also be mentioned that Ridgway's government long before Janet moved to Ridgway, decided that for livestock animals within the town limits, an acre was required for each animal. Janet surpassed a reasonable number of chickens and roosters, and by her own admission to me she knew that. The roosters were like gang members and the poor hens were subject to some atrocious domination.
Summer went on with a series of town meetings at which roosters were discussed and efforts were made to be exceedingly polite and civil to Janet as the community attempted to find a solution to the issue. Sometime in July a rude and immature letter was sent by Janet to the paper in which she referred to the town council members as “cocks.” While this letter may have entertained a few, it offended many, as it was mean spirited and seemed to come from a place of hate and paranoia. On July 8 the town council passed municipal code 11-1-7, Keeping of Poultry. I am not a big fan of rules and regulations and I think many people were disappointed to have a poultry ordinance at all; but I do think that there are times and circumstances when limits are needed, and this was one of those instances. Janet eventually gave her hens away after the ordinance was passed. She kept her roosters, however, well into December, and to some of her neighbors this seemed to be an act of defiance. Additional complaints from the community were made to the town. The town, having a duty to act on complaints of ordinance violations, investigated and issued Janet a citation that December. Janet had the choice to pay a fine or go to court. Janet chose to plead not guilty taking the issue to court with a jury trial.
To date the town has spent over $11,000 on court related costs, and be assured that the town will spend more money on this matter. Janet has filed an appeal to her guilty verdict on having a rooster.
Conflict is a tough thing to navigate and what I have experienced in this conflict is that we humans often can lose sight of what is important and focus how our ego is being affected. For me, what is important is the issue of a community. I think of community in the context of friendships, social values and responsibilities. If you are part of a community then you need to listen to the community, especially those that are your closest neighbors, and you affect the most. I wonder at this point what Janet's motivation is for yet another trial. I wonder what the $11,000 the town has spent on this issue so far could have been used for, and what the additional court fees for the appeal will be.