On a small street near Lake Wheeler, south of Raleigh, the neighbors contend with a gang of peace-disturbers who crow past midnight, squawk through slumber and – because they are roosters – dismiss complaints with a scratch and a peck.
Just over the frustrated sleepers’ fences, a row of handmade coops holds more than 100 members of the poultry family – a fair number of them roosters, judging by the noise. To live there is to endure Foghorn Leghorn and his dozen loudmouth cousins.
When I visited one of these unfortunate residents last week, I heard three cock-a-doodle-dos between my car and the front door. “It goes off at 2:30 in the morning,” said Andrea Reubens, 55, who looked to be at wit’s end. “It goes off at 3:30 in the morning. It goes off at 4 in the morning. It goes off at 6 in the morning.”
In some settings, a rooster might add character to the soundtrack of daily life, not unlike a train whistle in the distance. But these birds inhabit a half-acre lot in a residential neighborhood just north of Lake Wheeler, where their noise carries over several well-populated streets. It’s a myth that roosters crow only at dawn. Reubens, who works as a researcher at home, has named two of them Henry and Harvey. They visit often.
And after years of seeking a remedy for rooster noise from every office in Wake County, these neighbors have discovered that none exists. They’re legal. When I brought this to Sheriff Donnie Harrison’s attention, he sent deputies out at 3 a.m., 3:30 a.m. 4 a.m., 6:35 a.m. and again at 8 in the morning. On Saturday morning, deputies even held out a decibel meter to see if these birds were violating the county’s noise ordinance.
“They’re not in violation,” Harrison said.
In August, Reubens got a four-page letter from Timothy Maloney, the county’s planning and inspections director, detailing the various ways the property had been probed. Inspectors counted 120 animals – most of them hens – but noted that all were clean and well cared-for. Nobody found any pollution or, again, excessive noise by the law’s definition.
I checked around the country, and roosters are verboten in Houston, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. – not to mention Cary. I found sleepless outrage similar to what’s happening around Lake Wheeler in both south Florida and rural California. So flaps over poultry aren’t unique to Wake County.
When I asked Erica Geppi, state director of the N.C. Humane Society, she said Wake County might be limited by a 2015 state law that keeps local government from setting their own standards of care for farm animals. And while neighbors might believe cockfighting is going on, no evidence of this exists.
Clearly, there’s some cultural collision going on here, particularly with newer, larger houses bumping up against older, single-wide mobile homes in a part of the county that used to be a lot more rural. But Reubens built her house in 2003, and by her estimation, the noise didn’t get bad until about five years ago.
I spoke to Donald Proulx, whose family owns the property with the roosters, and he said his tenants are friends of his mother who’ve taken care of her in the past. They pay their rent and don’t fight any of their birds. Every time county inspectors contact him about the property, they tell him nobody is breaking any law. Still, he said he’d ask them to whittle down the rooster population.
I’ll be honest. I’d lose my mind if I lived next door to these roosters. I spent an hour out there and I’m pretty sure I’d need a white noise machine turned up loud to get any sleep. We had one rooster as a neighbor during the height of the backyard chicken craze, and he was kind of a novelty. He’s gone now. I heard his owners got sick of the noise.
And ate him.