If you crow, you go

Oak Cliff's Most Wanted: the rooster
Mark Graham

Since Dallas City Council enacted a ban on roosters last summer, the Oak Cliff Coffee House on Davis Street has become a shrine to the forbidden bird. Partly out of protest, partly from nostalgia, the cock has been made the caffeine hangout's logo; the is bedecked with stuffed and illustrated roosters. "They say I can't have a real rooster," owner Amanda Cross says, "but they can't stop me from keeping these."

Maybe next Cross can add a copy of Cigifredo Gonzalez's mug shot to the shop's wall, in honor of the first unfeathered casualty of Dallas' rooster war. Late last month, Gonzalez, 29, was arrested at the behest of city council member Laura Miller, author of the rooster ban, for allegedly ignoring repeated city citations for possession of noisy fowl. He was still in custody this week, held by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service awaiting a hearing to determine whether he is in this country legally, city officials say. (An INS spokesman could not verify that the agency was detaining Gonzalez, though records at the Dallas County jail indicate Gonzalez was transferred to INS custody on March 27.)

Miller describes Gonzalez's as "one of the most egregious cases" of flouting the rooster ban. She says he ignored repeated visits, warnings, and citations from animal control officers, who on Tuesday confiscated 22 birds from his property in the 4900 block of Lynnacre Drive. (The birds, along with others, are being held as evidence. A city official says it's uncertain what will become of them after the cases are final.) Miller says she made service requests to code enforcement and personally pressed Gonzalez's case to City Attorney Madeleine Johnson because his neighbors complained.

When he refused to acknowledge the city's demands, Johnson set a date in municipal court. Gonzalez didn't show, and Miller, frustrated to learn that it likely would take four or five months to obtain an arrest warrant, says she told Johnson, "We have to do something." The Dallas County Sheriff's office issued a warrant on March 24.

"Because the guy had serious problems with the feds," Miller says, "I don't think they were interested in his rooster violation."

Told of the arrest, Amanda Cross was angry. "I think the Hispanic community in Oak Cliff would be outraged to hear that this man could be deported," she says. "A lot of them never understood why they had to give up their roosters in the first place."

Cross, a Latina who also owns an Oak Cliff hair salon, admits with some sadness that she doesn't hear nearly as many roosters in her neighborhood as she did this time last year. She calls their crowing a "cultural noise" and has family and friends who have given up the bird. Cross says she was upset last summer when a notice announcing the city council hearing on the ban was posted only 72 hours before the meeting, and only in English in The Dallas Morning News. "Many Hispanics don't read the Morning News," Cross says, and she says she saw no notices in the local Spanish-language media to give cock owners the chance to organize and appoint a spokesperson.

Since the ban took effect August 1, Dallas' animal control division as of March 31 had received 393 "chicken snitch" calls and issued 240 warnings to residents who had one or more birds on their premises. Fewer than half of the owners responded to the warnings, so 164 citations have been issued and are awaiting adjudication.

Miller doesn't delude herself that her constituency -- or at least the part of it outside her affluent Kessler Park neighborhood -- is now cock-free. But she sounds quite proud of what city code enforcers have done with "the rooster problem" since the ban took effect.

"The ordinance was meant for people who have a noise problem with roosters," Miller says. "If [the problem] was only crowing in the morning, that would be one thing. But the fact is they crow all day and all night, especially if they're being bred for a cockfight. I've heard of a lot of people who've been cited and gotten rid of their roosters."

Others have just gone underground. With a flaming red neck and emerald-green feathers, you might think he'd be one of Oak Cliff's more conspicuous refugees. But code enforcement authorities probably wouldn't think to look for a rooster where this one lives -- in a tiny yard behind professional offices, owned by an Anglo father and son.

Conventional wisdom goes that ever since the city enacted the rooster ban, those who have been affected most are Latino and working-class. The degreed, dress-shirt-and-tied dad, who lets his grown son keep the bird at his place of business, often works with the neighborhood's Hispanic population. (The man spoke to the Dallas Observer on condition that we reveal neither his name nor profession.) He doesn't blame rooster owners for defying the code, and with neighbors he calls "sympathetic" to his strutting pet, he expects he'll continue to enjoy the company of illicit poultry.

"Take a look out the window there," he says, "and you'll see three or four of them." He's not talking about roosters this time, but what he calls "wild dogs" -- untagged runaway canines, or those that were born and grew up on the streets, that chase and sometimes bite people. He claims that they go largely unheeded by animal control, and that several of them attacked and killed his son's potbellied pig. He says that if the city wants to address a real animal problem in Oak Cliff, "they can start there." The family rooster, meanwhile, stays mostly quiet and eats all the bugs in the back yard.

"Laura Miller thinks she's chased all the roosters out of Oak Cliff," says the man's son with a bit of a smirk, "but there are a whole lot of people not saying a thing around here."

When informed about Cigifredo Gonzalez's arrest, the father -- a professional, a U.S. citizen, and another flagrant violator of the rooster ban -- shook his head grimly.

"I wonder if Laura Miller understands she's helped put this man's family through 10 years of hell," he says. "At least. Because of roosters."

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