Greetings and thank you again for supporting The Rooster Project at VINE Sanctuary!
I hope that you saw the overall 2019 Review for the sanctuary when we shared that on social media. If not, you can see it here. As always, we took in many roosters ourselves, helped other sanctuaries to solve rooster problems, helped people wanting to surrender roosters to figure out how to keep them, and helped humane authorities care for and place roosters seized from cockfighting.
We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, and so I thought that you might like to “meet” the rooster who started it all, since his legacy lives on in The Rooster Project.
In late January or early February of 2000, Miriam Jones and I found an escapee from the local poultry industry in a ditch by the side of the road in rural Maryland. We brought her home and grew close to her as we got to know her. And then she started crowing.
That was a surprise because this bird was not at all the stereotypical cocky and aggressive rooster. That started us thinking about why those stereotypes exist and how they are transmitted from generation to generation, a topic that we have been writing and speaking about ever since.
We knew that this rooster, now called Viktor, was lonely. So, we called the local humane society to tell them that we would take in any chickens other people found on the road. (Chickens regularly jump or fall from trucks headed for the slaughterhouse.) Within a week of that call, Viktor was joined by Violet and Chickweed.
When he met them, he was so excited that he didn’t know what to do. He strutted, he posed, he clucked, he crowed. Eventually, even though he was only a few months older than the newcomers, Viktor became a sort-of single parent to the scared brother and sister, instructing and scolding them as he showed them around the grounds.
Viktor demonstrated the depth of his devotion to the youngsters when we brought them into the house for a couple of days to allow Chickweed to heal from a minor injury. For each of those days, Viktor stood rooted to the spot where he’d last seen them, staring at the door. We had to lure him to eat and force him to go to bed at night.
In the intensity and richness of Viktor’s relationships with Violet and Chickweed, he again demonstrated that the popular portrayals of roosters were both simplistic and false. In his own devotion to his sister, Chickweed also defied stereotypes.
The next birds to arrive were three adult escapees from a “broiler breeder” facility, including Rosa and Che. Viktor fell in love with Rosa at first sight, and she liked him too. Che also adored Rosa, and she liked him too. Viktor and Che were friends, united in their care for Rosa rather than competing for her affection. This, again, was different behavior than the stereotypes would suggest.
As so many of the big white birds bred by the poultry industry do, Che first lost the use of his legs and then died suddenly of a heart attack. Che had been the caretaker of his group, and he continued to extend care to others even after he could no longer walk, lifting his large wings to shelter younger arrivals to the sanctuary.
Viktor visited with Che daily while he was disabled. On the morning after Che’s death, Viktor walked to the spot where Che had died and made the saddest sound I had ever heard.
So, you can see why we never believed the other big myth about roosters, which is that they cannot co-exist without fighting. As time went by, we met more and more roosters who taught us more and more things, including a colorful group of 24 (including several former fighters) who all moved in at the same time. But it all started with one rooster, whose wish for companionship led to the creation of a sanctuary and whose loving behavior toward other birds (including other roosters) immediately challenged us to challenge the myths about roosters.
Because of this history, The Rooster Project has a special place in my heart, so I thank you very sincerely for your support of this ongoing effort. As part of our 20th anniversary this year, we hope to scale up this project in Viktor’s memory. I’ll look forward to telling you more about that in the next update.