By Brett Yates
A rooster in Pittsfield appears to have stirred a controversy among its human neighbors.
The bird’s “constant crowing” has come up as a major topic of debate at four Select Board meetings since July, when Rebecca Steward, who lives nearby, first sent in a complaint.
The saga is likely to continue, as Steward has implored the town to take action. “I can’t rest. I can’t think. I can’t read. I can’t write,” the Pittsfield resident bemoaned. “It’s not just me. It’s all the neighbors.”
In July, by Steward’s account, the rooster would begin crowing at 4:40 a.m., waking up her husband, whose epileptic seizures have worsened due to the resulting fatigue. “On a regular basis, he is suffering,” she said.
According to Steward, the rooster frequently makes noise throughout the day. In August, she submitted to the board a half-hour video that shows bouts of the rooster crowing “every 20 or 30 seconds,” in the words of Selectman A.J. Ruben, who reviewed the evidence.
“I have tried earplugs. I have tried earphones. I have tried music. I can’t go out in the garden, and I can’t live on my property,” Steward added.
Steward works partly from home and, by her account, has to mute her computer’s microphone during calls due to the rooster’s interruptions. She has emphasized that she lives in a residential area, not amid the farmland where she grew up.
She attributed the bird’s incessant cries, at least in part, to the inadequate size of her neighbor’s chicken run.
“A happy rooster doesn’t crow like that,” she claimed. “It doesn’t happen on farms. I’ve lived next to farms all my life. It’s not normal.”
Per Steward, the noise problem diminishes when the rooster can exit its enclosure and roam the neighborhood freely, as it sometimes does. But another Pittsfield resident, Susan Davidson, testified to the rooster’s “aggressive” behavior toward humans in such instances.
The Select Board has urged an amicable solution between neighbors, without town involvement. But following two allegedly volatile visits to the property of the rooster’s owner, Bill Leimgruber, Steward has cited a fear for her safety.
Two members of the board, Ruben and Joyce Stevens, have since spoken personally to Leimgruber, who has “continued to agree to try to keep the bird quiet in the mornings.” Ruben appeared to come away from his conversation with an impression of Leimgruber that differed markedly from Steward’s.
“Billy cares about this town. He was very kind with me,” Ruben commented. “He doesn’t really understand how his bird could be bothering you and your husband that much. He didn’t seem to me like he has any animosity toward you or your husband. He just feels like, the way it was said to me, that he’s living in his house with his rooster – it’s a farm animal: it crows.” I
n populous areas, rooster owners sometimes keep their pets overnight in “blackout boxes,” where the absence of dawn helps the animals stay quiet until a reasonable hour. But by mid-September, in Steward’s telling, Leimgruber had ceased boxing the rooster in the early morning, after some initial compliance with the request.
Steward may have little recourse, at least for now. When, first, she pointed to a state law prohibiting “unreasonable noise” as a “breach of the peace,” the Select Board noted that only the state police enforces such laws. Later, however, the state police reportedly told Steward that issues of animal control fall outside its jurisdiction, belonging instead to the town. Pittsfield’s only animal control ordinance addresses the behavior of dogs exclusively.
For this reason, Steward has entreated the board to put together a noise ordinance that would force Leimgruber to quiet his rooster or else receive a fine. She presented other local disturbances, such as loud music, fireworks, and an incident of late-night cannon fire, as additional motivation.
On Sept. 16, the board approved a motion to add the potential ordinance as a subject of debate to the agenda of a special town meeting planned for January. The board had expressed reluctance to enact a noise ordinance without first consulting Pittsfield residents.
“There is a group of people,” Selectwoman Anne Kuendig observed, “who feel that we’re a small town — let’s not throw more government at the issue and create more laws and more restrictions but instead encourage people to work out their differences.”
To that end, the board voted on Sept. 16 to commit to using public funds to hire a professional mediator who could help Steward and Leimgruber work out theirs, if both parties agree to participate in the ensuing process. Despite forswearing one-on-one contact with Leimgruber, Steward had professed an interest in mediation, but the board hadn’t yet asked Leimgruber.
“I think it’s worth a couple hundred bucks if we can resolve what is a really serious problem for Rebecca and avoid more conflict,” Ruben said. If Leimgruber turns down the proposal, the board has advised Steward to contact an attorney instead.
Leimgruber declined Mountain Times’ request for comment.