Cindy June of Milton, New York, had a problem on her hands: Her pet rooster, Farnsworth, was waking the neighbors.
His crowing even exceeded the town’s 55-decibel limit in the noise ordinance. The town building inspector, who took readings of Farnsworth’s loud crows, said later, “This wasn’t one occurrence. Many neighbors complained.”
The Milton Town Court ordered Farnsworth’s vocal cords to be removed, but bird specialists at Tufts and Cornell universities warned that such a procedure was too risky and recommended castration instead. Castration would lower Farnsworth’s testosterone and decrease his morning wake-up calls. June agreed in order to spare the life of her pet and the surgery was scheduled.
This isn’t a story about the crazy things people find to argue about. It isn’t a story about wasting public funds or public officials’ time on ridiculous disputes. And it isn’t a story about how this conflict should never have gotten as far as court. Those are old stories and they miss the point.
It’s a story about reining in our own judgments about what other people ought or ought not to value, a story about understanding that when people fight about something, even when it seems ridiculous to us, there’s something in there that’s important to them. Finding it is worth our while.
You see, Farnsworth didn’t make it through the surgery, and that made the news. That’s how we know that Farnsworth was something more to Cindy June than just a rooster in the yard. In the faded Albany Times Union newspaper clipping my sister sent me a decade ago and that I’ve read to every one of my mediation students ever since, June noted that Farnsworth was house-trained and loved to watch television with her. She even kenneled him when she went away.
“He was my buddy,” she said. “It was just a stupid chicken but I’ve cried a river.”
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