Twisp couple’s emotional support rooster could get the boot
When Peter was little more than a ball of down, Sergey Kushnarev would hold him, pet him and feed him by hand. Now that Peter is a fully grown rooster, from comb to long, buff tail feathers, Kushnarev talks to him and watches him herd the hens in the backyard of his home on Hughes Lane in Twisp.
Kushnarev’s wife, Irina Vodonos, said her husband has formed a deep connection with all of their chickens. But he especially enjoys interacting with Peter.
“It is one of his few pleasures in life,” Vodonos said.
Kushnarev and Vodonos were both born in Russia, and Peter is named after “petukh,” the Russian word for “rooster.”
There’s another word for “rooster” in Twisp: prohibited. Town code puts roosters on the same list as geese, crocodiles, big cats and venomous reptiles.
“The rooster is against town ordinance, no ifs, ands or buts,” Police Chief Paul Budrow told Twisp Town Council on July 9.
Vodonos was at that meeting too. She asked the council to let her husband keep his rooster, despite the lack of wiggle room in the ordinance.
Vodonos wrote a letter to town officials in June, explaining that her husband was “severely disabled due to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.” He is unable to work, and he hardly ever leaves the house.
“Peter is more than just a pet for Sergey,” Vodonos wrote. “He is a companion, a source of rare moments of joy and positive activity in Sergey’s life, and one of only a handful of living beings with whom he has any interaction at all.”
Kushnarev’s physician said Peter is even more than all that. Dr. Sierra Breitbeil, a naturopath with an office in Winthrop, also sent a letter to town officials, to confirm that Peter is an emotional support animal.
“Interacting with and caring for animals has been demonstrated to help relieve depression and anxiety,” Breitbeil wrote.
Budrow was quick to point out at the July 9 meeting that emotional support animals aren’t the same as service animals, which have certain protections under state law. Service animals must be trained to perform specific tasks for their owners, and they can only be dogs or miniature horses.
Budrow also asked council members to consider what would happen if they created exceptions to the town’s rules on animals just because an owner says they provide emotional support.
“Because we let a rooster in, now we’re going to need to allow a lion or a bobcat,” he said.
After receiving an anonymous complaint on May 29, Twisp police cited Vodonos last month for violating the town’s rooster prohibition. In a hearing in Town Hall on June 27, the municipal court judge dismissed the case, saying he couldn’t rule on a zoning matter.
The neighbor who filed the complaint was identified and contacted for an interview, but he declined to go on the record.
A year and a half ago, Vodonos and Kushnarev ordered one baby rooster and a number of hens online from a hatchery. As often happens, two of the hens turned out to be male. Realizing she had three crowers on her hands, Vodonos went around the neighborhood to ask if anyone minded the noise. Everyone said at the time that it was OK, Vodonos said.
Knowing that three roosters would probably make too much of a racket, and with the rooster to hen ratio now badly off, Vodonos carefully screened for takers who would offer her young males a good home. She dropped off one in Yelm and the other in Rochester.
Budrow said even if the town council changes the rule to benefit Kushnarev and Vodonos, he still might cite them for creating a nuisance. The town’s nuisance code prohibits “any noise which either annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, health or safety of others,” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Some people are more easily annoyed than others. Vodonos canvassed her neighborhood a second time, after Twisp police officer Stephen Purtell visited her on May 30 and told her she had one week to get rid of her rooster. Seventeen neighbors signed a petition saying they did not object to Peter.
The neighborhood certainly is used to noise. Vodonos’ neighbor to the north and the east is Lloyd Logging, which runs heavy equipment on its property. Small planes taking off or landing at Twisp Airport, one-half mile from Vodonos’ house, are loud enough to drown out conversation.
“It is indeed quite surprising that the town would even seriously consider an anonymous complaint about something as trivial as a neighborhood rooster,” Vodonos wrote in her letter to the town.
Changing the rule
Twisp’s rooster rule has already kicked up some lively debate on the council.
Councilmember Aaron Studen said on July 9 he thought a majority of residents would support allowing roosters in town.
“I’m not sure I agree with that,” council member Hans Smith responded. He suspected that any poll taken on the question would be close.
Studen persisted, noting that a large majority of Vodonos’ neighbors were OK with her rooster.
“I think it’s our duty to ask the question, whether the code is valid or whether it should be changed,” he said.
The council also could enact protections for emotional support animals, which was what Vodonos suggested at the meeting.
In any case, Studen underscored Budrow’s point, that roosters are in double jeopardy in Twisp. Even if the council legalized roosters, they could still be removed under the nuisance code.
The Twisp Council put discussion of the rooster rule on hold until its next meeting, on July 23. Two of the five members were absent on July 9.
“We should discuss more how residents feel about this issue before we take action,” Smith said.
As for Peter, Police Chief Budrow assured the council that the courts would make no final ruling on him before the next council meeting. But any change to town code would likely take months and might come too late for a certain emotional support rooster.
“Unfortunately, the code says what it says now, and we don’t have the authority to change it on a whim,” Smith said.