There are rescue dogs, saved from abusive owners and placed in loving homes. Then there is Payo. He is a rescue rooster. He was doomed to die in a Santería ceremony.
Just as his neck was to be slit, Payo’s adoptive family swooped in. They persuaded the priest to sacrifice another animal. They brought Payo home and set him free in the backyard.
And this is where the sweet story of the pet rooster ends. Because sleep-deprived neighbors don’t call the big white bird with the blood red eyes by his nickname. They call him El terrorista. The terrorist.
“Alfred Hitchcock could make a scary movie about him,” said Michael Demarziani, co-owner of Rincon Argentino restaurant, where Payo struts up to outdoor diners, sticks out his beak and demands food. “That is one rogue rooster. I swear he’s got fangs. I told my customers that one of these days we’re going to serve fried chicken.”
Payo lives in Miami's Silver Bluff West neighborhood. He’s not a reticent rooster. He likes to crow — very early and very loudly, as roosters are wont to do. He attacks dogs, cats and even people whom he considers threats to his territory.
Payo is cock of the walk on his once-quiet block.
“The other day I heard people screaming and I came outside and saw them running down the street. They were being chased by the rooster,” said Andrea Lozano, who lives two houses down from Payo. “He’s fast and aggressive. He harasses dogs. He comes right up to my neighbor’s glass door and pecks on it to aggravate his cats.”
Demarziani has seen Payo sink his clawed feet into the back of an American bulldog. Lozano is afraid Payo might turn his sharp beak on her two young children next.
“The noise is unbearable,” she said. “I was up at 4:30 a.m. feeding my newborn and the rooster was already crowing. Usually he starts at 5 a.m. He crows in the evening, too.”
Payo’s owner is apologetic. He didn’t realize the rooster was known as the neighborhood bully. He’s taking measures, keeping Payo in the laundry room at night and in the early morning, and penning him in the patio during the day.
“We’re trying to find a farm in Homestead or Hialeah that will take him,” said Harry Zamora, who feeds Payo corn and rice. There's speculation that Payo is also fueled by strong Cuban coffee, which Zamora denied. “We don’t want to annoy anybody. I used to live on a farm in Nicaragua, so when I hear him singing it doesn’t bother me.”
Zamora goes around to the back of his duplex where Payo is perched on a chair. Payo's red comb and wattles shake as he jerks his head around like a robot and stares at his visitors.
“He’s like any animal: You take care of him, you see him grow, you get used to him, you get attached to him,” Zamora said. “He’s very intelligent. He’s just protecting his home, the same way any human being would. He’s really a nice guy.”
As if on cue, Payo — whose full name is Rafael — belts out “Cock-a-doodle-doo.” It’s like hearing a horn go off in your ear.
Lozano and her neighbors want Payo to move away. They say Zamora and his fellow tenants have been uncommunicative and inconsiderate. Under Miami-Dade County law, roosters are livestock, and livestock are not allowed to be kept in residential neighborhoods. Payo is also breaking noise laws. Lozano contacted the county’s animal services department through its 311 mobile app, but when officers came out and could not find the rooster, they closed the case.
When Lozano posted her complaints on the Next Door website, she was subjected to what she calls “rooster-shaming” by animal lovers. The ensuing dialogue highlighted the ongoing conflict — in Miami and throughout the country, where homeowners have become enamored of chickens and their delicious fresh eggs — between people who keep fowl in their yards and people who don’t want farm animals clucking and oinking in their neighborhood.
Lozano inspired supporters, among them a man who argued that just because one may want to keep a hippopotamus in his yard doesn’t mean it’s legal. But she was also pummeled by the ire of those who feel all living creatures have the right to coexist with the humans who invaded their habitat. One poster wrote: “Such a pity that I have to live in a world like this where the animals were here first. Another proof that people are the most selfish! If you don’t like animals, move to Mars!”
Lozano and her camp responded: “If you love them, buy a zoo. Or a farm.”
Another poster countered that being awakened by a rooster is “a privilege, perhaps even a blessing,” citing the horrific 1986 nuclear accident in the Soviet Union and how it deprived children of the sight and sound of real birds. They could only view them in pictures.
Chernobyl? This is where Lozano’s nerves, already frayed by constant cock-a-doodle-dooing, almost snapped. She invited anyone who prefers Green Acres-style living in the city to come get the rooster.
“I’m serious, you wanna listen to him (and drive YOUR neighbors crazy), be my guest. Save the planet and especially my sanity, bring a cage, leash or breadcrumbs. He’s all yours,” Lozano wrote. “There’s also millions of starving children in Africa, and isn’t it selfish to keep him as a pet when these poor kids have never seen a fried drumstick or buffalo wing. Also, anyone with plans to make chicken noodle soup/ grilled chicken this weekend — contact me.”
Lozano was accused of being cold-hearted. Another neighbor reported that her boyfriend was attacked a second time by the rooster when walking his dog. Another suggested a recipe for Coq Au Vin.
Then the thread turned testy, as neighbors criticized one another for being uncivil and suggested banning the authors of offending posts. This devolved into a debate about baseless tattling on posters who have opinions that differ from your own.
Maybe Payo really is a demonic rooster.
“I’m not against animals, but I am for people,” Lozano said. “My grandmother had a farm with roosters, chickens, ducks, sheep. I don’t hate animals. But we have laws. Nobody would want me to have a horse running around my yard. It’s also dangerous for the rooster. It would be awful to see him run over by a car. He’d be happier on a farm.”
When errant fowl get out of control, the city of Miami deploys its Chicken Busters squad in certain neighborhoods. More than 15,000 stray chickens have been caught and sold to farms.
“I just collected some roosters and chickens in Miami Lakes,” said Jeff Wood, owner and chief trapper at Miami Animal Removal. “Little Havana and Little Haiti always have tons of chickens. It’s common throughout the metro area. We catch them in Pinecrest, Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Opa-Locka, Doral. It comes down to what the neighbors are willing to tolerate."
Spared the knife, what does the future hold for Payo?
“People have henhouses and eat unfertilized eggs, but you really don’t want a rooster," Wood said. "He has to be the dominant male. He will never stop crowing. The loud bird gets all the girls.”