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Published Jun. 29, 2010

Because every story needs a title, and because this tale has a natural, catchy one, let me tell you about Dave Cock and the Roosters.

It started one night a couple of weeks ago, when a neighbor called to say he'd seen a half-dozen chickens wandering in the woods near his yard. They weren't ours, as he thought they might be. But my oldest son, realizing that chickens don't last long in the wild, grabbed a cage and ran out the door to collect them. He checked with other neighbors. Several of them keep hens, but none of them claimed these.

In the light of the next morning, it was pretty clear what had happened. Someone had bought a straight run (not sorted by gender) of Rhode Island red chicks. Once some of them started sprouting the chicken equivalent of wispy mustaches, the owner dumped them.

What we had were young roosters, with red combs and iridescent green tail feathers. Good-looking birds but a test of the limits of what I call the pet-vet mentality - the tendency in our culture to look on an ever-larger variety of wildlife and livestock as creatures to be rescued, cared for and cuddled.

We have animal rehabbers who spend their free time bottle-feeding abandoned raccoon kits while trucks roll down the highway advertising the service of catching and exterminating the same critters.

We see the state Legislature coming together to ban and righteously condemn the practice of slaughtering horses after a life of eating oats and grazing in a pasture - while we stuff ourselves with meat from pigs and cattle brought up in conditions that only Dr. Mengele could love.

It's a noble thing, the urge to care for our fellow creatures. It's just exercised in an arbitrary, hypocritical fashion.

And at some point, everybody has to draw the line.

One or two roosters are useful to protect hens and, of course, produce chicks. But, as a woman in Haiti told me after a sleepless night, it's a myth that roosters crow at the break of dawn; they crow all the flippin' time. If there are hens around, roosters might fight. And after a certain age, they aren't very good to eat.

Which, in any case, was never an option for my son, a vegetarian who has a less hypocritical view of animals than just about anybody I know. He doesn't believe in killing them, period. His chickens provide company as well as eggs. They have names and, he says, distinct personalities.

But my wife and I let him know we weren't keeping the roosters, pretty as they were, and, though I said we could sit with them outside of Publix, offering free roosters like they were kittens, I doubted we'd find any takers.

So it came down to this: drop them off at Animal Services, where after a few days they would probably be euthanized and cremated; or give them to the ideally named Cock, who lives on 10 acres in Spring Lake and is as far as I can tell immune to pet-vet syndrome. His dogs are for hunting; wild hogs and deer are to be hunted. And roosters, after spending a couple of months crowing, pecking, taking sand baths and being fattened in Cock's roomy run - and then a couple more hours being tenderized in a crock pot - are for eating.

My son, being a teenager, hasn't really told me how he feels about this. If he had, he certainly wouldn't want to be quoted, just as he won't be named. But I sense he realizes that on some level this is what nature intended.