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Meet the fixer for Ybor City's prized chickens

Dylan Breese, 36, holds a rooster named “Phoenix” that he nursed back to health after it was injured during a fight with other roosters in Ybor City. He cleans up after the chickens and promotes them on social media.
Published May 7, 2017

TAMPA — Jane Goodall has African chimpanzees.

Dylan Breese? He has Ybor City chickens.

Okay, maybe Breese's work won't have the type of scientific and historic global impact as the British primatologist's, but that's not his goal.

He simply wants to protect the historic district's clucking residents — about 200 by his estimate, including roosters — that he has grown to love. He wants to ensure they are celebrated rather than cursed.

"I'm looking to promote harmony between the businesses and the chickens," said Breese, 36, who lives in Ybor City.

In February, he founded the Ybor Chickens Society to run interference for the roosters.

Every Sunday, Breese and as many as six volunteers scrub bird excrement from business porches.

If the chickens pester a special event, he leads them away with a trail of food.

"We love him," Art Keeble, chairman of the Ybor Saturday Market held weekly in Centennial Park, said of Breese.

The birds can be an annoyance to the market, engaging in "romantic interludes in the open," Keeble said. But Breese now keeps them away.

The chickens are protected under an ordinance declaring Tampa a sanctuary for all birds.

Breese walks the area and explains to tourists that, like cafe con leche and cigars, the feathered animals have been in the Latin district since its inception, brought there as food by early settlers.

And through social media, Breese tries to make a personal connection.

"I'm trying to showcase their personalities," Breese said. "Maybe then people will be nicer to them."

Sometimes he does that through cute photos of chicks or by pointing out a unique feature about a bird, like the large size of the rooster he's named Shaq for the former basketball star. On other occasions, he spouts off a corny joke.

"He wore a raspberry beret," reads one Instagram post about a rooster, a reference to the Prince song and red feathers atop the cock's head.

"I make bad dad jokes," Breese chuckled. "They're my kids."

He's become a vegetarian since this venture began.

His efforts, which take about 15 hours a week, are getting attention.

It's free to become a member and more than 100 people have done so through the website yborchickens.org, he said. More than 1,600 follow the Instagram account.

"People love the chickens," said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp. "It is good someone is looking out for them."

It began a year ago. During a stroll through Ybor City, Breese spotted a mother chicken with 13 newborns, purchased Cuban bread and fed the family.

This became a regular part of his day, but as time went on the adorable chicks grew up and started pooping on porches, so he decided to clean the messes before complaints were lodged.

As he became emotionally attached to the other chickens in the district, he began defending all of them from unruly tourists.

Then earlier in the year he formalized his efforts.

"It's the cutest thing ever," said Lori Rosso, executive director of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. "We love everything he is doing."

Breese has more planned.

He's petitioning the city for signs stating the chickens are protected.

There has long been already a Rooster Parade in Ybor City celebrating the birds but Breese would like to add other such events to draw more consumers to the district. Money, he said, may win over chicken-skeptical businesses.

These efforts come less than a decade removed from a debate over whether the birds should be trapped and taken away because some called them bothersome. Tampa ruled they should stay.

Breese is sure there are still some bothered by the chickens and roosters, but he's also certain the fowl will outlast those in foul moods.

"People have come and gone, businesses opened and closed," he said. "But the chickens are still here and have been for 130 years."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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