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For the birds
Pet-friendly church becomes an unwilling poultry sanctuary


10/1/2006

Jin Lee, <i>Staten Island Advance</i>
Rick Ragsdale, facilities manager, and the Rev. Michael Delaney, rector, feed the chickens.   (Jin Lee, Staten Island Advance)
It's a mystery most fowl. Someone has been abandoning roosters and chickens at the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew on Staten Island.

“We have this reputation as being pet-friendly," said the Rev. Michael Delaney, the church's pastor. "But we really need people to stop doing this."

The first drop-off was on the weekend of the church's annual antiques fair in July. Two roosters and five hens, all Rhode Island reds, were deposited outside the parish offices. Then recently came “more chickens,” said Facilities Manager Rich Ragsdale. On his way into work, he found a box containing another rooster and hen.

“There was a bag next to the box," said Ragsdale. "I thought maybe it was food for them, but out popped the head of another black thing. I don't know what it was." Whatever it was, it got away.

The Rhode Island roosters acted so aggressively toward the new arrivals that Delaney feared for the newcomers' safety. So he brought them to the rectory, where they took up residence under a bush.

When Karen Kelly, the parish's administrative assistant, approached with a bag of bread crumbs, the chickens came running. The chickens now swarm her and Ragsdale as they arrive for work in the morning, apparently knowing breakfast has arrived.

The chickens also have been known to line up outside the church door when there's a party going on. Clients of Project Hospitality, who stay overnight at the church, sometimes wake up to a cock fight outside.

The church is home to the only pet cemetery in New York, but these robust birds certainly aren't ready for interment. Whoever abandoned the birds may have chosen his church because it is known for its Franciscan hospitality to animals, Delaney said. “You feel sorry for any abandoned animals. We've been taking care of them. But we want them gone [soon].”

If not, Delaney is sure that the two roosters and five hens will be the first ones in line for a blessing when the parish celebrates St Francis Day on Oct.  1.