Early this spring, not a month after he was banished from Boulder, Cocky, the undersized and notoriously vocal "therapy" rooster of Lehigh Street, jumped onto the rim of a horse trough, fell in the water and drowned.
For two days, Angela Hubert, his adoptive guardian, could not bring herself to tell Myrle Myers, the rooster's original owner.
But when Myers texted in early April to say that she and her brother would be coming up from Boulder to visit Cocky and the other five in his flock, Hubert had to tell her what happened.
"I said, 'I'm so sorry,'" Hubert recalled recently from the Weld County farm where the flock was relocated. "I knew how important he was to them."
Back in Boulder, seated in the dining room that overlooks the yard Cocky once ruled, Myers used the word "devastated," then excused herself from the table to wipe away tears.
Her brother, Jerry Cantril, a double stroke victim who was particularly attached to the rooster, grew even more emotional. With wide, welled eyes, he stayed silent for a spell before offering, simply, "It was a sad ending."
"There was no one there to help him when he panicked," Cantril said later, with a keen tone of guilt and regret. "I kept thinking about how nobody's ever going to listen to him at dawn again."
In his roughly 10 months in south Boulder, plenty of people listened to Cocky at dawn.
That was the problem.
And ultimately it drove a neighborhood drama that still resonates painfully among those forced by the now-infamous rooster to confront impossible questions about what it means to be a part of a neighborhood; about the ways people treat each other online versus in-person; and about the basic human inclination to act in self-interest.
Standing in her garden last week, Catherine Abelson, a neighbor and a neutral observer throughout the saga, considered the chilling effect the rooster's life and death have had on her longtime community.
"It's just such a shame," Abelson said. "It undermines the trust and the nature of the neighborhood. Twenty years ago, this might have been handled another way.
"It's a different feel now."
Cocky let out his first-ever crow about one year ago, and grew louder from then on. He would crow in the morning and often at other times of day, as roosters do.
Some who lived near Cocky — his former home on Lehigh is nestled in a dense, single-family neighborhood across from Mesa Elementary School — found the noise comforting, or were otherwise unbothered by it.
For others, the crowing was a source of near-daily torment.
Justin Cantrall, a neighbor who lives with his young family in a home with a backyard that borders Myers', said he could not escape the sound.
"I would sit in my basement, windows closed, and I could still hear it," he said. "I would listen to music, and I could still hear it. We have kids, and it would wake them from their naptime.
"It bothered me on a personal level."
Rachel Cohen, another neighbor a few houses down, complained that she had difficulty focusing while the rooster crowed, and, in fact, avoided going outside because of Cocky's blaring.
Cohen, Cantrall and a third neighbor, Chris Beh, would all at various points file official noise complaints with the city.
In his complaint, on Nov. 15, Beh detailed the "disturbance" Cocky caused.
"The rooster woke my wife and I out of a sound sleep at 6:15 a.m.," he wrote. "The rooster also crows throughout the day, which I hate."
Cantrall went as far as to keep a log on Cocky, and shared with the Boulder Police Department that he was awoken at 5:30 the morning of Nov. 12, 5:45 on Nov. 13 and 5:50 on Nov. 17.
"If that's not excessive, I don't know what is," he said from his front porch last week.
Following noise complaints, an animal control officer served Myers a warning just before Thanksgiving, asking that she "please resolve the violation" within 10 days.
When the issue persisted a month later, Myers was issued a court summons.
A survivor gives back
Before Cocky was a legal liability, he was a puny bantam rooster the 76-year-old Myers bought in April 2016, along with five other chicks, for $20 from Jax Mercantile.
Out of the $20 box, Cocky and Tiny were the two bantams — a small variety of chicken with multicolored feathers and bright red crowns. Nefertiti and Tut were Java chickens, larger in size and with black feathers. The last two in the bunch were Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, both Rhode Island Reds.
Early on, while the six were still fuzzy and about the size of a golf ball, Cocky suffered life-threatening constipation.
"He just stood around with his little head down and his wings drooping," Myers said.
"He was hurting," added Cantril, 78.
Taking great care, Myers would place the ailing creature, whose sex was not yet known at the time, on a square of toilet paper in the palm of her hand, and she'd use a Q-tip to encourage evacuation.
This went on for about a week, until he could go on his own.
Soon after Cocky recovered, a woodchip shard became lodged in Nefertiti's windpipe. She was treated by an exotic bird veterinarian, who anesthetized her and sucked the shard out with a tiny device.
The flock started to jell after those two medical scares, in large part due to Cocky's leadership.
"He really took care of that flock," Myers said. "He would find them something to eat and call them over and when it was time to roost, he'd go in first and call them all in."
"Sir Cocky, the magnificent, the guardian of his flock," Cantril beamed. "Out in the yard, we'd thrown some goodies for the little hens and little Cocky was just trying to scare the blue jays off because they were trying to scare his flock. And he chased away the neighborhood rat."
But after a couple months, he started making noise.
"The first time he tried to sing," Myers said, "we heard this horrible, strange noise. And so we went down there and saw it was coming from Cocky. It took him a couple days and he figured out how to do it."
As Cocky grew into his role within the flock, he also developed a bond with Cantril.
The two strokes Cantril suffered severely harmed his navigation ability and general awareness. He's still sharp in many ways — he holds a Ph.D. in physics and once worked as an instruments engineer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — but his loss of brain function forced him to surrender his independence and move from Maryland to Boulder, where his little sister took him in around Christmas of 2012.
Though fowl are not known for being therapy animals, Cocky became one for Cantril.
He would sharpen his focus by staring into the rooster's eyes, and eventually Cocky became comfortable perching on Cantril's hand and shoulder, displaying a level of trust he rarely showed other humans.
"He started me thinking about things again, exercising the mental processes that I used to have," Cantril said. "My brain's gone through a lot of reconfigurations and I haven't gotten it all back again, but he helped start the process."
The third member of the house on Lehigh Street is Monique Saenz, daughter-in-law of Myers. Saenz has herself been the recipient of animal therapy, albeit with a horse instead of a chicken, and she helped train Cantril in his interactions with the rooster.
"It dawned on me that the exercise of focusing was the same" with Cocky as with the horse she'd known, Saenz said. "Concentrating on keeping that connection is what helps the brain regenerate."
'I can kill him for you'
In July, with the chickens thriving, Myers left for a weekend in Steamboat Springs. While she was away, Beh visited the house.
"This guy goes up to the door and knocks and Jerry answers," Saenz said. "He says, 'You have a rooster. It's illegal and I can kill him for you.'"
Some cities outlaw backyard chickens. Others allow hens, but not roosters. In Boulder, there are no laws on the matter, and the absence of code means people can keep as many hens and roosters as they desire, and keep them cooped in whatever manner they see fit.
The family knew they'd done nothing illegal, but they were nevertheless put on notice: not everyone found Cocky's crow endearing.
"I was stunned," Cantril said, "that someone would go ahead and talk about killing an animal like that just because he got a little vocal and noisy."
In posts on the neighborhood social network Nextdoor, others started chiming in about the rooster. Some were nasty, and one person even mentioned having a recipe for rooster stew. But most were supportive.
Marilyn Blackmon, Myers's longtime neighbor, followed the Nextdoor action. She happens to be a cognitive psychologist, so she penned a series of comments offering insight about Cocky's value as a therapy animal. She was sympathetic to Cantril's condition.
"Being someone who knows about cognitive neuroscience, who's taught about brain damage, I know it's very hard for somebody like him to give up his independence," said Blackmon, who lives next to Cantrall and kitty-corner from Myers.
Her defense on Nextdoor calmed things down for a time.
But by the fall, the noise complaints had been filed and the summons had been served, and Myers faced the choice to either give up Cocky or fight for him in court.
She chose the latter, and in February, Myers went to court for the first time in her life.
She explained that the rooster was a service animal to her brother, but, per the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals can only be dogs and miniature ponies. Those animals must also be specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled person, whose injuries may be physical, sensory, psychiatric or intellectual.
Cocky did not qualify.
At the advice of Assistant City Attorney Chris Reynolds, she pleaded guilty to a violation classified as "barking, howling or other unreasonable animal noise."
Myers was given a 6-month suspended sentence with a fine of $1,000. The fine, she was told, would only be imposed if she received another citation for noise during that six-month period.
The court ordered limitations on when the chickens could leave the special soundproofed shed for which Myers paid $2,100: They could go out at 8:15 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends, and they had to go back in at dark.
Myers, a widow with a previously clean record, also was assigned a probation officer. He seemed to find the situation a little absurd.
"This guy was kind of ex-military," she said. "His name was Jim, or something like that, and he said, 'I've been all over the world and everywhere I go there are roosters — and then there's Boulder.'"
At one point, at Blackmon's urging, Myers pushed Reynolds to convene the complainants for a mediation session. They refused the invite.
Cohen, Beh and Reynolds all declined to comment for the story.
"I just didn't see any point to that," Cantrall said. "It was pretty clear to me; either there's a noisy disturbance or there's not. ... There's nothing to mediate."
Still, with her court-ordered management plan and expensive noise-mitigation apparatus, Myers was optimistic that the drama might finally subside.
It did not, because Cocky did not stop crowing audibly, even forcibly isolated from the outside world by ostensibly noise-canceling panels inside a windowless shed.
"The thing about his crowing is that when he'd hear noise, like the kids playing, that was something to him," Myers said. "And he crowed and crowed."
Saenz compared him to a protective dog barking.
Myers was advised to separate Cocky from the five hens so that they'd begin to see her, and not the rooster, as the dominant figure of the household. Perhaps in a reduced role, they thought, Cocky eventually would shed his self-image as the leader and pipe down.
That also did not work. Cocky was irrepressible.
"This little rooster," Cantril laughed. "He was an elusive little devil. And he was a delinquent.
"If you got to looking at him, with the way he wanted to work with the hens, you could see he had elements of certain other individuals in him, and I will enumerate those: Galahad, Don Quixote, El Cid."
Refugee chickens in Platteville
The rooster situation remained tense in mid-March when Myers was called away for an emergency that, for a change, was unrelated to the chickens.
Cantril and Myers are the middle two of four siblings, and their younger sister, who lives in southwest Iowa, was having rotator cuff surgery. Myers flew to be with her.
During that visit, her brother back home called to deliver the rooster update the family had been dreading. Someone had filed another noise complaint.
"I thought, 'This is never going to end,'" Myers said.
Back in Colorado, she made the agonizing decision to give up the flock.
"I didn't want to surrender the chickens to the city attorney, so I wanted to make sure they went to a good place," she said.
Through an old SCUBA acquaintance, Myers connected with the Huberts, who keep a small family farm along Weld County Road 25 ½ in Platteville that's not unlike the Kremmling Ranch on which Myers and Cantril were raised.
The transfer of ownership was intense.
"We had to catch them and pack the truck and put them in a cage," Saenz said. "They knew something was wrong. They just knew."
Cantril choked up recounting his feelings on the drive to Platteville.
"I felt like I'd failed the little fella," he said of Cocky.
But, they thought, at least the Huberts would show the flock love. Myers said she eventually found peace with the reluctant hand-off.
Cantril felt better, too, when he met George and Annabelle Hubert, the two young children on the farm.
"I picked up Cocky and gave him to the little boy. And he stood there on his hand for a few minutes," Cantril said.
Annabelle took quickly to Tiny, the other bantam and the second-most adventurous member of the original six.
Myers thanked the Huberts and told them she'd return to check on the chickens soon.
The family drove back to Boulder, unaware they'd never see Cocky again.
A poignant legacy
Though no autopsy was performed, those who were closest to the late rooster know his audacity was his demise.
The chickens on the Hubert farm have their own water pail, but, for whatever reason, Cocky thought it wise to check out the horse trough, and it killed him.
"It's happened a couple times to us with chickens. It's happened to a neighbor," Angela Hubert said. "They just fall in, and they can't get out."
But while no one was individually responsible for the death, Saenz couldn't disconnect the months-long drama in Boulder from Cocky's fatal splash. She logged onto Nextdoor and wrote an explosive post that page administrators have since deleted.
"To those who vehemently opposed Cocky and his flock; to those who had no interest in being neighborly and compassionate; to those who are lucky enough not to have a dear one in your family with a disability — karma is a bitch," the post read.
"In case you don't understand what I'm saying, think of 'every cause has a consequence,' or for those who studied Newtonian physics, refer to rule number three."
That third rule — for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — could be interpreted as a threat of violence, and some felt physically uneasy after reading Saenz's post.
In the comments section, Saenz identified the complainants by name, at which point one of them reported her to Nextdoor, which wiped the inflammatory post from the page, along with almost every other post about the rooster.
Saenz is unapologetic about that episode.
"I wanted people to see there was no compassion in this town," she said. "They want you to hold hands and sing kumbaya — as long as it's somewhere else, but not in my backyard.
"That's why I outed them. I wanted to say that if we truly were a neighborhood, we'd be helping each other instead of backstabbing each other, calling anonymously and complaining and causing this brouhaha that ended up in the death of a rooster that wouldn't have died if he'd stayed here."
Cocky has been dead for more than two months now, but his life story, with its unfortunate coda, feels fresh to those who followed it — as evidenced by some neighbors' obvious emotional exhaustion and refusal to even talk about him, and by Myers and Cantril not being able to get through their own account without crying.
"I've kind of lost respect for many people in this neighborhood," Myers said, wiping her eyes. "I used to respond when somebody would ask for something. And now I don't care anymore. I really don't care."
In conversations with people directly involved with or familiar with the incident, from one angle or another, a theme emerged: nobody feels good about what happened, but nobody feels they acted wrongly.
Blackmon, the cognitive psychologist, thinks that's simply a result of differences in perception.
She wasn't bothered personally by the crowing, and her opinion that Cocky was not overly disruptive was corroborated by a decibel-level measurement she took that suggested the noise was not much louder than chatter at a candle-lit dinner table.
But she understands, from a clinical perspective, why some felt the rooster had to go.
"I would say that any sound that is unusual, that you're not used to, tends to really attract your attention," she said. "So some people found it disturbing."
Because Boulder's code doesn't specify a decibel level at which an animal's sound is officially in violation, Cocky lived at the mercy of the distinct tolerances his neighbors had for the crowing.
"That's where I think some real objective criteria would be of tremendous help," Blackmon said, adding that she plans to take up the issue with the City Council.
For those on the block who aren't cognitive psychologists, the period since Cocky's death has often been marked by more abstract rumination.
"I've done some reflection on this," Cantrall said, "and I actually find it kind of saddening that I felt like I could not go to them directly and feel like we would be able to reach an amenable agreement, because it was so black and white.
"It was, in a word, selfishness. But, then, who's being selfish? Is it me? Is it them? Who's more important — an individual or a community? It's an age-old debate, about if the good of the community trumps the needs of one. And I don't know the answer. That's a tough question."