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Key West Divided Over Chicken Catcher

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  • Key West Divided Over Chicken Catcher

    KEY WEST, Fla. - Like Superman emerging from a phone booth, Armando Parra steps out from the bathroom of his old-time barbershop transformed into the Chicken Catcher, dedicated to ridding this island town of nuisance fowl.

    To some, Parra is a hero clearing out the birds that tear up lawns, sneak inside houses to perch in Christmas trees and leave a carpet of droppings in their wake. To others, he's a villain, snatching beloved roosters and speckled hens from neighborhood streets where they delight tourists and residents alike.

    Wearing shorts and a mostly unbuttoned shirt emblazoned with "Key West Chicken Catcher," the 63-year-old Parra climbed into his two-tone blue van and started another patrol one recent afternoon.

    Parra has snared more than 90 chickens in the few weeks since he became the first official chicken catcher in Key West, where colorful chickens dart through traffic on busy streets, meander in mangroves and even greet customers at the drive-thru of the KFC.

    The city agreed in January to pay Parra $20 for each nuisance chicken he catches until Sept. 30. His limit is 900, or $18,000. Every few weeks, the birds are collected and brought to a 400-acre farm in Miami-Dade County, where they live out their days.

    More than 2,000 chickens are estimated to roam the streets of Key West, and city officials decided that for the birds to remain a charming addition to town life and not just a nuisance their numbers would have to be cut in half.

    Spirited debate over the downsizing led chicken lovers to hatch plans for the first annual ChickenFest this summer. Events include a "Poultry in Motion parade" and "Tastes Like Chicken Cook-off Party."

    Katha Sheehan, also known as the chicken lady in Key West, offers a chicken trapping service herself for a $20 fee, but she said she doesn't approve of the city's trapping policy. She wants city leaders to "stop considering them as a disposable waste and start looking at them as a permanent asset."

    Sheehan, who operates a local chicken rescue, has collected more than 4,000 signatures for a petition urging the city to allow chickens to remain on the streets of Key West. She's been assured that chickens will not be eliminated altogether.

    "They're going to have egg on their face if they don't have any chickens on the streets when the chicken festival comes around," Sheehan said.

    Parra, a semiretired barber who keeps his own pet chickens, said he has no intention of trapping all the city's stray fowl.

    As official chicken catcher, Parra receives a "master list" of chicken complaints from the city, with names and addresses of residents who have unwanted chickens on their property.

    He lays out metal box traps with a door that falls shut when the chicken, lured by scratch feed, steps on a trigger inside. Parra returns the next day to collect his catch.

    At Sally Lewis' two-story white house across the street from the southernmost point of Key West, Parra nabbed two of the dozen or so chickens roaming her yard and reset the trap to catch more the next day.

    Lewis, a retired city commissioner, called the chickens "brazen" and said they have climbed through her pet door into her home, roosted in her Christmas tree and perched on her bed. They have harassed her dog, destroyed her mulched lawn and covered her car with droppings.

    "They dive bomb you," she said. "They're not just pedestrian chickens."

    Parra, a third-generation native of Key West, says he developed a passion for chickens when he received a pair of them on his eighth birthday. He says the city's wild chicken population took off after cockfighting was outlawed and with the arrival of major supermarkets, which meant residents didn't need chickens of their own for food and eggs.

    Parra developed a knack for handling animals and building traps. He proposed to the city how he could reduce the chicken population using his traps. "I figured I could build any kind of trap to trap just about any animal you want," he said.

    After the city unanimously approved the plan, news media from around the country inundated Parra with calls and requests for interviews. Now he complains that television crews scare off the chickens and he shuns most queries.

    But Parra isn't shy about hoping to profit from his venture.

    He calls himself, "The first, and only official chicken catcher in the history of the United States." He has a Web site that hawks $15 T-shirts (Front: 'Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?' Back: 'To Escape the Key West Chicken Catcher') and plans to expand his retail offerings to bumper stickers and other memorabilia.

    "I'm hoping that I can sell enough T-shirts," he said, "that I don't have to cut hair."

  • #2
    That's really funny. I was in the keys over the fourth of july lat year and it's true - there are wild chickens all over the place.
    2005 Mandatory Loyalty Oath: I love America, our troops, baseball, Moms, and certain pies. I want no harm to come to any of those institutions, nor do I take any glee in their demise.


    • #3
      That's nasty. Chickens are dirty, disgusting, feathered rodents. It's a wonder they taste so good.