Tuesday, April 15, 1997
Civilization comes
to the countryside

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Especially when it comes to neighbors.

It gets more complicated when the neighbors have animals. The ultimate complication would be, of course, when the neighbors have both animals and lawyers. This is what happened in a beautiful little pocket of countryside near Oxford.

On Stephenson Road, about five miles southwest of the college town, some former farmland is divided into long, narrow lots, about 200 feet wide. Homeowners have a big front yard or a big back yard, depending on where somebody decided to build. There are no side yards.

Surrounded by acres of grass and trees, these half-dozen neighbors are very close to each other. Geographically, if not socially.

Trouble in paradise

All was tranquil there, to hear some of the neighbors tell the story, until one Bobby Wayne Webb showed up about two years ago and started raising chickens.

Frank Truster, whose property abuts the Webb property on one side, says that was the end of the quiet. About 40 roosters crow all day long, beginning at 4 a.m.

A letter to Mr. Webb from an attorney hired by some of the Stephenson Road residents warns, ''There is a great deal of concern about what purpose you have in raising such a substantial number of roosters. Cockfighting has been illegal in Ohio for a number of years.''

So is gambling on football, but it seems to have made no significant dent in the number of fullbacks and receivers.

''In a cockfight, the roosters have a 2-inch metal barb attached to each leg,'' explains a letter in the Oxford Press from David Forrester, who lives three houses down from Mr. Webb. Both birds are slashed and eyes pecked out. The loser always dies, and the winner is not much better off. Usually they're both destroyed.

Wearing my protective coloration of middle age and a friendly face, I dropped in on Bobby Wayne Webb, following him up his driveway as he was getting off work at the Fin-Pan plant in Hamilton.

Saying I'd spoken to some of his neighbors who'd complained about his roosters, I asked him if I could see them. He looked at me wearily and said that his lawyer says he shouldn't talk to anybody, ''but I don't care. I'm just tired of it all.''

A guided tour

Behind the Webbs' pale blue ranch-style house is a tidy barn and dozens of little teepees, each with a single occupant. An adult rooster. Some of the most beautiful birds I've ever seen perched on the roofs of A-frame huts. Each one was tethered with a six-foot bungee cord.

''You don't want to use a chain or anything that will break their feathers,'' Mr. Webb says. ''Even then, if you have 40 roosters, you probably won't have six or seven with perfect feathers.''

Judges at county fairs where he shows his birds, he says, look for that, plus they ''like 'em to be prancy, act happy.''

I don't know if they're happy, but they sure are noisy. I counted about six hens.

One of his neighbors, the only one, he says, who came to talk to him without benefit of a summons and an attorney, suggested that maybe he could cut their vocal cords. He laughs.

In any case, Bobby Wayne Webb, in full hearing of his impressionable 4-year-old son, Brandon, denies having anything to do with cockfighting.

He says he doesn't sell them. It's ''just a hobby.'' His neighbor from the other side, Cornel Sigmon, says, ''the noise don't bother me. You just get used to it, and you don't hear it.''

John Kogge, who lives up the hill and runs a Frame and Save in Oxford, still hears it loud and clear. He says it starts about 4 a.m. and continues all day ''like Chinese water torture.'' The Webb place is in a valley that acts like a ''natural amphitheater.''

So, depositions have been taken, a suit filed, letters written, bitter words spoken. The Trusters have put their property up for sale. David Forrester wears ear protectors when he sits outside on his patio. Mr. Webb, who looks exhausted, has hired a lawyer of his own.

As I drove away from the formerly peaceful little plot in Reily Township, I couldn't help thinking about what I learned there about fighting. Even the winner often is destroyed.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.