The Rescue Rooster Next Door
A vacation at an animal sanctuary was to be a peaceful retreat for me, my husband, and our young son… but the rooster had other ideas
Most anyone who’s traveled can relate to the struggle to accommodate others while also hoping to be accommodated yourself. Usually the offending party is another human; thin walls and a couple on their honeymoon, for example, can make for considerable awkwardness at the complimentary breakfast buffet. As parents of a small child, my husband and I are naturally wary of how our family takes up space, conscious that Oscar still sometimes wakes up at night crying, and that his table manners leave a lot to be desired.
But he’s a little human being, a part of our family. What of when the offender is another animal species? Should they be afforded the same regard?
Encounters with other species were exactly what we signed up when we booked our room at the Catskills Animal Sanctuary. Two hours north of New York City in Saugerties, NY, the sanctuary is a 148-acre property that over 300 rescued farm animals call home. Overnight guests stay at the sanctuary’s vegan guesthouse, The Homestead, a renovated pre-civil war residence that offers three guest rooms that share a bathroom, as well as a suite. Book a room and you’ll enjoy a complimentary vegan breakfast each morning and open access to the sanctuary grounds.
My husband and I first discovered the sanctuary on an online directory of pet-friendly hotels. We had just started dating a month earlier, and it was our first overnight trip together, the first time we were traveling together with our two dogs. We arrived late from the city via a taxi, Arran’s grouchy cairn terrier, Lily, in a carrier and my neurotic but lovable pit-mix, Spud, tugging anxiously at the leash.
Still, for two city dwellers yearning to see a patch of unobstructed sky, the trip proved perfect: watching the dogs frolic off-leash on the front lawn while we drank our morning coffee on the porch, meeting the animals, learning about veganism, hiking, and poking around Saugerties’ many book stores and antique shops.
Traveling with two dogs proved tricky. That weekend, Spud barked when we left them alone in the room, and Lily peed on at least one rug that we know of. Still, for two city dwellers yearning to see a patch of unobstructed sky, the trip proved perfect: watching the dogs frolic off-leash on the front lawn while we drank our morning coffee on the porch, meeting the animals, learning about veganism, hiking, and poking around Saugerties’ many book stores and antique shops.
That trip, we fell in love with each other, and with the sanctuary.
And so we returned for Father’s Day four years later, toddler in tow, and minus our disobedient dogs, mindful of the house rules posted online that made it clear that excessive barking was prohibited. When we arrived, the guest house was just as charming as I remembered. Wide plank floors led to generously sized, tastefully decorated rooms featuring original details including a marble fireplace in the dining room and exposed brick throughout.
As the host helped us with our bags, we were introduced to another guest carrying a rooster wearing a little cotton diaper. The rooster was a rescue, we were told, and Instagram famous, apparently, with more followers than both me and my husband combined! Oscar was delighted, and so were we, initially. Then: “He may start crowing at five in the morning,” the woman said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Did I — the mother of a twenty-two month old who had just started sleeping (mostly) through the night, after a year and a half of intermittent wakings — mind having a rooster for a roommate, a rooster, aka god’s alarm clock set for the buttcrack of dawn? Did I mention I was 15 weeks pregnant, at the tail end of a first trimester of miserable morning sickness and debilitating fatigue? And that I was fighting a cold?
My husband later said he thought she was joking, but having lived in Mexico for a period in my early twenties next to neighbors with roosters, I knew what we were in for. Still, I didn’t want to cause a stink. So I smiled politely and hoped for the best.
After we’d settled in, we explored the sanctuary. When it came to meeting the animals, Oscar was uncharacteristically reticent. My toddlers tiny body shook in giddy terror as the goat, indifferent to our presence, meandered past. It was a small victory when my son let go of my hand and bravely toddled towards the chickens. Even though he was startled by the grunts, he was willing to give the pigpen a second look. Still, he refused to stroke the little friendly piglet’s nose.
A gentle rain started to fall as we strolled toward our home away from home. After Oscar was asleep, Arran and I were challenged to find a place that could both deliver and accommodate the guesthouse’s strict rule that whatever be brought into the house be vegan. We eventually settled on vegan pizza from Slices, a small and modern pizzeria in the heart of Saugerties. We ate the pie, covered in fresh and interesting vegetables atop a thick and chewy crust, on the porch under a sky full of stars. There are no TVs in the guest rooms at the Homestead, and so we settled into bed early.
Throughout the meal, the other guests seemed unaffected and genuinely charmed by the animal, and so I stayed silent. Even after the crowing was brought up and someone remarked convivially that it started at four in the morning, I kept my complaints to myself.
That’s when things took a turn. Too few hours later, I was abruptly awakened by a long guttural croak. My eyes adjusted to the dark as the sound repeated, then again. Arran let out a frustrated sigh and rolled over. After a minute or two, the crewing stopped. But just as I dozed off, it started again. The bird went off every four minutes or so. On and on and on. Luckily, our baby slept through it but neither my husband nor myself were able to get very much sleep.
The next morning, I let Arran take his time while I attended to the baby, descending the creaking steps to join the other guests in the dining room. There she was, the woman and her fucking rooster, perched on the table. Smiles welcomed Oscar and I as we took our seats. Throughout the meal, the other guests seemed unaffected and genuinely charmed by the animal, and so I stayed silent. A meat-eating minority, I listened as everyone swapped vegan recipes, and talked about the trials and tribulations of living a vegan lifestyle. Even after the crowing was brought up and someone remarked convivially that it started at four in the morning, I kept my complaints to myself.
Later that afternoon, when we put Oscar down for his nap, Arran and I laid down to nap, too. Just as soon as we drifted off, the rooster started crowing. Apparently his owner had left him alone while she went into town for lunch. Eventually, we gave up on our nap.
I crossed my fingers that rooster was checking out that afternoon. But as luck would have it, the rooster stayed as long as we did. Instead of the relaxing and restorative time off we had hoped for, we returned home utterly exhausted.
We didn’t complain at the time but I mentioned it afterwards in an email. The manager of the guesthouse was apologetic, and I felt somewhat vindicated. I also felt a little like an asshole. Would you be annoyed if you stayed at a bed and breakfast and a rooster in the room next door woke you up every morning before dawn?
If so, you may or may not want to stay at the sanctuary.
Although my husband still holds a grudge, weeks later I am well rested and over my cold, and so, when I look back on the trip, I feel nothing but fondness, even for that fucking rooster (who I’ve followed on Instagram). Sure, it was nightmarish, but in retrospect, the experience certainly makes for a funny story. And the trip as a whole made us think.
This shift in perspective is part of what we’re paying for. It’s a reason why we travel. Sure, vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but they’re also meant to shake us out of the familiar, which can feel challenging.
As omnivores, staying at a strictly vegan facility for a weekend gives us a small taste of how unaccommodating the world is to vegans. This shift in perspective is part of what we’re paying for. It’s a reason why we travel. Sure, vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but they’re also meant to shake us out of the familiar, which can feel challenging. Certainly, we want to expose our son to different ways of life, people, and animals.
According to their website, those at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary “believe that looking an animal in the eye and seeing someone — not something — looking back is one of the most profound shifts human beings can make in their understanding of the world and their place in it.” After a weekend on the property, one is inclined to agree. A stay at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary can be a gentle reminder that we ought to be more compassionate towards our fellow beasts, perhaps even those that disturb our sleep.