ORLAND — Heard of “101 Dalmatians”? How about 33 roosters, nine hens, seven ducks, five goats, two turkeys, two geese and two pot-bellied pigs? Those are among the animals cared for by Nevada Rooney, a 16-year-old Orland resident who started Red Roo Rescue a year and a half ago.
The rescue is like a depot for unwanted livestock. People drop off animals and Rooney takes care of them until a responsible adopter comes along.
“Basically I’m just a person who flips animals,” she said. “I get animals and I get rid of them for an adoption fee.”
While most rescues and humane societies in Maine specialize in cats, dogs or horses, Red Roo Rescue may be the only one in the state to specialize in roosters. That’s partly because roosters are not a popular pet: they don’t lay eggs and their constant crowing can irritate neighbors.
Rooney said most of the people who drop off roosters at her house say they do so because their neighbors complain that the birds are too loud.
In fact, many towns prohibit residents from owning animals that “unnecessarily annoy or disturb any person by loud and repeated barking or other noises,” as it says in the Ellsworth city ordinance.
But Rooney thinks there’s more to roosters than just noise.
“Roosters are gorgeous,” she said, pointing out their multicolored plumage. “And if they have to be here for the rest of their lives, then I’m perfectly fine with that.”
The teenager hasn’t always been this passionate about birds. In fact, like most other American children, she grew up eating parts of them at KFC or Chester’s. But when she was 14, Rooney decided she wanted to have fresh eggs of her own, so she bought two chicks from the 4-H stand at a Bangor fair.
One of the chicks died within a week after choking on something. But the other chick, named Marshmallow, grew into a family pet.
“She acted just like a dog, basically,” said Rooney, who taught Marshmallow how to jump up onto a stool and give hugs with her neck. “That’s when I realized chickens aren’t just food and producers of eggs.”
Rooney started going to multiple horse shows a year, where she connected with other farm animal aficionados.
“I absorb knowledge like a sponge,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about vet care and stuff like that.”
Rooney noticed that people were constantly giving away roosters for free, due to their crowing and lack of eggs.
“Eventually I was like ‘You know what? I’m going to collect some roosters,’” Rooney said. “I’m just going to save some and try to find new homes for them where they’re appreciated.”
Rooney’s flock kept growing, to the point where now she even has a “special needs” coop for birds that are blind or have other problems. She built a website, and soon people were driving three or four hours to drop off or adopt animals from her.
“I think it’s really awesome what she’s doing,” said Shannon Whalen, a Prospect resident who adopted a rooster and two hens from Rooney last year. “She’s giving sanctuary to these unwanted animals and she really takes care of all of them.”
Of course, it costs money to feed all those animals, but the one animal Rooney lacks is a cash cow. She said that her monthly costs range from $500 to $800, depending on how many animals she has and what time of the year it is.
Red Roo Rescue is pretty much a one-girl operation. Rooney’s parents both work demanding jobs all day. But she finds a way to get by on her own.
To afford feeding the animals, Rooney works two jobs doing housework and dog-sitting. She also gets some money from drop-off donations and adoption fees, but it’s barely enough to cover food and equipment expenses.
“I don’t make any money,” said Rooney, “and I spend all of my money on my animals.”
Part of the reason her costs are high is that it’s hard to find people to adopt a rooster once it has been dropped off.
“Usually I have to adopt them out with hens,” she said. “Because otherwise people are like ‘Eh, I don’t really want just a rooster, because I want eggs.’”
Still, Rooney said roosters do more than enough to earn their keep, or, more accurately, coop. She said they eat bugs (including ticks), protect the hens and help create more chickens.
“Roosters are useful,” she said.
Some people also fear that roosters can be aggressive, but Rooney explained that out of the hundreds of birds she has worked with, only one has been aggressive.
That rooster is a Jersey Giant named JJ, who once bit Rooney. But she found that as soon as JJ had a flock to protect, the aggression faded.
“A lot of people will bring roosters to me and say they’re aggressive, but once they’re in a flock dynamic they kinda get straightened out,” Rooney said.
Now JJ makes sure that all of the birds around him get enough to eat, and that the hens aren’t over-bred.
“He’s basically like a police officer for chickens,” Rooney said. “He does a good job, so I never really have fighting.”
Aggression plays a role with several of the species at Red Roo Rescue. Rooney said people often drop off male goats, claiming that they’ve become aggressive with their horns. But usually that’s not the case.
“People say ‘Oh my gosh, he’s aggressive,’ and he’s not, it’s just they don’t know where their horns are,” said Rooney, while her own goat Panda accidentally nudged her with his horns a few times.
A few minutes later, Panda got stuck while poking his head out from behind a fence. Again, he forgot where his horns were.
Meanwhile, two bright-white Sebastopol geese patrolled the yard. When this reporter first arrived, one of the geese opened its mouth as if it were about to bite, but it backed away after the reporter stood still for a second.
“They’re not aggressive,” said Rooney, who explained that the goose’s posture helps keep foxes and other predators away from the chickens. “If you stand your ground, they’ll back away.”
After studying animals online and at shows, Rooney is practically a walking encyclopedia, rattling off facts about the dietary needs of goats or the incubating habits of chickens.
Before she gives any animals away, she makes sure that the adopters are similarly informed.
“I’ll just ask them questions or I’ll provide them with information,” said Rooney, who reaches out to adopters every month to see how the adoptees are doing. “This year I’ll print out factsheets for the animals.”
There’s still much more Rooney hopes to learn. Next year, she plans on doing an internship with a veterinarian. After that, she wants to go to the University of Maine at Orono, where she hopes to study veterinary care and equine science.
A vegetarian, Rooney thinks animals are more than just food.
“I feel like not everything needs to give back everything that it’s taking,” she said.