When Frank Cantone witnessed two men fighting in his neighborhood, he knew exactly what to do. He went into his house and grabbed a chicken.
“I walked the chicken over to them and sat it right in front of them,”
Cantone said. “It was amazing how everything just stopped. They smiled, and I looked at them and said, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ End of fight, end of story. Everybody shook hands. A chicken brings a smile to everybody’s face.”
Cantone grew up in New Jersey, where the only chickens he saw came in packages. It was not until he came to St. Louis that he discovered his love for the animal.
When he is not working the night shift as a Webster public safety officer, Cantone spends his time traveling across the country rescuing chickens. Cantone started St. Louis Chicken Rescue in 2012, after a friend showed up at his door with two hens and a rooster.
“I used to love going to [my friend’s] place and looking at his chickens,” Cantone said. “I just loved watching them. He brought them over and said, ‘Hey, I know you like chickens. Here’s a couple of chickens you can play with’ and I fell in love with them.”
In the past five years, Cantone’s team saved 70 chickens. He sent volunteers to Texas, Florida and Costa Rica to rescue chickens during tropical storms.
“A lot of times chickens are the last things to be picked up,” Cantone said. “People will save dogs and cats, but for some reason they won’t save chickens.”
Cantone felt chickens were underappreciated by the general population.
“Chickens are the number one abused animal in the world,” Cantone said. “There are no laws to protect chickens. If you take a cat out into the middle street and beat it with a stick, you can be arrested and put in jail for felony animal abuse. If you do that to a chicken, there are no laws that protect that chicken. To me, that’s lopsided. An animal’s an animal. Chickens have feelings; chickens have personalities.”
The Cantone residence is home to 12 chickens: Clucky, Betty, Bella, Lady, Cinnamon, Vanilla, Popcorn, Henrietta, Shadow, Rudy, Springfield and Oreo. Frank Cantone’s daughters, Lindsey, 13, and Felicity, 11, are responsible for naming all of the birds.
“They stay in our house,” Frank Cantone said. “We have a basement that’s finished, and they come in. They have their own air conditioning, heating and ventilation system, and little cages down there. So, they’re actually protected from not only the elements such as the cold weather, but they’re protected from any kind of predators.”
According to St. Louis Ordinance 70608, which was introduced in June 2017, a residence can raise up to eight small farm animals at a time. Under this regulation, all fowls must be hens. Cantone paid $300 for a permit allowing him to house his dozen chickens, four of which are roosters.
To acquire the permit, Cantone had to prove he was capable of housing the birds. Every six months, the city checks on the Cantones to ensure the chickens are meeting heath standards and are not a nuisance to their neighbors.
Felicity and Lindsey Cantone said their favorite chicken was Popcorn, or “Poppy” for short.
“Popcorn lives inside with us, he’s an inside rooster,” Frank Cantone said. “When he came to us, he was fine, and then he jumped off the couch and hurt his leg. He’s got one leg he just can’t use now because he landed on it wrong. I take that very personally. I feel like I should’ve protected him better.”
Felicity Cantone shared her father’s empathy toward chickens.
“Chickens have feelings just like humans do,” Felicity Cantone said. “If someone hurts your feelings, you get sad and mad. Chickens feel the same way. They get sad, and we don’t know it. Sometimes, they feel it on the inside, and we just don’t notice it on the outside.”
Lindsey Cantone said her classmates did not understand the importance of rescuing chickens. She recalled an experience when her peers made fun of her during music class.
“I raised my hand, and I said ‘On Saturday morning, my chicken died’ and everybody laughed at me,” Lindsey Cantone said. “I was very offended. What if I laughed at you when your pet died?”
Despite others’ lack of understanding, the Cantone family continues to educate others about the importance of rescuing chickens. Whether he is teaching classes through St. Louis Chicken Rescue, taking Clucky for a walk in the park or clucking at neighbors when he passes them on the street, Frank Cantone believes chickens have the potential to change the world.
“Chickens make people smile, and that is so neat to be able to make people smile,” Frank Cantone said. “This little creature that only weighs four or five pounds can evoke such happiness and such common courtesy and curiosity that everything together, brings people together.”
Rudy: The uncatchable rooster
Rudy, a rooster from Pittsburgh, was Frank Cantone’s most recent rescue. Rudy had made a home in a yard in a residential area, and the owner of the property was planning to poison the rooster to avoid getting fined.
After hearing about Rudy’s situation through a website called Backyard Chicken, Cantone and his two daughters packed up their car and drove nine hours to save the rooster.
Cantone said the judge thought his motives were unusual.
“When you have a love for animals, nothing’s unusual,” Cantone said. “Everything makes sense.”
On their first attempt to rescue Rudy, the trio was unsuccessful.
“The bird saw the cage and jumped into a tree,” Cantone said. “[It flew] pretty much to the top of the tree. So, I tried to call the fire department, and they laughed. They’re like, ‘Nah, we’re not going to send a truck out there to catch a chicken.’ And I said, ‘What’s the difference between a chicken and a cat?’ They save cats in trees. Get out here and get this chicken.”
The next day, Cantone and his daughters went out again, this time in negative 20 degree weather. They tried to locate the chicken, but their searching was to no avail.
Just as they began to lose hope, they spotted Rudy. They chased the chicken around the yard, but it was 11-year-old Felicity Cantone who finally brought their efforts to an end.
“Rudy was a hard one,” Felicity Cantone said. “He was a very fluttery bird and very fast. I saw Rudy run in the front yard and go into a little bush. I was like, ‘He’s here! He’s here!’ Then, Dad and Lindsey came over. Once he went under that bush, he was pooped. I was the one who found him, and then Dad caught him.”