Commentary: My neighbour’s raucous rooster deprived me of sleep for months
Everyone is entitled to keep pets, but how much should neighbours tolerate a noisy animal? Tracy Lee says it’s best to speak to the pet’s owner sooner rather than later.
SINGAPORE: One morning several months ago, I was rudely awakened at 5.45am by an unearthly sound best described as a vuvuzela tooted at full blast.
The ear-splitting “uh-uh-uh-ooooooooooooh!” lasted about 4 seconds, followed by a 15-second silence. The ruckus repeated itself on loop for about 10 minutes. By then, there was no way I could get back to sleep.
It occurred again around 10am, 1pm and 5pm, and became a daily thing. I would crane my neck out of my balcony trying to identify its source, to no avail.
After two months of sleep deprivation, I had enough and headed to the condo management office to complain. The staff suspected the crowing might come from a wild rooster, or that one of the houses near the condo has decided to keep chickens.
I insisted the noise came from much closer – probably one of the units in my block – and had the audio recordings to prove it.
But I was told that without any photographic evidence, management can’t go around knocking on everyone’s doors to investigate. Not only would it be a waste of manpower, but the owner could simply hide their rooster before letting the staff in.
Herein lies the tension: Many people love animals and are entitled to keep them as pets. But some pets, such as chickens and dogs, can get quite noisy compared to other critters like rabbits or terrapins.
In the past five years, government agencies and town councils received around 4,100 chicken-related complaints – not surprising as a rooster’s crow can be as loud as 130 decibels, equivalent to standing 15 meters away from a jet taking off. Roosters crow up to 20 times a day, and have been known to start (or end) their day at 2am.
TAKING MATTERS INTO MY OWN HANDS
With the condo management unable to do much, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Whenever a “cock-a-doodle-doo” came on, I took the lift down to the ground floor and scanned my neighbours’ balconies for roosters. Still nothing.
So I stuck a home-made poster saying: “Stop noise pollution! Whose loud chicken is it?” in the lift. Technically, condo management prohibits residents from putting up notices, but I figured if they couldn’t uncover whose cock it was, they wouldn’t be able to guess who put up the unauthorised handbill either.
The very next day, both the crowing and my poster disappeared.
Thereafter, my next-door neighbour began walking around in the open with the most adorable blonde Silkie hen. With its fluffy pom-pom head and fuzzy feet, it resembled a stuffed toy more than an actual chicken. It was so tame that it never strayed far, seemed to enjoy being petted, and allowed itself to be cuddled and even carried upside down.
Other neighbours, young and old, would gather around it, asking questions and lingering to chat about other topics. Apparently, there’s nothing better than a chicken to rekindle that kampung spirit which some Singaporeans lament has disappeared over the decades, along with chicken-filled kampungs!
I also overheard the Silkie’s owners explain that she had a rooster companion, but they had to give it away as he was too loud. It seemed that my guerilla poster worked – or perhaps my neighbour had already received complaints and took action herself.
TROUBLESHOOTING A NOISY ANIMAL
Giving away a noisy pet may seem quite drastic. There are other ways to manage a raucous rooster: Owners could put a collar on him that prevents him from crowing too loudly, house him with more hens, or cover up the coop so he doesn’t wake up too early.
Over the past few pandemic years, I’ve noticed more dogs and loud barking around the condo too. Dog ownership has been on the rise after all: From 2019 to the first half of 2022, the number of dogs licensed by the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) increased by 20 per cent, from 70,000 to 84,000.
As the saying goes, there are few bad dogs, but many bad owners. Like the neighbour who leaves her dog out on the balcony to bark incessantly at every dog that’s being walked, or to howl pitifully for hours on end. Who can blame the pooch when she’s lonely and restless?
According to AVS, restricting a dog’s visual stimulation, such as covering the windows or putting up screens, helps prevent territorial barking. Training the dog to spend time alone reduces barking caused by separation anxiety. Regular walks help use up any excess energy, while interesting toys can keep boredom at bay.
TELLING YOUR NEIGHBOUR NICELY ABOUT THEIR NOISY PET
While the onus is on people to keep their pets from causing a nuisance, what can be done when irresponsible owners fail to do so? How much should their neighbours be expected to tolerate?
Indeed, it can be awkward to tell people what to do with their pets. Some people treat them like their own children, and pets can even be an internal point of contention within that household.
As an animal lover and a former sufferer of animal-related noise pollution, I’d say: Speak up sooner rather than later, before you get too sleep-deprived or frustrated and blow your top.
You can do it face-to-face. Saying something like “Hi, maybe you were not aware of it, but whenever your dog is left on the balcony, she barks at every person and dog walking by,” in a pleasant tone will suffice.
Depending on how your neighbour reacts, you could suggest a simple solution: “Would you mind keeping your dog indoors with the curtains drawn?” You can take it one step further by offering the owner a printout with tips on how to reduce noise levels in said species of pet.
Being Singaporeans, we much prefer adopting a non-confrontational approach, so an anonymous written note slipped into your neighbour’s mailbox might be the way to go.
As a last resort, you could always write to the authorities or your Member of Parliament. But that might mean the matter gets resolved later rather than sooner, given that they probably have dozens of other pressing matters to attend to.
Tracy Lee is a freelance writer based in Singapore who writes about food, travel, fashion and beauty.