STOCKTON — Among Kitty Ruhstaller’s most cherished family members are the two hens who have ruled the roost for the past year at the midtown Stockton home she shares with her husband, former San Joaquin County Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller.
Kitty Ruhstaller, a 71-year-old real-estate agent, got her hens a year ago so they could be a part of her “organic urban garden.”
But it’s not all about the garden. And it’s not all about the eggs.
“The eggs are a bonus,” Ruhstaller said. “The (hens) talk to us in the morning.”
The hens go “cluck, cluck, cluck,” she said, but if they could have spoken Thursday morning, they might have reminded Ruhstaller that she needed to hurry to court to defend their honor.
On March 14, Ruhstaller received a citation from Stockton Animal Control for being in violation of city code 6.04.420, which deems it foul for any fowl to live in a home under the guise of being a household pet. The fine is $430, plus proof the violation has been corrected.
Not surprisingly, Ruhstaller thinks code 6.04.420 is a turkey.
So she dug deep into city documents and found a second code, 6.04.440, which bans roosters and cockerels (roosters with a fancier name) as unacceptable household pets, but makes no reference to forbidding others.
Ruhstaller’s arraignment on the citation was Thursday morning before Commissioner John Soldati at San Joaquin County Superior Court. She did not dodge her culpability for violating the first code, but she also pointed out the second code’s contradiction.
“I don’t have cockerels or roosters,” said Ruhstaller, who is handling her own defense. “I do not think I’m in violation.”
Attorney Angel Solis, representing the city, agreed Thursday to reduce the charge against Ruhstaller from a misdemeanor to an infraction, but the defendant wasn’t satisfied.
And so, the city and Ruhstaller are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, with a trial date set for Sept. 13. Ruhstaller also said she plans to bring the matter to the City Council.
This all started, Ruhstaller said, because someone unknown to her ratted her out over her chicken coop. The informant clearly knew nothing of the century-old sentiment that shunning hens is unpatriotic.
“Uncle Sam Expects You To Keep Hens and Raise Chickens,” read an advertisement in the February 1918 edition of the American Poultry Advocate. “Two Hens in the Back Yard for Each Person in the House Will Keep a Family in Fresh Eggs … In Time of Peace a Profitable Recreation. In Time of War a Patriotic Duty.”
Hens are badly misunderstood, Ruhstaller said. The idiom “mad as a wet hen” does not apply to her fowl, named Aunt Tena (the nickname of Larry Ruhstaller’s mother) and Jet (after Kitty’s mother, whose maiden name was Getaine).
“You can say, ‘Hi girls, hi beauties,’ and they’ll let you pet them,” Kitty Ruhstaller said.
Though still lacking the city’s approval, the hens have passed the crucial smell test performed by the Ruhstallers’ wire fox terrier, named Captain Frank Ruhstaller.
“Captain Frank is their protector,” Ruhstaller wrote in a PowerPoint presentation on her “organic urban backyard.”
“He will no longer eat chicken because he helped raise the girls from week-old chicks.”
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.