The Hill District rooster is on his way to St. Louis.
But the famous fowl didn’t leave Pittsburgh without repeatedly evading capture this weekend — his speciality —and even disappearing for a little while on Sunday morning.
The rooster has been in the news for months, most recently when District Judge Oscar Petite Jr. ordered his capture and set the date for Nov. 19.
It’s as if the rooster knew that, too.
Somehow, the bird managed to avoid Frank Cantone, the St. Louis rooster man who volunteered to catch him, as well as a group of local and national reporters on Saturday and again Sunday morning. The rooster didn’t even fall for a local hen named Hillary Rodham Chicken that was borrowed to lure him.
But Cantone persisted. He returned to Wylie Avenue and Roberts Street several times on Sunday. And in the late afternoon, he caught the rooster — but not without having to chase the bird a few blocks first.
Cantone, who runs a chicken rescue, told The Incline it was one of the most difficult captures he’s ever done.
The rescue begins
For the last few months, Henry Gaston, the owner of the Hill District lot the rooster called home, has been in and out of court as Petite repeatedly threatened to fine Gaston if the rooster wasn’t caught. (Roosters aren’t allowed in the city.)
The judge, city officials and Gaston have gone back and forth about ways to catch the rooster, and earlier this month, Cantone offered a plan.
Cantone’s love for the birds motivated him to do so. He said he was willing to drive hundreds of miles to save any chicken’s life and to allow the bird to live out its days at his St. Louis Chicken Rescue.
The bird — likely a former fighting rooster who is about one or two years old, according to Cantone — goes by several names: the Hill District rooster, Rudy, the wily rooster on Wylie Avenue. Previous attempts to catch him have failed.
Neighbors doubted it was possible. But Cantone was confident and came prepared with a plan: catch the rooster at night because chickens have poor night vision.
On Saturday, Cantone pulled up to the corner of Wylie Avenue and Roberts Street just before dark with his two assistants (his daughters Lindsey, 12, and Felicity, 10). A gaggle of reporters and TV cameras were waiting.
Cantone has taken on other cases, saving nearly ten chickens in various locations. This rescue garnered the most media attention by far, he said.
People don’t think about this, but chickens can be abused as pets, he said. Chicks are given as Easter gifts, but when they grow up people just dump them outside, Cantone said.
The chase and the victory
“He’s watching,” Cantone told reporters Saturday evening as the search began.
With a flashlight, Canton shined a light into the tree where the rooster is known to sleep.
“Come out with your hands up, or with your wings up,” he called in his New Jersey accent.
The trio set to work, but everything they tried, the rooster just went higher and higher in the tree.
Seeing the TV trucks, passersby slowed their cars. Some assumed the worst. “Is something happening in our neighborhood?” a person said.
Others knew exactly why the trucks were there. “Don’t bother our rooster!” another cried.
Eventually, the rooster was so high in the tree (about 100 feet up, according to Cantone) that Cantone said it was impossible to reach him without a ladder. This was an unusual development, he added.
Still determined, Cantone decided morning would be better.
But on Sunday, Rudy was nowhere to be found.
What could have happened? It was especially odd that he was so quiet even though he was out of sight, Cantone said.
Theories started to fly between reporters, Cantone and others.
Was someone harboring him? Not likely, but Cantone did say it would be easy to lure him into a garage with food.
Was he dead? He was very high in the tree, so he could have been scooped up by a hawk or another predator. It was possible, but a neighbor reported seeing him at 8 a.m. and showed Cantone photos.
Other neighbors defended the rooster, saying they hadn’t seen a thing.
So Cantone waited and waited — and eventually succeeded late Sunday afternoon, he told The Incline by phone.
The Hill District rooster will now live out his days with the Cantone family — and with his own Facebook page to stay in touch with the people of Pittsburgh, Cantone said.
“I told you I wasn’t going to leave without him and that’s what I did,” he said.