No one bats an eye at a service animal like a dog helping someone who is visually impaired navigate a busy street or a local store. Cats are becoming commonplace at health care centers so patients can relax while they pet an animal. But therapy chickens? That apparently is too much for one Indiana town, and they are demanding that a Brownsburg mother get rid of her flock or face a hefty fine, despite the fact that those chickens have provided considerable support for her autistic son.
Sherri Frushon inadvertently discovered that the chickens — a silkie breed which are small, mostly flightless and have fine feathers that feel like the silk they are named after — might be the perfect therapy for her autistic son Anthony after she saw them at a local home and brought her son back to meet them. “He had just finished in home therapy,” Frushon told me. “The school was not offering any services and in home therapy had been discontinued. I kept looking around trying to find someone to help me, and nothing could help me. We passed by a house where we had chickens. I took Anthony over and immediately he sat down with these chickens. There was a total calmness in my son.” After researching chickens as therapy pets for those with autism, she knew this would be the best form of treatment available for her son, who also had anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) issues, too.
Frushon soon purchased four baby chicks and in May she brought them to their own home, where they lived in a run during the day and a dog crate in the house at night. Constant contact with the birds had immediate effect that went beyond simply calming her son, but helping him develop stronger social interactions, too. “My son has a limited amount of social skills, and what social skills he does have are focused on topics he is well versed in,” Frushon said in a press statement. “Since raising his chickens, my son has become more social by speaking to people about them. His chickens have also helped with life skills by encouraging him to take loving care of his birds, like feeding, bathing and spending time with his chickens daily.”
The chickens were helping Anthony, who Frushon said loved to pet them, care for them daily and treated them as both pets and best friends. But at the beginning of July, she was informed that Brownsburg had an ordinance forbidding any farm animals within the city limits, and Frushon was told her flock would have to go.
Frushon initially tried to comply with the town’s decision to force her to get rid of the chickens by taking them to a nearby farm. However, being separated from his beloved pets was less effective for Anthony as therapy, and the limited contact caused him to regress. For three days they had limited interaction, forced to drive 30 minutes in each direction to see the animals, as well as adhere to the schedule of the farmer hosting the birds. Frushon said that without the constant contact that comes from having his pets with him, he didn’t benefit in the way that he did when he had constant access. He began to not sleep and suffered more extensive symptoms of anxiety and OCD.
The city’s Director of Planning recently reached out, stating that he would sit down to speak with her about the future of the flock. “Until we can sit down and discuss all the options available and determine the best course of action the Town will not require you to remove your son’s chickens or enforce fines,” he wrote. ”If we’re not able to find a solution that permits your son’s chickens to remain under the Town’s regulations or through a variance process we will work with you to determine a reasonable timeframe to locate the chicken a suitable home.”
The solution, unfortunately, isn’t so simple. According to Frushon, the city is now asking her to pay a $3500 fee, submit a notice in the local paper saying she wants to obtain a variance to the zoning rule, and get all of her neighbors to sign a petition assenting to the chickens. This despite the fact that no neighbors have complained about the pets and, according to Frushon most of them don’t even know there are chickens on her property.
There is precedent to making exceptions to a local ordinance when the animals in question are part of a therapy program. In 2013, a Florida town unanimously allowed a young autistic boy to keep his own small flock as part of his ongoing treatment, citing it as “as a reasonable accommodation” for a disability. Since then, chickens have been recognized as an important therapy option for those on the autism spectrum. In fact, Anthony’s own chickens are registered as therapy animals, just as his dog is registered as the same.
Frushon is hoping that an outpouring of support will make the city decide similarly and allow Anthony to keep his chickens and not interfere in his therapy, just as they should with any treatment of an illness or assistance for a disability. With no complaints from the neighbors, no intentions to raise birds, no noise issues from the small flock, which Frushon says only makes small peeps like other birds and grow no larger than a can of soda, taking his therapy pets from him brings no benefit to the neighborhood, and can only hurt Anthony in the long run.
Please sign and share the petition urging the town of Brownsburg, Ind., to let Anthony keep his therapy chickens!
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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