Two weeks ago, a family in DeBary, Florida, woke up to find that four of the chickens they kept in their backyard had been beheaded.
These weren’t just any chickens, but the “ducks” of the family’s two-year-old son, J.J.Hart. J.J. is autistic; the family had first gotten the chickens to provide him with fresh eggs, but the little boy developed a special connection with the eleven chickens and has started talking since having them. He calls the chickens “ducks” perhaps because, if you’re just learning to talk, “ducks” is far easier to say.
I’m speculating about this; my teenage son is autistic and has severe speech and communication delays. I’m not speculating to say that the overnight loss of anyone or anything to an autistic child can be, to understate the matter, catastrophic. Change is exceedingly difficult for many autistic individuals to process and all the more when it happens abruptly. Though J.J. can talk, he may not (also keeping mind his very young age) understand verbal explanations of what happened.
A police investigation concluded that an animal had beheaded the two hens and two chicks and noted that some bite marks were found on the animals. But the Harts object, as Wired magazine explains:
At the scene of the crime, there was were two concrete blocks and a piece of wood by the coop door, that the family claims they did not put there. So, either a very sophisticated animal moved a concrete block and a piece of wood over to the door to prop it open or a human with no heart put it there when they arrived to behead the innocent poultry.
The Harts face another hurdle to keep J.J.’s much-loved, and needed, “ducks.” Wired says that the city of DeBary has proclaimed the chickens a “public nuisance” as they are illegal in a residential neighborhood and ruled that the Harts are violating the law. Via a public order dated October 10, the city said that the chickens were illegal because “livestock/farm animals are not permitted in single-family residential zoning.”
Councilman Nick Koval also tells the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the chickens could spread salmonella and histoplasmosis. “We have to look at it as a whole. I have nothing against this boy,” says Koval.
After reviewing all the codes, the Harts say that none mention chickens specifically; neighbors tell Wired that they are not bothered by the chickens. Despite all this, the Harts have been notified that, if they do not get rid of the chickens by December 9 and become in “compliance” with the city’s codes or make a plea before the City Council, they will be fined $100 a day that they still have the chickens on their property. The city has granted the Harts a 60-day grace period before they have to start paying the fines.
The Harts have decided to make a plea on November 7th, 2012 at 7 pm, ahead of the December deadline, as noted on a Facebook page for J.J.. They have hired a lawyer, Mark Nation, who contends that the city’s Land Development Code is “vague” and who has also cited the federal and state Fair Housing Acts. Due to J.J.’s disability, the city must make “required to make reasonable accommodations,” says Nation.
J.J.’s mother, Ashleigh Hart, expressed simple disbelief that “something like this is happening” and noted that she had expected help, not hassles (and legal ones) from city officials.
There have been numerous accounts of animals, including therapy dogs, helping autistic children and children with disabilities learn to socialize and to deal with their anxieties and even health issues thanks to contact with animals. To J.J., all this talk of codes and regulations must be simply beside the point. The chickens have been far more than a source of eggs for him; they are pets, companions and friends. Having already lost four chickens, must he lose the remaining seven? Given the specifics of J.J.’s case, could some compromise not be reached?
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