DeBary family may sue to keep autistic boy's chickens

Family tells Local 6 they believe someone killed chickens

The Hart family holds a news conference.
The Hart family holds a news conference.

DeBARY, Fla. – A DeBary family whose autistic son's pet chickens were decapitated over the weekend say they plan to fight the city council to keep the chickens.

The Hart family and their attorney, Mark Nation told Local 6 at a news conference on Wednesday that they do not believe that the four chickens may have been decapitated by an animal, as police reported.

The Hart family built a chicken coop in the spring after a doctor suggested the animals would be therapeutic for their son, JJ. According to Joe Hart, 2-year-old JJ's father, JJ's vocabulary and social skills both improved after bringing home the chickens. And after nearly two years of not talking, JJ began crowing, imitating the birds.

The Harts said they believe an animal couldn't get in the coop and they would have eaten more. They say they think it was someone trying to hurt the family and JJ. They have asked neighbors to check their surveillance cameras to see if anyone can be seen entering the property and beheading the chickens.

The Harts told Local 6 they had to keep JJ out of the coop to keep him from realizing the chickens were gone.

"He would get upset and would scream and cry wanting to go outside to see them," said JJ's mother, Ashleigh Hart.

The family and attorney will be at the Nov. 7 city council meeting arguing why they believe they haven't violated the code and will ask the council to allow the chickens under one of the exemptions provided by the ordinance. The Harts are allowed to keep the chickens in the meantime.

"There is no violation of their city code at all," Nation said. "There is no rule in the city of DeBary that prohibits people from having pet chickens if that's what these were-they're therapeutic chickens."

They are also appealing the code enforcement board's finding of violation. If those two avenues fail, the family says they plan to sue the city under both Florida and the Federal Fair Housing Act that requires municipalities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Watch Local 6 for more on this story.