Autistic boy will likely be allowed to keep chickens

Family says chickens keep their 2-year-old calm

DeBARY, Fla. - The DeBary city council preliminarily passed an ordinance Wednesday night allowing some residents to keep pet chickens on their property, including the family of an autistic boy.

"I'm amazed. Thankful. Grateful," said Ashleigh Hart, who believes the chickens are therapeutic for her 2-year-old JJ. "It shows you Debary is a great small town with people that actually care."

The family originally purchased the chickens to provide organic eggs for their son's diet. But they soon discovered the birds calmed their autistic son and made him more social.

Last month, after city officials received an anonymous complaint about the Hart's chickens, the DeBary Code Enforcement Board determined the family was in violation of an ordinance prohibiting livestock and farm animals on residential property. The Harts were given 60 days to remove the chickens or face fines.

"We've got laws. We're gonna get in trouble if we don't go by the laws we have written," said city councilman Dan Hunt.

On Wednesday night, the city council refused to make a special exception for JJ, despite the family attorney's belief the city was violating federal laws requiring reasonable accommodations to be made for the disabled.

However, unbeknownst to the family ahead of time, Hunt introduced a new ordinance that would allow up to three chickens on a single-family residential property with a permit. The ordinance, based on a similar one in Orlando, passed unanimously upon first reading. A public hearing and final vote on the proposed ordinance will be held December 5.

JJ Hart's father, who still believes he was never in violation of city code, is hopeful the final ordinance will allow more than three chickens. "Right now it means we have to get rid of seven chickens," he said. "(JJ) is not going to like the fact we're missing chickens."

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