DeBary family fights to keep chickens for autistic son

Hart family says chickens are therapeutic for 2-year-old JJ

By Julie Broughton - Anchor

DeBARY, Fla. - A DeBary family got a temporary reprieve on Wednesday after violating the county code by keeping chickens in their backyard that they use for therapy for their autistic son.

The Hart family built a chicken coop in the spring after a doctor suggested the animals would be therapeutic for their autistic son. The Harts appeared before the DeBary Code Enforcement Board to argue their case on Wednesday night.

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.

"It was kind of a breakthrough, like he actually reacts to the chickens and makes noises we couldn't get him to make ourselves," Joe said.

JJ's mother, Ashleigh, explained that the benefit of the chickens is actually two fold.  Not only does the interaction with birds help improve his confidence and social skills, but the eggs fit with the natural, organic diet recommended by his physician.

The Harts tell Local 6 they were surprised when they learned an anonymous complaint had been made about the chickens. Representatives from the city tell us the Harts live in an area zoned for residential purposes, and agriculture, including chickens, is prohibited.

The code enforcement board found on Wednesday night that the Harts are in violation of code and the board recommended the city council make an exception in the case and change the code.

Joe Hart said he worries what JJ's reaction will be if the chickens are forced to go.

"I don't really know how he will react and if he will continue talking or if he will go back to his inner self," Joe said.

The family has 60 days to go before the city council without being fined the $250 per day as required by the board. The chickens will be able to stay for the time being, the family tells Local 6.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

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