Mom defends ‘therapy’ chickens

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, August 21, 2018

By Dale Wolf

Staff writer

A mother addressed the Windsor Town Council on behalf of her four children and their five chickens, pets which she said are particularly helpful to her son who has a diagnosed disorder.

Catherine Daley requested an extension on a violation notice stating that she was breaking an ordinance that prohibits chickens in her zoning district. The notice, which had a deadline of Aug. 21, was issued in response to a complaint that Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings acknowledged via e-mail was lodged by “someone in her neighborhood.”

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“All of these young men are Boy Scouts,” Daley said of her sons, who range in age from 6 to 12. In a later e-mail, she declined to specify the disorder one of them has. “When he has an episode,” she told the Council, “he runs outside and three minutes later you can see him on the swings holding a chicken, talking to her and checking for the eggs. He has found this a great therapy to him. It calms him.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Her son was referred to horse therapy, but it was too expensive. 

“We were happy when we found that our chickens can be somewhat similar therapy to him right at his home,” said Daley. The family also has two dogs.

That happiness ran into trouble when the notice of violation arrived.

“I had no idea I was doing anything wrong,” Daley said.

Her diagnosed son is not her only child to derive benefits from the chickens. All of her children helped build the coop. They learned about the needs of chickens, learned about how to shield them from predators, dug holes for a protective cloth, and helped with waterproofing, she said.

The family has two Sapphire Gems, one Rhode Island Red, one Salmon Faverolle named after Scuttle from Disney’s hit 1989 film “The Little Mermaid,” and one Americana. They have no roosters, only hens, said Daley.

Daley noted that her boys are “taught in schools and in Scouting about the importance of agriculture and farming. … They’re taught to eat fresh, not processed. But they cannot practice the most simple and small part of that in their own home on a very small scale.” Daley compared the ordinance to telling children to eat their veggies, but at the same time outlawing gardens.

According to Stallings, Daley’s property is zoned R-1 Single Family Residential, which means farm animals are not allowed. “The definition of farm animals in our zoning ordinance includes chickens,” said Stallings.

“I’m not asking for anything beyond a simple compromise,” Daley told the Council. “In a world of video games and Pop-Tarts, what message are you going to send to my boys?” She requested an extension to keep the chickens until she can build a coop for them “at my home in Chesapeake, where they’re allowed, or until this issue is examined further.”

Daley’s remarks were followed by more than 20 minutes of debate as the Council considered how best to resolve the situation.

“This is going to be hard on this child if they have to drive to Chesapeake to calm him down,” noted Councilwoman Patty Flemming, countering the idea that the matter be resolved through leniency while the chickens are relocated.

Councilman Walter Bernacki suggested an ordinance revision, which would require a public hearing.

At the very least, Daley will be contacted regarding an extension. “We do that with everybody,” said Mayor Rita Richardson.

Richardson said last year that residential chickens were one of the most divisive issues to come before the Town Council. 

The Town Council had voted against allowing hens on low density residential lots after previously approving them for lots zoned agricultural and of five acres or more. 

Opponents cited the possibility of disease, smells and depressed property values, while others touted their value as a learning tool for children.    {/mprestriction}