Help preparing to face the town council

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by Constable Chicken, Jan 11, 2009.

  1. Constable Chicken

    Constable Chicken New Egg

    Jan 11, 2009
    This is a great board! I'd like to get some input while I write a letter to the town council, to be presented at their next meeting on the 20th. I live in western PA.

    Ordinance 1186 specifies, "It shall be unlawful to keep any animals, except household pets, within the Borough." Pets are defined as, "any dog, cat or other domestic animal normally and ordinarily kept in or permitted to be at large in the dwelling of its owner."

    The code enforcement officer and I had a nice conversation. He mentioned that plenty of people in town keep rabbits, and suggested I argue that the ordinance is vague, because it requires pets be kept "in a dwelling or yard..." Rabbits and hunting dogs would be examples of pets kept in the yard rather than the dwelling.

    So the thrust of the argument is that a few hens would be considered pets.

    For background, I don't have any chooks yet. I plan to get the town council to OK the idea first based on the existing ordinance if possible. Then I'll have ammunition if any neighbors complain about hens on any grounds except causing a nuisance, which I gather shouldn't be a problem.

    Any advice or suggestions? I'll post the letter here when I finish it.

    Last edited: Jan 20, 2009
  2. Constable Chicken

    Constable Chicken New Egg

    Jan 11, 2009
    January 11, 2009

    Town Council
    c/o X
    100 School Street
    Sometown, ST 12345

    Mr. X and Members of the Council,

    I respectfully request the Council consider and find that a small number of hens kept properly confined in their owners’ yard be deemed “household pets,” and therefore permitted to be kept per Borough Ordinance 1186.


    Across the country, urban and suburban areas are allowing small backyard flocks of hens. Major cities allowing hens as pets include New York City, Chicago, Lost Angeles, Miami, and Baltimore.

    Closer to home, the city of Pittsburgh allows up to five chickens to be kept, provided they are confined to a coop. Residents of Pittsburgh, Mt. Lebanon, and the South Hills, to name a few, are allowed to keep hens as backyard pets.

    Hens as Pets

    Owners of pet hens prize them for their tame, friendly and entertaining personalities, but also because they can play a part in a “greener” lifestyle. They naturally control insect pests, eat vegetable scraps, improve the lawn and even provide eggs for the table. Owners refer to their pets as “urban chickens” or “city chickens.”

    Ordinance 1186 is somewhat ambiguous on this point, and it’s for this reason that the Council’s opinion is sought. Section 1 of the ordinance defines a “household pet” to be “any dog, cat or other domestic animal normally kept in or permitted to be at large in the dwelling of its owner.” Section 3 specifies that, “All such pets shall be kept in a dwelling or yard owned or occupied by their owner.” Section 1 therefore appears to limit “household pets” to those pets living inside the house only; Section 3 clearly permits “household pets” to be kept in the yard, outside the house. In this Borough, pets such as rabbits and hunting dogs have routinely been kept outside the house and deemed consistent with ordinance 1186.

    Hens properly kept in a yard are comparable to rabbits in terms of care, and to both rabbits and hunting dogs in terms of housing. An adult hen will thrive in 4-8 square feet of pen, compared to about 7-10 square feet for a rabbit or 30-50 square feet for a hunting dog.

    It can be seen that “backyard hens” are pets rather than livestock from several points. First, the owner keeps hens only; keeping chickens as livestock would require a rooster for breeding. Secondly eggs produced by backyard hens, if any, would be used by the owners and not sold. Finally, the number of hens would be too small to constitute a profitable venture in either eggs or meat.

    Pet Hens Consistent with Ordinance 1186

    Section 3(A) requires the following:

    • All such pets shall be kept in a dwelling or yard owned or occupied by their owner. Hens kept as pets would be confined to a pen in their owners’ yard.

    • Such owner shall be required to… insure that no public nuisance be created or maintained… A small number of hens properly cared for as pets will create no public nuisance, whether noise disturbance, odor or other type of nuisance.

    • … and no threat to the health or safety of any person shall be created. Hens and chicks purchased as pets are subject to regulation at the Federal and State level to ensure that they pose no health risk. Proper care ensures that they pose no health or safety risk to any person.

    • At minimum, this requires that the animals be properly restrained… Hens kept as pets are kept in a pen that prevents them leaving their owners’ property or from interacting with visitors to the owners’ property.

    • … and that all litter and droppings be disposed of so that no health or odor problem is created. Responsible owners will meet this condition.

    Section 3(B) requires that, “No household pets shall be allowed on any property other than the owners’ dwelling.” Hens kept in a pen are unable to access any property other than their owners’.

    Section 4 forbids noise disturbances. Hens do not make noise often nor for prolonged periods, certainly less so than, e.g., dogs. Noise disturbances from chicken keeping are created by roosters; the petitioner expressly does not intend to keep a rooster and does not ask that roosters be considered pets pursuant to Ordinance 1186.

    Section 5 pertains to animal defecation on public and private property. In summary, it forbids pet owners allowing their pets to urinate or defecate on public property or on any private property other than the owner’s. Since pet hens are penned on the owners’ property, this would not be a concern.

    Section 6 requires that the pet owner is responsible for proper disposal of animal waste from a “nuisance” as defined in Section 5. Since pet hens are penned on their owners’ property, this would not be a concern.

    Section 7 concerns dogs accompanying blind or handicapped persons, and is not applicable.

    Section 8 lays out penalties for violations of this ordinance. They would apply to pet hens equally as any other household pet.

    Section 9 repeals prior ordinances conflicting with Ordinance 1186.

    Section 10 concerns severability of the terms of this ordinance. The request under review is consistent with this section: it is requested that the definition of “household pets” be recognized to include “outside” pets including rabbits, hens and hunting dogs. All other portions of the ordinance remain unchanged, as if the ordinance were originally worded to include these “outside” pets.

    Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

    Last edited: Jan 20, 2009
  3. vermontgal

    vermontgal Chillin' With My Peeps

    Hi Constable,

    I grew up in Plum Borough, across the river. I could see the big red & white smokestack in Springdale from my window. I had cousins who lived in Springdale.

    Good for you for jumping into improving your chicken laws!!

    Overall, I think your number one thing is that you need to make it "safe" for them to say yes. Consider what this means... not sticking their necks out. They will be sticking their necks out less if they know about other places, similar to Springdale, where this has worked.

    I have a couple questions for you.

    Why is this going up to the council? Did the code enforcement officer have an opinion or "ruling"? Are they going to have any staff give their opinions about it? If the staff is going to recommend against, you have an uphill battle. Do you know any members of the city council well enough to broach this in advance of the meeting, to get their read on it? Or if the council is representing certain areas of town, call the one who is in your area, to let them know that this issue is coming before them, briefly explain the concept, and ask if they have any advice for you before you take it before the full council. Asking any elected official for "their advice" is usually helpful to getting some useful information. If they are dead opposed, you will learn that. If they are sympathetic, you may get a good inside scoop.

    If you had a good rapport with the code person, you might ask what their opinion is of the matter, see if you can know whether you will have to overcome staff opposition? Ask the staffer if he or she will be at the meeting, or who else might speak to this issue there?

    Make it safe for them to say yes. Let them know that this is not a radical idea, and that you are not the only person who has thought of this!

    You might want to incorporate into your letter a list of places where chickens are currently permitted, that are similar in population density and community mores as Springdale. (or maybe just one tiny notch more "upscale" -- a community that Springdale might look up to? ) I don't really know what Springdale is like as a community, but you could describe it on here, and some people might be able to give you examples of similar towns where chickens are permitted. Even better if chickens are permitted in other similar towns in the Pittsburgh area.

    Something like "Across the country, urban and suburban areas are allowing small backyard chicken flocks. Some examples of cities that allow chickens, include Portland Oregon -- (see list on )

    Have you talked to your neighbors? If you can stand up in the meeting and say that you've talked to your neighbors, and they don't have objections, or that they are willing to let you try the idea, then that strengthens your case. If you have a neighbor who is opposed, quite honestly I think you should tell the neighbor about the meeting, and offer to discuss his or her concerns in advance. If the neighbor comes to the meeting, you should be prepared to know what he or she - or any other opposing neighbors - would say, and be prepared to politely listen to and tactfully counter their concerns.

    Do you know any other folks in Springdale who are chicken-interested? If so, take them to the meeting! It is much much better to show up as even 3-4 households, than as just one. I'd ask around through any social networks you have - school, church, soccer group, whatever. See if anyone else is interested in keeping chickens, and ask them to come to the meeting with you. They don't have to speak, except briefly to introduce themselves. They can say "I'm interested in the idea of keeping chickens" but they wouldn't have to commit to it or stick their necks out. Additional warm (human) bodies with you at this meeting will help. The more the better.

    I would also suggest to take in photocopies of 1-2 articles in VERY mainstream media talking about backyard chickens. I think Backyard chickens was recently in USA Today, and there was also an article in Newsweek in November. Even better if there's an example from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - in which case I would take 1 national and 1 from the PG.

    Take a small packet including copies of your letter, a list of a few cities and a few more suburban areas - nationally and locally - that allow chickens (NOTE that the list on the website above also includes places that do not allow chickens, so do not just cut and paste. Be selective.), and these news clips.

    Take enough copies for the number of council members, plus enough for any friends you have recruited to the meeting, a few in case there are folks opposed, and perhaps 5-6 for staffers. Sometimes one copy needs to go into the official record.

    Consider what will happen if they say "no". My suggestion is, if they say "no" to chickens under the current pets ordinance, to ask them to consider writing a poultry-specific ordinance, and ask the code enforcement (or other staffer) for their help with this.
    Also, if they say no, you could consider asking for their advice as to whether you could seek a variance from the current ordinance on perhaps a "trial" basis. You would probably work with the code enforcement officer, or another staffer, on the details.. Consider what other options the council might have that would be acceptable to you, but less than what you ideally want (= blanket permission under the current ordinance without a whole lot of run-around!).

    Hope this helps. I'm sure others on here will be very helpful, too. Now, wish me luck with my local planning commission tomorrow night for some bicycle infrastructure improvements!

  4. chickenpiedpiper

    chickenpiedpiper Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 4, 2008
    New Durham NH
    You might also consider, if you have the available resources, bringing a pet type chicken with you to the meeting. Properly caged, and of a personality that you can, after the meeting, take the bird out and let people meet her. Most people have never really been close to a chicken, and may assume that all chickens make Rooster like noises all the time! Being in the presence of a sweetly cooing/clucking hen, maybe even getting to pet her, may sway people more than you know, and will certainly make a positive impression.

    If you can get your hands on a silkie, that would really wow thier socks off! Make sure the cage has a wire bottom, so any stinkies fall into clean shavings, (and for this one instance, possibly cedar shavings might be in order? not where she can reach them, but where they will hide the smell?) use an open cage, so she can watch and participate, and prove her point that she is not noisy or offensive!

    I think your letter of proposal is intelligent and well thought out, and I hope you have good luck with it. I also think the previous respondants advice is very sound, and you would be wise to try it!

    Good Luck, and keep us posted!
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  5. Constable Chicken

    Constable Chicken New Egg

    Jan 11, 2009
    Thanks for your responses! I've edited the letter in post #2.

    Why this is coming before the council... well, that's related to why I haven't consulted the neighbors (yet?). One of my neighbors is the cranky sort--calls the cops on barking dogs, though he has barking dogs of his own; that sort of thing. If I got hens without the solid backing of the Borough, he's liable to complain and bring the matter before the council in a negative light, disposing them to refuse.

    So I'm asking them up front whether it's permitted by the ordinances. If it is, I'm not that worried about the neighbor. He might complain, but he always complains about everything. From all I've read, he wouldn't have a legitimate complaint. Depending on breed, etc., hens are quiet, and moving the "chicken tractor" around the yard should improve the grass without generating a smell problem.

    But... y'all have a point, so I may raise the subject with him.

    I'm still tracking down some mainstream publications on backyard flocks to print and include in the package.

    Bringing a hen would be a tall order, since I don't know anyone with chickens around here.
  6. Chicken7777

    Chicken7777 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 10, 2008
    North Jersey
    That is a great letter constable....I KNOW you'll WIN!!!
    Is it just yourself who is trying to get this changed or have you been able to recruit as much people to help the law makers work on this?

    With that letter you should be able to win, that is a great letter. I myself and a couple of others are also doing the same thing trying to change some laws regarding the keeping of poultry in residential areas here in Orlando, fl. I have been able to recruit some people but hopefully when it is time to make the letter to present to them personally I hope i can make a letter as great as yours......

    Good luck! and if you need any help(sending some emails to those authorities, etc) i would love to be of assistance to such great cause....
  7. vermontgal

    vermontgal Chillin' With My Peeps

    Hi Constable - I realized that you did include towns and cities with chickens in your letter. [​IMG] Sorry I missed that (or maybe you added it?). Mt. Lebanon, eh? Interesting. That's a good example. Is that regardless of density in Mt. Lebanon? How many chickens do they let you keep there? What other towns in the Pgh area? They might ask you questions like that. You'll be their expert! [​IMG]

    Hmm... potential cranky neighbor... tough one. Good luck figuring out how you want to deal with him!

    For me, it's legal in my city to have as many chickens as I want, including roosters, as long as they are kept in an enclosure. I could have gotten chickens without any legal problem. But, because I live in a very tight neighborhood, I checked in with my immediate neighbors before I got the chickens. If everyone in the neighborhood had chickens (the way everyone has a dog), I would not have done this. It was important to me to maintain good neighbor relations. One neighbor, not an immediate neighbor, I did not check in with, and she later expressed some minor concern about the chickens because she was surprised to see them there. She did ask me if I needed a permit to keep them. (No, but interesting that she asked.)

    On the other hand, you could follow the more "legal" track... in which case I would ask... Does your cranky neighbor have the ear of anyone on the council? If the cranky neighbor is that cranky -- then does the town council know that he's cranky? That would change the dynamic of what happens if he attends the meeting. In that case, in particular, I would let him know it is going to be taken up. But I again suggest that you take along at least a couple normal, sane, non-cranky supporters so that you are the sane, rational chicken-loving people [​IMG] vs. the town complainer. Even then, listen politely and tactfully counter.

    I would also suggest to practice your message. Everytime you say the word chicken, make sure it has the word pet in front of it. Alternate these two: "pet chickens" and "hens". Practice it as you talk about this project with friends and neighbors.

    Also, Constable Chicken, I have to let you know if you don't already, that some people do keep chickens in the house. Look up "chicken diaper" and see what you find. Get yourself a silkie, and you can keep her in the house at least occasionally and meet that part of the ordinance, too! (On the other hand, silkies are less useful for eggs...)

    You might also want to mention that people name their pet chickens, just like you would a dog - mine are Liz, Sam, Sarah, and Liona - but Liz is my favorite!!

    Good luck!

    PS. Are you really a constable? I guess that would also affect your relationship with your barking-dog neighbor and your town council!
  8. Constable Chicken

    Constable Chicken New Egg

    Jan 11, 2009
    Vermontgal, I live straight up the hill from that red and white smokestack. In fact I just caught the bus standing practically next to it.

    I found one good article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I don't know if it's "VERY" mainstream, but it's the biggest paper in this local area, so it should pack some punch.
  9. vermontgal

    vermontgal Chillin' With My Peeps

    The Tribune-Review is perfect! Did they really publish that article just on Saturday? It's like they gifted to you! [​IMG] Or maybe that is how you ended up on here? [​IMG]

    If you can find a copy of the real newspaper, somehow I find that the original newspaper article (vs the website) feels more "real" to people. Often smaller to copy, too.

    Let us know how it goes!
  10. rozmiarek

    rozmiarek Out Of The Brooder

    Oct 22, 2007
    Worthington, OH
    This is a great thread, Constable. Good luck with your efforts. I will be going in front of my own town Council this Tuesday, also hoping to convince them that domestic chickens are pets and should be regulated as such.

    The only bit of advice I've gotten from city council memebers is that I specifically should not bring any chickens to the meeting. They called that, "grandstanding." Pictures of the chickens interacting peacefully and cleanly in your yard are great, as are neighbors who are willing to attend the meeting and attest that your birds are not a nuciance. But realize that most people do not keep chickens as pets, and do not want to. Bringing a bird to the meeting my actually validate some concerns that allowing chickens in the backyard will lead to their intrusive presence throughout town.

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