The Hart family found a way to help their autistic toddler through animal therapy, specifically with pet chickens. Now, their local city council in DeBary, Florida – fully aware of the boy's condition and treatment – is telling the family that they have to get rid of their pets.
The Harts discovered the transformative effect chickens had on their son, J.J., last year. The boy previously experienced long bouts of silence and fits of anger. J.J.'s mother, Ashleigh, told the Orlando Sentinel about the positive effects the birds have had on her son, "he's now going to a new preschool, and he's able to communicate much better. And it all has to do with the chickens. He plays with them. He cuddles with them. And he runs around the yard with them. … It's made a tremendous difference."
The city initially cited them for a code violation, but the Harts petitioned to be allowed to keep their pets and DeBary city council began a pilot program. The city allowed chickens, though required a permit. Reports indicate that the Harts and one other household, which was raising the chickens for eggs, participated in program.
Yet, the council voted last week 3-2 to yank away residents' privilege to care for these animals. Mayor Bob Garcia was among the dissenting voices. He expressed to Fox News his view that "if we make laws that take away rights of individuals, especially children, those laws should be abolished. We should be protecting the rights of individuals, not suppressing them."
Council member Nick Koval saw the situation differently. "I sympathize," he assured, "but, we spend a lot of time and money establishing codes and ordinances for the protection of the citizens and taxpayers of this community. And I believe that they [chickens] belong in agricultural areas."
While some government officials insist that the flightless birds harm the community, how much harm could the ban do to this child?
"It could be devastating to him," Dr. Emily Forrest, who specializes in autism, explained that "children with autism are extremely sensitive to changes in their lives." Forrest added, "it's really sad for him that he has to stop because of a city ordinance."