A Florida town has ordered an autistic Florida boy to relinquish the pet chickens his parents say have transformed him from a troubled little boy given to harming himself into a vibrant and happy preschooler.
The DeBary City Council last week reportedly voted 3-to-2 to abolish on Dec. 31 a one-year trial program allowing residents to maintain chicken coops – and up to three chickens -- in their backyards.
The council instituted the program after 3-year-old J.J. Hart’s father, Joe, had asked permission to keep the chickens after researching animal therapy for children with autism, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
"He's now doing amazing," J.J.’s mother, Ashleigh Hart, told the Florida newspaper. "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."
“I'm definitely not looking forward to it."
- Joe Hart
"A lot of people with autism have self-harming tendencies," Joe Hart told WOFL FOX 35. "J.J. used to pull his hair out and throw his head back to the ground. The chickens taught him to be calm."
Only one additional application beyond the Harts’ was reportedly submitted in DeBary to keep chickens – from a woman who wanted to use them for eggs.
Mayor Bob Garcia was reportedly among the two elected officials who voted in favor of keeping the chickens.
"If we make laws that take away rights of individuals, especially children, those laws should be abolished," Garcia told WOFL. "We should be protecting the rights of individuals, not suppressing them."
But Councilman Nick Koval, who voted against the chickens, said they don’t belong in residential areas.
“It's unfortunate, and I sympathize," Koval told The Sentinel. "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."
The Harts reportedly have hired an attorney to fight the council’s decision, but their lives have been thrown in limbo.
"We're really not sure what we're going to do now," Joe Hart reportedly said. "He was doing so well with the chickens, and now they're telling us that we can't have them anymore."
Added J.J.’s father, who has not yet told his son about the town’s decision he give up the chickens by the end of the month: “I'm definitely not looking forward to it."