Feathers fly in dispute over a pet chicken in Petoskey
By Noah Fowle
Look what a rooster has undone.
The growth of the urban agriculture movement may make hens more popular and acceptable as household pets, but the same cannot be said for their male counterparts. Just ask Sharon and Andy Peters, a Northern Michigan couple in the midst of a lengthy court battle over their pet rooster, Beaker.
The product of a late hatch from a 2007 kindergarten class project, Beaker came to his familys home in Bear Creek Township more out of necessity than the Peters desire to keep a pet chicken. With a lame foot, poor eyesight and barely enough strength to lift his own head to eat, it was clear that Beaker would not survive amongst his brethren and so Sharon gave him a home, nursing him to health. The Peters, along with their dog and cat, bonded with Beaker, and soon he was just another member of the brood.
Im a bird hunter, Andy said. Im the last one you would expect to have a pet chicken.
But even as an adult, Sharon said Beakers physical ailments prevented him from functioning on a farm like a normal rooster.
Hes a special needs chicken, she said.
All was well with the family, until a series of anonymous complaints were logged with Emmet County officials last year. A zoning ordinance enforcement officer conducted an investigation and determined that by keeping a farm animal as a pet, the Peters were in fact running a domestic farm in a residential zoned neighborhood.
The Peters claim their neighbors have never spoken to them face-to-face about their grievances over Beaker except when the two parties appeared at an August zoning board of appeals meeting. The Peters paid the standard $200 appearance and first requested a reinterpretation of the ordinance. That request was unanimously voted down and so to was their subsequent request for a variance dropping the two-acre requirement for a domestic farm. By the end of the meeting, Sharon was in tears, and Andy and one of his neighbors had exchanged some heated words.
But the fight was far from over and the Peters prepared for their day in court where they planned to contest their $100 citation. While the Peters could not gain support from within the county, support from the surrounding community swelled behind them. Editorials and letters-to-the-editor championed Beaker and his family in the local paper, and Andy amassed a few hundred signatures after posting a series of petitions in local businesses.
But on August 26, the sentiment for Beaker that permeated the Petoskey area did not find its way into the courtroom. Because the trial only concerned whether the Peters were in violation of the ordinance or not by running a domestic farm, Judge Richard May barred testimony from the neighbors that the bird was a nuisance. However, that victory was short lived.
Personally, Id like to find a way to rule in favor of the Peters, Judge Richard May said. But the law requires I rule the other way.
Despite that decision, the Peters went before the Emmet County Board of Commissioners the next month and finally received their first victory. After more than an hour of discussion that at times devolved into little more than a shouting match, the board directed its civil counsel Kathleen Abbott to seek a compromise between the two parties.
Although the offended neighbors declined repeated requests for comment, following that board meeting they called some of the commissioners to detail their complaints.
In November, Abbott returned to the board of commissioners and in a written statement explained, [The neighbors] advised they did not wish to see the case settled and wished to see the court order entered directing removal of the Peters pet rooster from the property in accordance with Judge Mays August 26 decision.
Although the Peters offered to impose a regimented time as to when Beaker was allowed outside, the board sent the issue back to the courts.
We had outlined a plan of care that was least intrusive to our neighbors, what hours Beaker would be outside. A half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening, Sharon said. And they didnt even care, they didnt want to see it, they didnt want to deal with it.
An order was entered on Nov. 4 and the Peters have 21-days to bring their property under compliance with the ordinance.
COMPLAINTS OVER CROWING
If you had a rooster in the house that nobody could hear that wouldnt be a problem, but thats not the case. Its outside and crowing and the neighbors are complaining, the boards chairman Jim Tamlyn said. The thing about zoning is it protects you from your neighbor and your neighbor from you. And it worked here.
Abbott explained that should the Peters fail to follow the judges order, the county will not take any sort of action against them to remove the bird. Nor would there be any reason to euthanize Beaker. But despite his role as a pet within the home, Abbott said the Peters were responsible for bringing their property into compliance by ridding it of Beaker.
Were not without some compassion or concern for the Peters position, but we have an ordinance on the books and it is our obligation to enforce that, she said.
In the mean time, both the Peters and one of their neighbors are currently trying to sell their homes. The Peters also plan to either appeal the original decision or seek a re-determination in the case. Despite fielding multiple offers to provide for Beaker on a traditional farm, Sharon and Andy remain steadfast that they do not intend to give up their pet rooster, no matter who tells them to.
Ill keep him indoors 24 hours a day, Andy said. And Ill see what the law has to say about that.