Chicken own­ers rise up as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser aims to ban back­yard fowl in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY PETER JAMI­SON peter.jami­son@wash­ Aaron C. Davis con­trib­uted to this re­port.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is seek­ing to put an end to her city’s tol­er­ance of an agrar­ian hobby that has taken hold in cities across the coun­try: rais­ing chick­ens.

In a raft of leg­isla­tive changes at­tached to her pend­ing bud­get pro­posal, Bowser (D) pro­poses al­ter­ations to the Dis­trict’s an­i­mal-con­trol laws that would defini­tively ban the prac­tice of keep­ing back­yard chick­ens in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

The move comes af­ter city of­fi­cials suf­fered a de­feat last year at the hands of a pair of chicken-rais­ing an­titrust lawyers who live in Chevy Chase and who sued the Dis­trict when the Depart­ment of Health warned them to re­move the birds.

The lit­i­ga­tion — which cen­tered on am­bi­gu­i­ties in D.C.’s An­i­mal Con­trol Act con­cern­ing the le­gal sta­tus of chick­ens — ended with the city is­su­ing Allison Sheedy and Dan McInnis a per­mit to keep their four back­yard birds.

But Bowser’s pro­posed leg­is­la­tion would elim­i­nate any wig­gle room in the law for ur­ban chicken-keep­ing, ex­plic­itly stat­ing that chick­ens are not a “com­mon cage bird” of the kind exempted by the reg­u­la­tions and giv­ing the mayor power to “reg­u­late the keep­ing of dogs, fowls, and other an­i­mals . . . to pro­tect the pub­lic health, safety, and wel­fare.”

Depart­ment of Health spokes­woman Jas­mine Gos­sett said the changes are meant to re­move all doubt about what city of­fi­cials con­tinue to main­tain is an ex­ist­ing ban on the rais­ing of chick­ens. “The in­tent of the changes is to clar­ify that chick­ens and hens have been pro­hib­ited for the past 30 years,” Gos­sett said.

But McInnis said the pro­posed al­ter­ations are a clear ad­mis­sion that chick­ens are al­lowed un­der the leg­isla­tive sta­tus quo. “It’s a mock­able po­si­tion,” he said. “They wouldn’t have to change the law if they were right.”

Gos­sett was un­able to an­swer ques­tions about what would be­come of the Dis­trict’s ex­ist­ing chick­ens should a ban go into ef­fect.

McInnis and Sheedy aren’t wait­ing to find out. They have set up a web­site that warns of “back­yard chick­ens in peril” and say they plan a full-on ef­fort to per­suade D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers to re­ject the pro­posed changes to the law. At the least, they said, the coun­cil should hold hear­ings on the chicken changes as an in­de­pen­dent piece of leg­is­la­tion rather than rolling the is­sue into bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions.

A pe­ti­tion put up on the site Wed­nes­day night had gar­nered sup­port from 80 peo­ple by Thurs­day af­ter­noon, they said.

“Whether it’s your thing or not, it’s sort of a cool, in­ter­est­ing, quirky thing to do,” McInnis said. “It’s dif­fer­ent. I think gen­er­ally we should sup­port peo­ple who want to do dif­fer­ent, fun, safe things, and the city gov­ern­ment shouldn’t be try­ing to un­der­hand­edly change the law to in­hibit pet own­er­ship.”

Once a sign of ur­ban squalor, chick­ens have reemerged in re­cent years as newly chic denizens of the back yards of Amer­i­can cities. New York, San Fran­cisco and Port­land, Ore., per­mit res­i­dents to keep a num­ber of the birds.

Res­i­dents in Ar­ling­ton and Mont­gomery County have also fought in re­cent years for zon­ing changes that would al­low them to keep chick­ens. The Rockville City Coun­cil voted in 2015 to al­low res­i­dents up to five hens.

The pre­cise ra­tio­nale for the Dis­trict’s an­i­mus to­ward chicken own­er­ship is un­clear. Gos­sett said she could not speak to the rea­sons for a chicken ban.

Asked about the law at an un­re­lated news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, Bowser said, “The provi­sion is that we keep neigh­bor­hoods safe and clean and ro­dent-free.” (The Dis­trict’s an­i­mal-con­trol laws ex­plic­itly con­done pet ro­dents.) “This is a city. And it’s not usu­ally the chick­ens that are the prob­lem but what they leave be­hind.”


Allison Sheedy and hus­band Dan McInnis have a per­mit to keep chick­ens out­side their house in Chevy Chase. They hope to per­suade D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers to re­ject a ban on the back­yard fowl.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.