Fighting for fowl: Man battling to keep his feathered friends

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

COVINGTON -- David Corley cradles a brownish-red bird and puts his head right up to hers, talking softly.

"It's OK. You going to talk to them?" he asks. The bird decides not to talk to the visitors, but instead eyes them suspiciously. The Rhode Island Red is named, appropriately, Lady Red, and she's one of nine chickens that reside in Corley's Covington backyard.

The chickens are Corley's therapy. He believes they saved his life after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 2007 that left him unable to walk and talk. He's had four more strokes since then and at one point said he lost the will to live.

"I literally was dying. The doctor said for me to try to find something that would keep my interest," he said.

The hobby had to be one Corley could do at home, since he could no longer drive. Corley grew up on a farm and loved tending to animals, so he decided to get some chickens. His wife Gail noticed a difference in his outlook right away.

"Before that he wouldn't get off the couch. But he knew the chickens depended on him," she said.

So every day, on through the years, Corley has been getting up and feeding the chickens, gathering their eggs and cleaning their pen.

"It gives me a purpose. It gives me responsibility," he said.

Several neighbors on the Corleys' street have chickens, so they thought nothing of housing the chickens in a pen beside their house. But recently a neighbor complained to the city of Covington and the Corleys received a warning from code enforcement. Now Corley is afraid he'll have to give up his beloved pets. He went to Monday's City Council meeting to plead his case.

"I don't want to make anybody mad, but I don't want to give up my rights, either. If I have to fight on foreign soil to protect my property, why can't I have my property?" the Vietnam veteran said. Corley has already removed a rooster that was the main source of the neighbor's complaint.

Corley's not the only one on his street with chickens, however, and at least one neighbor also has a rooster.

Raising chickens is a growing trend in cities all across the country as urban gardening becomes more popular. Cities throughout the nation are grappling with how to address the issue.

"This is a growing trend we're seeing all over the place," Covington Senior Planner Randy Vinson told the council. "Some cities are allowing people to keep chickens because the eggs are a lot better, I'll be honest with you."

In Covington, chickens are allowed in Neighborhood Residential zoning districts only if the property is 3 acres or larger. The animal control ordinance allows chickens and other animals if they are enclosed, but the zoning ordinance restrictions still apply, Vinson said.

The City Council agreed to suspend enforcement of the ordinance pending further research by the zoning department.

"We'll take a look at existing ordinances (from other communities) and see what may be a common balance as far as how many chickens are allowed per 1,000 square feet ... If we limit the number to a logical amount, it won't be more of a nuisance than any other pet," Vinson said.

Whatever the council decides, Corley said he'll fight for his beloved birds. If things don't go his way, he hopes he can get a variance with a note from his doctor.

"I'll do whatever it takes to protect these chickens," he said.