Peckish neighbors cry fowl but mom seeks legal exception for emotional support c…

C-Jay Martin’s emotional support chickens helped him through COVID isolation.

It was something rather irregular at an otherwise regular board of appeals meeting in Maine.

A resident wanted an exemption from the no-chicken rule. But this wasn’t just any resident. It was C-Jay Martin, 25, who is blind and has epilepsy and autism. Chickens are what brought C-Jay joy despite his challenges.

“That was kind of what caused him to do the 180 back to himself,” his mother, Amy Martin, told USA TODAY. “Having something to share with other people and engage with them about, something that was important to him.”

But Bangor is not OK with chickens. In fact, city ordinances explicitly prohibit residents from keeping “fowl, goats, sheep, cattle or swine of any kind.”

So set Martin’s appeal in motion, as first reported by the Bangor Daily News. Would the staid New England borough of 31,000 make an exception for C-Jay and his emotional support hens?

Not knowing weighed heavily on his mom. “Just waiting to know and find out – what are they going to say?” Martin recounted her anxiety. “Were we going to have to be paying fines?”

C-Jay Martin is relieved that he won a battle with the city to keep his emotional support chickens.

C-Jay Martin is relieved that he won a battle with the city to keep his emotional support chickens.

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One chicken won’t do for C-Jay

The pandemic did a number on C-Jay.

The isolation that affected everyone had a particularly acute impact because of his disabilities, his mother said. “He became very introverted. He’s normally a very social guy,” Martin said.

As she researched how others with autism or a compromised immune system were coping, Martin came across the idea of pet chickens.

The chickens, which can be cuddly, even-tempered, and affectionate creatures, gave C-Jay a sense of purpose and the feeling of being needed. They also can be easier to care for than more common emotional support animals like cats and dogs.

“He thinks they’re just hilarious,” Martin said. “I’ll describe what they’re doing, and you can hear them, and he’ll laugh about the things they do.”

The chickens also give C-Jay something to talk about with friends and neighbors. “Anytime anyone asks, he’s happy to talk about them,” Martin said.

The brood of six includes two white birds, Popcorn and Cheeks, a black and white pair called Stella and Salty, and Pepper, an all-black clucker.

Emotional support chickens are cuddly and affectionate, C-Jay's mom Amy Martin said.

Emotional support chickens are cuddly and affectionate, C-Jay’s mom Amy Martin said.

Neighbors rally around a man and his chickens

So it was with high hopes that Martin headed to the otherwise mundane municipal meeting earlier this month.

She told the appeals board she got the chickens in April after researching the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing by landlords or municipalities, and finding it might allow her son an accommodation.

She was joined by neighbors and community members who showed up to support C-Jay and his chickens.

One noted C-Jay regularly assumes the responsibility of feeding the chickens, despite his disabilities. Another said their cooing and soft noises are clearly a comfort to C-Jay. Others said Martin and C-Jay keep the chickens’ area in their yard very clean.

But there was some peckish-ness, so to speak. Some raised concerns about whether the presence of the chickens could attract rodents, and didn’t want an exception for C-Jay to open the door for others to keep banned animals.

C-Jay's chickens live in a coop in the backyard.

C-Jay’s chickens live in a coop in the backyard.

City officials, seeming to side with C-Jay and his flock, assured attendees that no increased rodent activity would not be tolerated and any livestock exemption would only apply to C-Jay Martin at his house.

In the end, it was a unanimous vote: the appeals board ruled that C-Jay had a need for the chickens. He would be allowed to keep them, although limits on the number were imposed, and noisy roosters prohibited.

Martin said her son is relieved his beloved chickens will stay.

“When he’s sitting outside listening to an audiobook, or just hanging out in the backyard the sun shining, he always knows where they are because he can hear them,” she said. “He’s never really alone.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Maine man can keep emotional support chickens after city exception

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