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Plucky Gulfport family and their pets triumph

It began in June when a chicken ran across a family's back yard in Gulfport. Since then, the flock of 10 has cost its owners $88, prompted a city moratorium on further prosecution of chicken owners, and led the City Council to unanimously allow flocks of up to 10 chickens as pets. Cluck if you will, but this is a story about, well, redemption.

A routine traffic stop and an odd sound started it all. Gulfport police Officer Jimmie Embry was assisting another officer on Ninth Avenue S when a chicken noisily announced that she had laid an egg.

"While I was standing outside my vehicle, I heard what sounded like chickens making noise," Embry wrote in his official incident report.

Chickens and other farm animals were banned in the city, so he investigated.

He followed the sound of clucks to a nearby home. Looking over a fence, he "saw a white chicken run across the yard."

The property owner, Briggs Monteith, told Embry that he and his wife, Jennifer Conroy, thought the city codes allowed chickens as long as they were not raised for food.

Embry researched the code, decided Monteith was wrong, took pictures of three cages filled with hens and the white chicken running in the yard, and issued an ordinance violation requiring Monteith to appear in county court.

A month later, just days before Monteith's court date, he and his wife asked the City Council to reconsider its ban on chickens.

"We have a very strong relationship with our chickens," Conroy said at the meeting as she showed a picture of her 7-year-old daughter, Peregrine, holding one of the family's chickens.

• • •

It started with three chicks in 2007. Last spring, the family decided they needed more than three eggs a day. There are three children, and Conroy's mother and sister wanted eggs as well.

Five more chicks of differing breeds and two hens donated by friends soon joined the flock.

The family named the chickens Momma, Brownie, Rascal, Cherry, Raven, Sweetie, the Other Sweetie, Peaches, Star Lucia and Emma.

Rascal, who recently got out and was hit by a car, will be replaced by one of Momma's recently hatched chicks.

Momma, it seems, got "broody" and began to sit on her eggs day and night — even wooden eggs given to distract her.

Conroy said they decided to get Momma some fertilized eggs to cure her hormonal condition. The family will keep one chick to replace Rascal and has found homes for the others.

• • •

Beyond laying eggs, the chickens produce "great fertilizer" for the family garden, "take care of a lot of bug problems," and "keep lizards under control," Conroy told the council last summer.

She also cited "backyard chicken movements" in major cities like Chicago and Miami.

By mid July, then-City Manager Tom Brobeil said the city's ban on chickens might be a little restrictive.

Before council members could meet again to formally declare a moratorium on enforcing the ordinance while they considered whether to eliminate the ban, Monteith appeared in court.

He was told if he went to trial he could be fined up to $500 and spend up to 60 days in jail. Monteith decided not to contest the charge and paid $88 for his fine and court costs. Adjudication was withheld.

Monteith, Conroy, their three children and their 10 chickens waited for months while city officials worked on the wording of an amended ordinance allowing chickens in residential neighborhoods.

During all of this, Conroy, a recent Stetson University College of Law graduate, studied for her Bar exam.

"It was a frustrating time, but I passed," she said.

On Tuesday, the chicken saga came to a climax as the council voted unanimously to allow residents to keep up to 10 chickens as pets.

The ordinance, which must be voted on again at the council's Dec. 16 meeting, has one major caveat: Roosters are not allowed.

Conroy, now known throughout the city as "the chicken lady," said she has no intention of getting a rooster.

"Our chickens are very relieved," she said Thursday.

"They are off the chopping block."

Cock-a-doodle do's and don'ts

Before your chickens come home to roost, make sure you know the rules. All ordinances regulating fowl in the back yard are different.

Not surprisingly perhaps, horse-friendly Pinellas Park has about the most liberal rules when it comes to feathered critters. As long as the property is zoned agricultural, the fowl are welcome. Male and female. No sexism there.

Clearwater seems to be one of the most stringent. Chickens aren't welcome except in agricultural areas, educational settings and vet clinics. Presumably, a sick chicken would get a free pass to cross the no-chicken zone if it was on its way to the vet.

Seminole is pretty sneaky when it comes to chickens. The city appears to be welcoming. Up to three are allowed on property zoned residential suburban. But there seems to be no residential suburban zoning left in the city, so no chickens.

St. Petersburg also has a pretty liberal rule, allowing a virtually unlimited number of chickens and roosters in residential areas. But wait, there's a catch. Or two.

Before you bring your chickens home you have to get permission from every homeowner within 100 feet of the chicken house. Gary Bush, operations manager of the city's code office, said that can be touchy. He suggests offering eggs as an inducement.

As for your roosters, they'd better keep quiet or they'll have to go.

Bush points out one other chicken fact: A lot of them in a group become, well, foul. And foul fowl have to go.

Staff writer Anne Lindberg

Plucky Gulfport family and their pets triumph 12/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:09pm]
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