Chickens within the Columbus city limits could soon be forced to fly the coop if members of the Columbus City Council stand firm in a decision to prohibit farm animals from being kept as pets.

In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, council members gave initial approval to an amendment to the city’s animal care ordinance that would designate chickens as farm animals. The amendment also would prevent residents living within city limits from keeping farm animals as pets.

The vote came after testimony from several people in the audience of the Cal Brand meeting room — where the council meeting was moved in anticipation of a large crowd gathered to discuss the animal care ordinance. Many said they have been keeping chickens on their properties within the city limits for years without any issues.

Jill Huddleston said her three daughters have been raising chickens at home since 2007 and have been showing those chickens in 4-H exhibits in Indiana and across the Midwest.

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Huddleston said her neighbors have never complained about the birds and added that the coop she has for her chickens is nicer than many of the dog houses she has seen near her home. As long as chicken owners take the time to clean up after their birds, then Huddleston said the birds are no dirtier than any other household pet.

While Huddleston keeps her chickens for natural uses related to 4-H, Emily Bishop told the council that the chickens she keeps at her city home are viewed first and foremost as family pets. Each of her chickens has a name and a distinct personality, Bishop said, and although she does eat the eggs they lay, the birds were not purchased for that purpose.

Andy Taube said the chickens he and his wife, Anne, keep on their property have proven to be educational to the young children who live next door to them, who enjoy coming over and learning about the way the chickens live.

But despite the varied reasons residents gave at the council meeting for allowing chickens within the city limits, District 4 Councilman Frank Miller said he has heard different opinions from residents living in his district.

Many of those residents have said that they would prefer that their neighbors not have chickens, Miller said, but don’t want to disturb the peace in the neighborhood by asking their neighbors to move the birds elsewhere.

Miller said people move to the city to experience the benefits of city living, and that local residents have a reasonable expectation of what a city living experience will be like. That experience, he said, usually does not include farm animals such as chickens.

Taube countered that idea, saying he has lived in cities such as Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, and each of those places have allowed residents to keep chickens on their properties within city limits.

However, Maurita Gearhart said she agreed with Miller’s stance. Gearhart said she grew up in a rural area where she raised chickens but intentionally left the birds behind when she moved into the city.

Gearhart was the lone voice in the audience that spoke in favor of the chicken ban at Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilwoman Elaine Wagner, who sat on a subcommittee to study the chicken issue with Miller and councilman Dascal Bunch, said she saw no reason to implement the chicken ban.

Nearby cities such as Indianapolis and Bloomington have successfully found ways to allow city residents to keep chickens, the first-year council member said. If Columbus can establish clear, specific regulations for city residents to keep chickens, then the city could empower its various departments to enforce those regulations and also find ways to successfully allow properties owners to keep the birds at their homes, she said.

Councilwoman Laurie Booher said she was wavering in her opinion on the chicken ban. Booher said it would be impossible to police every type of animal that city residents want to keep on their property, yet also conceded that people have a tendency to push boundaries if there are not clearly-defined rules.

Ultimately, Booher, along with Wagner, chose to vote against the ban, but the five remaining council members all supported the measure.

The amended ordinance calls for fines for violations to begin at $20 per occurrence, not to reach more than $1,000 with subsequent offenses.

The council will take up the issue for a second vote at its July 5 meeting, when another public hearing will be conducted and a final vote on the amendment to the animal care ordinance is planned.

Animal definitions

If it receives final city council approval, the city’s animal care ordinance would be amended to read as follows:

Domestic animals shall include, but not be limited to, dogs, cats, parakeets finches, spiders, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, rabbits, aquarium fish, ferrets and snakes.

Farm animals include, but are not limited to, horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goals mules, donkeys, miniature horses, miniature donkeys, camels, emus, ostrich, llamas, alpacas, mink, fox, bison, chickens, turkeys, quail, pheasants, chinchilla, goose and duck and other animals or fowl of similar characteristics and raised for similar purposes.

Pet means any domestic animal if the domestic animal is kept for pleasure rather than for utility. Farm animals shall not be considered pets.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.