No charges if pit bulls run loose, but backyard chickens have to go

I’m not really trying to stir the proverbial pot with the provocative title to this post, but it’s a fair conclusion based on the news of the past few days.

Two weeks ago, 7-year-old Javon Roberson was savagely mauled by two pit bulls that had managed to get away from their owner, apparently because a child opened a car door allowing them to run free. Despite the severity of the attack, no charges will be filed.

Meanwhile, a couple was cited for keeping 22 chickens on Wilmington Island in unincorporated Chatham County, where no chickens are allowed in any zoning districts except the two labeled “agriculture”. It then became known that Paula Deen of The Lady and Sons keeps hens, as does Savannah Bee Company founder Ted Dennard, so they have now been cited by the county zoning administrator as well.

And, believe me, there are a bunch more folks on Wilmington and in other unincorporated neighborhoods that keep backyard chickens, which has turned into a popular movement in the Savannah area and throughout the country.

From yesterday’s Savannah Morning News article by Mary Landers:

Last Wednesday, Chatham County issued celebrity chef Paula Deen a violation notice about the five rescue hens she keeps in a luxury coop on her marshfront property on Wilmington Island.

“She was cited and given time to address the violation,” said Gregori Anderson, director of Chatham County Building Safety and Regulatory Services.

The birds’ offense: Deen’s property is not zoned with either of two “residential agricultural” designations, the only zones that allow chickens in unincorporated Chatham County. Her hens were brought to the county’s attention after zoning administrator Robert Sebek told another Wilmington Island family – Bill and Jan Lynes – their 22 hens had to go.

The Lynes are prepared to go to court to keep their chickens. Deen’s publicist Nancy Assuncao said Deen will “comply with whatever needs to be done.”

It seems very likely to me that the Chatham County Commission will spearhead a change to the county zoning ordinance to bring it closer in line with the city of Savannah’s limit of five hens. But, as I asked a few days ago on this blog, is that limit high enough? I’d say no, at least for landowners with a certain amount of acreage and certain types of enclosures.

The Facebook group Savannah Backyard Chickens is planning to attend this Friday’s commission meeting, and it sounds from the latest SMN piece like some of the elected officials are anxious to reach an agreement:

County Commissioner Patrick Farrell said Friday he would like his fellow commissioners to explore the
possibility of allowing chickens in the unincorporated area. After being contacted by several residents requesting the change, Farrell said he plans to bring the matter up at Friday’s commission meeting.

“I think I’d like to look at it,” Farrell said. “There’s a certain following of people that own chickens or would like own them and take good care of them and not be a burden on their neighbors.”

I’m optimistic that this controversy can be sorted out in a reasonable way. And that an ordinance will be clearly written so that zoning officials will know what they are enforcing.

The issue of pit bulls running loose is likely to be a lot thornier. I raise a number of questions about dangerous dog ordinances in my City Talk column today, Stray dogs raise quality of life issues:

How do we distinguish between a problem dog and a pet that has simply gotten loose temporarily from an owner? How can we educate current and prospective dog owners about their responsibilities?

How much time should police put into enforcing leash laws, which are routinely violated in parks and on sidewalks?

Are there ways, as a friend of mine has suggested, of tracking the movement of strays by engaging citizens more directly? In these days of social media and advanced technology, there would seem to be a lot of options.

We’re not the only community facing questions about stray dogs.

When I first looked on the Internet for communities plagued by stray dogs, I read about problems in Bulgaria, South Africa and Armenia.

Closer to home, Saginaw, Mich., has a new ordinance in place. Seattle is likely to toughen its dangerous-dog ordinance.

Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, are struggling with how to define and restrict dangerous dogs. Should breeds like pit bulls be targeted? Or should we just look at behavior?

I don’t have easy answers to any of those questions.

But it seems absurd that owners of dogs that are likely to attack people and pets cannot be punished in any way if those dogs get loose. It seems especially absurd if at the same time we are trying to ban chickens from backyards.

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