Adorable three-year-old autistic boy may be forced to give up 'therapeutic' pet chickens because the town thinks they 'don't belong' 

  • J.J. Hart's chickens have been therapeutic for him and helped him to find laughter
  • The city council of Debary, Florida made a decision that will either force J.J.'s family to give up the chickens or to move to a new town
  • 'It could be devastating to him' to lose the chickens, pediatrician Dr. Emily Forrest said

By Alexandra Klausner


An adorable and vivacious autistic 3-year-old from DeBary, Florida may be torn away from his therapeutic pet chickens who've helped him smile and learn to communicate.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the city council made a decision on Wednesday to end the one year trial program on Dec.31 granting residents the right to own backyard coops.

 J.J. Hart's family learned of the council's heart-wrenching decision and are willing to do anything they can to help their son, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, keep the chickens that 'helped him find his voice.'

jj hart

J.J. Hart may lose his pet chickens who have proved to be therapeutic in dealing with his autism

Two years ago when the Hart family discovered their child had autism, J.J. gazed at the world with a blank stare. He seldom spoke or laughed and would throw temper tantrums.

Today, J.J.s jovial nature is a far cry from the J.J. his parents once knew.

They attribute J.J.s positive changes to the pet chickens which J.J. calls 'ducks'.

'He's now doing amazing,' said his mother, Ashleigh Hart.


'He's now going to a new preschool, and he's able to communicate much better. And it all has to do with the chickens. He plays with them. He cuddles with them. And he runs around the yard with them. … It's made a tremendous difference.'

What happens if they take away his chickens? J.J.s father Joe Hart is not going to let that happen. 

Giving up the chickens is 'not an option,' said Joe to The Daily News.

The Hart family hired Longwood attorney Mark Nation to reverse the council's decision.


They're like family: J.J.'s chickens have helped him to smile

Several Central Florida government are allowing residents to have backyard coops. Residents may gather fresh eggs and keep the chickens as pets.

For J.J., the chickens are more like family.

Nick Koval, a DeBary council member defends his decision to disallow chicken coops. He thinks chickens 'don't belong' in residential homes or communities.

'It's unfortunate, and I sympathize,' Koval said.

'But we spend a lot of time and money establishing codes and ordinances for the protection of the citizens and taxpayers of this community. And I believe that they [chickens] belong in agricultural areas.'


Chicken's may not be the most conventional pet but they have been therapeutic for him

In December of 2012, DeBary enacted a one-year test run allowing families in residential areas to keep three chickens.

The program was created after the Hart family, who purchased chickens after researching the positive affect of animals on autism, asked for permission to keep their chickens.

keeping a coop is no easy task. Residents wishing to maintain chickens must obtain a city permit.

It also costs between $500 and $800 per year to keep a coop with proper fencing.

The DeBary council's decision to discontinue residential coops will affect the only two loving homes in the community who decided to care for chickens.

One application for a backyard coop was from the Hart's and another was from a woman who wanted to use the chickens for eggs.


Ashleigh Hart and Joe Hart hired a lawyer to reverse the city council's decision that even the mayor disagrees with!

The Orlando Sentinel spoke with Dr. Emily Forrest, a developmental behavioral pediatrician for Florida Hospital for Children. She specializes in autism and noted the benefits of keeping animals.

Even though dogs and horses are more commonly used for autism therapy, she didn't discredit chickens.The Daily News reported that the family thought of getting the boy a dog, but it was unappealing to him.

'It could be devastating to him" to lose the chickens, Forrest said.

Forrest spoke about how change can drastically alter an autistic person's life--especially a young child.

'In this case, this boy has made a connection with these chickens, and it's helped him out,'Forrest said.

'I think chickens are unconventional, but if a child has made progress, then it's really sad for him that he has to stop because of a city ordinance.'

Even the town's mayor, Bob Garcia, is on J.J's side.

'It had so many benefits for this child,' Garcia said. 'And it would have shown that we're a community that is compassionate and understanding.'

He wanted the program to continue to 2015.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The world over, there are idiots willing to interfere in every aspect of ordinary peoples life's. It's nothing but bullying. I'm surprised that the USA allow this, I thought it was meant to be the worlds biggest democracy.

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As long as they're not roosters, what's the difference if a family has chickens or a dog or cat or whatever? Sure glad I don't live in a community like that. We'll be getting 20 or so chickens in the spring along with a couple of turkeys. And I'm sure they'd love the goat we keep.

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Therapy chicken??

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Chickens and bantams do make amazing pets. I cannot see how keeping a few of these birds could endanger a town in any way. I hope the little boy manages to keep his friends. He wouldn't understand if they disappeared. Adults can be so anally beuracratic. Do they get some kind of perverted pleasure from being like this?

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Doesn't the disabled Americans act cover therapy pets? They should let the little guy keep his chickens. They help him communicate and open his world. And he calls them ducks, that's just flipping adorable!

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This town needs to get with the times! Urban homesteading is the big new thing. Even my metropolitan hometown of Denver allows chickens, and most of our suburbs too.

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If the chickens are improving the condition of this little boy, or helping him cope, then the city is quite likely in violation of the Federal Americans with Disability Act (ADA) which requires reasonable accommodation for disabilities.

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Well, if Nick Koval thinks so then it just must be true... Good grief America has fallen in love with rules and regulations.

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Chickens and roosters have no place in any urban, and most suburban, areas. Roosters start crowing extremely early in the morning, and crow throughout the day, at a very loud decibel level. Chickens aren't so noisy, but, if these people are keeping their yard and coop clean, they're the exception, not the rule, unfortunately. Most Florida cities and suburbs are jammed with residential communities packed full of houses with zero lot lines, so there are a lot of annoyance noise rules like dogs barking, car radios, etc. and yard maintenance rules. So far, most of these cases in Florida end with headlines about the neighbors getting fed up with the noise and killing the chickens and roosters themselves to silence them.

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What a shame...

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