Autistic Boy Denied Right to Keep His Therapeutic Chickens

A three-old boy with autism, J.J. Hart, has greatly improved by having pet chickens, but now his Florida town has ordered him to give them up.

The DeBary City council voted 3 to 2 to no longer allow residents to maintain chicken coops in their backyards.

It was a one-year trial program that the town took on after J.J. Hart’s father, Joe Hart, asked permission to keep chickens.

Hart had found research supporting animal therapy for children with autism. His son’s pediatrician had recommended that the family adopt a pet to help J.J. because there is research that shows having a pet can increase positive social interactions for kids with autism. Finding that J.J. wasn’t interested in the family dog, his mother turned to chickens.

J.J. Hart’s parents report that the chickens have really helped their son, so the town ordering the chickens to go will be a great loss.

“He’s now doing amazing,” Ashleigh Hart, J.J.’s mother, said. “He’s now going to a new preschool, and he’s able to communicate 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.”

She also says that her son’s speech has improved. His father expanded on this by saying that the chickens have calmed J. J. down. He used to pull his hair out and throw his head back on the ground, but having the chickens has changed this.

An official who voted to keep the chickens, Mayor Bob Garcia, explained that: “We should be protecting the rights of individuals, not suppressing them.”

Councilman Nick Koval who voted against the chickens explains that he believes the chickens belong in agricultural areas. There also wasn’t a lot of support from the community. Specifically, a neighbor complained about the chickens.

The Harts have hired an attorney to fight against the decision, that’s how important it is to them for their son to have the comfort of the chickens.  They also have started a petition to extend the program so that they can keep the chickens. Right now, J.J. will have to give up the chickens on December 31st.

Click here for more information on ICare4Autism’s Legal Department.

Read more about J.J. Hart’s story here and here.

Click here to sign the petition.

By Rachel Shranck