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Hempfield teen’s therapy chickens given OK to stay |

Hempfield teen’s therapy chickens given OK to stay

Jacob Tierney
| Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:00 p.m

Hempfield Township’s zoning hearing board decided to spare a teenage girl’s four pet chickens from eviction, as long as her parents give up the other chickens that live at their home.

Sarah Downing, 15, was not at Tuesday’s hearing, but her parents, David and Sharon Downing, were. They told the board that Sarah’s feathered friends — two hens and two roosters — are emotional support animals and vital to her mental well-being.

“These are her companions. She often has them cuddle with her in her bed while she’s watching TV or doing homework,” David Downing said.

Sarah suffers from anxiety and depression, her father said. The four chickens live in her bedroom, and she turns to them for comfort when she’s overwhelmed.

The Downings used to have about 25 chickens living at their residence, mostly in coops outside.

In April, neighbors complained about the birds, and the township issued a zoning violation notice. Chickens are not allowed in the village residential district where the Downings live.

The Downings have reduced their flock since receiving the notice. They now have fewer than 10 chickens at the home, David Downing said, and would be willing to give away all but the four that live with Sarah.

Nancy Kasparek, the Downings’ neighbor who first wrote the township to complain about the chickens, voiced her complaints at the meeting.

“Chickens were running all over my yard, on my deck, crapping everywhere,” she said.

However, she said things have gotten better since the Downings found new homes for most of their birds, and she has no complaints with Sarah keeping her four pets.

“I love that little girl,” she said.

Sarah would “spiral into depression” if she had to give up her four pets, her father said.

“It would be a very dark day for her, and very hard for her to rebound from this emotionally,” he said.

After taking testimony and questioning the Downings for more than an hour and a half, the board decided to let Sarah’s chickens stay, with a few conditions.

The Downings can keep only those four birds, and only if they are listed on the National Service Animal Registry.

The Downings registered three of Sarah’s chickens after receiving the township’s violation notice, and David Downing said they plan to register the fourth soon. The registry is run by a private company that requires applicants to submit a letter from a therapist to place their animals on the list.

Additionally, the board said the Downings are not allowed to breed the chickens, or sell their eggs. The chickens must be kept in a pen when they are taken outside.

Sharon Downing said she doesn’t mind finding new homes for her family’s other chickens.

“We’re very happy with the outcome. The whole time, we were looking out for the interests of our daughter,” she said.

She began to cry as she called Sarah to tell her the news.

“We won for you, baby,” she said on the phone.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, or via Twitter .

Categories: Westmoreland
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