'Therapy chickens' could land Chesterfield family in court

Published: Jul. 26, 2016 at 1:34 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2016 at 2:21 AM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - A family is facing fines for chickens they consider therapeutic for their autistic son.

Robin Braun first discovered her son, Jonathan, was autistic when his development was different as a child. He is enrolled in different school programs and at home displays an interest in animals.

A few years ago, the family went to a state fair, where her son instantly fell in love with the chickens. He has since gotten many as pets, bonding with the hens.

His mom says the benefit goes beyond companionship for their son, who often feels isolated from his peers.

"It's always trying to get him to learn the value of teaching him the chores. He's got to have water, they have to have feed, you've got to go out there and pick up the eggs, you got to clean the stall," said Robin Braun.

As Ted Barclay, a Code Compliance Supervisor with the Chesterfield County Planning Department explains, the first call came in about the Braun family three years ago. A neighbor was calling to say the family had chickens in a residential area.

At that point, the department recognized that an amendment was being made to the county ordinance which may allow the Braun family to keep the chicken. As Barclay explained, his office did not fine the family at that time, hoping the ordinance would help them.

That ordinance now states that if you live in a residential zoning district, "keeping of up to six chickens is permitted with certain restrictions."

This summer, another tip came into Barclay's office that the family was in violation of that updated ordinance. When his team went to check it out, they found the family had 15 chickens. The judge gave them a 30-day grace period to make arrangements.

As of Monday morning, the family was able to place eight chickens at their daughter's home. The remaining seven stayed at home. On Tuesday, the Braun's are due back in court to pay fines from having too many chickens.

The family says separating the hens made Jonathan have a meltdown, torn apart with losing some of his companions.

Barclay suggested the family bring documentation to the county attorney's office to show the chickens are therapeutic. He says he wants to work with the family so they don't face fines and so they can keep the chickens without violating the county code.

The family says they are having a difficult time finding someone with Jonathan's school program to write those letters since he is out of school for the summer.

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