Let me keep my hens, says Squamish woman 

Pet hens are against Squamish bylaws

Pam Isbell calls herself a pet person. She has had a parrot, an iguana, two cats, a dog that passed away recently and even rats as pets.

Six years ago she made another addition to this menagerie: two hens. She asked a District of Squamish official if it was okay to have hens and he said yes, Isbell said.

The question answered, she bought the hens and they laid an egg a day, clucked and roamed freely in her backyard and spread themselves out to sun themselves in the backyard.

She named them Rosy and Daisy, and they got well along with her cats. All was well until a year-and-a-half ago when a stray dog came running through their property pursued by a bylaw enforcement officer.

The bylaw officer saw the hens in her backyard and since then Isbell has been under orders to part with her hens.

"...They said you can't have hens and we are going to write you up," Isbell recalled.

And the bylaw officer did.

A month later she received a letter from the district, asking her to get rid of the hens or pay a $200 a day penalty for having them. Isbell took them to a friend's place where they are now kept full-time in a coop.

They are now seven years old, they don't lay eggs anymore and all Isbell wants is to get her chickens back for the few years they might have to live. The average life span of a chicken is seven to 10 years.

"I think it's really unfair," said Isbell, tearing up at the thought of her free roaming chickens trapped in a coop. "They follow me, they come to me like cats and dogs, and they come up on my lap - they were just pets."

She has now written a letter to the council, pleading them to let her have the hens back in her backyard.

"When they die of old age, I won't replace them," she said. "Please consider my chickens as pets because they truly are."

But they are not pets, according to the Squamish bylaws. Only areas zoned rural residential or agricultural are allowed to have chickens.

"No regular residential areas are permitted to have hens," the bylaw officer said.

The current bylaw stands at a cross purpose with the growing public sentiment that chickens should be allowed in backyards to encourage urban farming and healthy eating.

If only the debate about having chickens in the backyard was about living a healthy life the answer might have been apparent. But Sea to Sky is bear country and a chicken can be easy food to access for bears.

In October 2010 a bear was destroyed after it tried to access a chicken coop in the Garibaldi Estates neighbourhood. A few weeks before, a bear accessed four different chicken coops within a few blocks of each other in Brackendale, killing 28 chickens, a rooster and a duck.

The council has forwarded Isbell's request to the staff for consideration. Isbell meanwhile said she would be more than willing to keep her chickens inside her home, if the district would let her do so.

"I just want to bring them home," she said.

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