The weathered faces of illegal Oklahoma City residents Eggy and Hermione reveal no signs of stress as they scrounge for food. But they could lose everything if local authorities learn of their existence in the converted tree house they share as a home.
Eggy and Hermione are chickens living “illegally” in the backyard of a northwest Oklahoma City home.
The fowl belong to a family who has lived in Oklahoma City for more than a decade. An owner, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions from city residents against chickens or city inspectors, hopes someday her productive family pets can gain legal status.
“They're quieter than dogs and don't make as big of a mess. They don't smell. They make great pets,” she said. “It's great for kids and grown-ups to have a connection to where their food comes from. Food doesn't always come in a Styrofoam container from Walmart.”
Supporters lobby council
Like-minded supporters of backyard chickens have lobbied the Oklahoma City Council in recent weeks to consider an
Chickens only are permitted in Oklahoma City now if held on property of at least an acre, said Bob Tener, director of the city's Development Services division. He said code enforcers typically get less than half a dozen complaints per year about people raising chickens in unauthorized areas.
Keeping chickens and other minor violations of city code carry a maximum fine of $500.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid and Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer have voiced tentative support for at least a pilot program that would designate a neighborhood or area as a test where chickens are legalized and the consequences studied. But, Salyer said, she thinks more critics of the plan could surface if the movement gains more traction.
“I know there are people in my ward who have chickens, but it's a divisive issue,” Salyer said. “Probably pretty evenly divided.”
Ordinances in other metro cities vary. Chickens are illegal, for example, in Edmond and Moore, officials said. Norman, Midwest City and Bethany allow them as long as certain conditions are met regarding the distance between coops and adjoining properties and cleanliness.
Tulsa also allows chickens, said Steve Harris with the city's Animal Welfare division. He said he thinks chickens could work for Oklahoma City, too, as long as people made prudent decisions and the public was well-educated about the rules.
Leave it to neighborhoods?
The local chapter of the Sierra Club, a prominent environmental group, supports backyard chickens, said Stephanie Jordan, the chapter's agricultural issues chairwoman.
“We've found that getting people in farmers markets, getting them to grow their own food or getting them to know the people growing their food, it gets them to think differently not only about their food, but about the rest of their behavior,” she said.
Ultimately, some supporters think the decision should be left up to those it will affect the most: Neighbors. They say the city should legalize chickens and let city residents decide where and how they can be kept.
“There are very strong neighborhood associations that can make rules,” Eggy and Hermione's owner said. “Why not make it legal in the whole city, and neighborhoods that have a problem with it can police themselves?”
It's not that simple, said Georgie Rasco, executive director of the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma. Some associations can't make binding rules, and some neighborhoods don't have associations. Rasco said the alliance doesn't have an official position on chickens, but she thinks the day likely is coming when they're legalized. She thinks the best way to implement an ordinance would be to start with specific rules that protect all property owners.
“This is a very divisive issue, and it will need to have some very clear-cut guidelines,” Rasco said. “The citizens should have some input into those guidelines.”