- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - A local nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing neglected dogs, birds and wildlife has come out in opposition of allowing farm animals in Battle Creek’s residential neighborhoods, instead suggesting a set of guidelines it said officials should consider if they choose to make ordinance changes.

The Battle Creek Enquire reported (http://bcene.ws/2ddRhae ) all Species Kinship said its recommendations to city commissioners set “a minimum standard of care that we believe is fair and necessary if people want to keep farm animals.” It includes limiting the ordinance to chickens, requiring site inspections, setting permit caps for neighborhoods and providing funding for All Species Kinship to pay for capture response.

“I want to stress that there is no amount of funding that would incline All Species Kinship to support farm animals in the city,” said Sophia DiPietro, the group’s executive director. “We are simply making the city aware that farm-animal care is vastly different than cat or dog sheltering.”

The suggestions, modeled after those set by Minnesota-based Chicken Run Rescue, are in response to talks that city officials have conducted since February as residents lobby for zoning changes that would allow urban agriculture in Battle Creek. Right now, backyard chickens are allowed in areas that have been deemed agricultural or rural residential; in rare cases, residents with at least five acres of land can obtain a special use permit if approved by both the planning and city commissions.

There also has been a push to change the ordinance in Bedford Township.

While staff has held roundtable discussions and conducted a survey to learn residents’ opinions, no official ordinance proposal has been considered by the City Commission. Battle Creek Planning Manager Christine Zuzga said city staff members are having internal discussions and may present the findings at a workshop later this year.

Some recommendations for All Species Kinship’s are: allow five chickens or fewer - and no roosters - that would be classified as pets to prohibit slaughtering, meet permit requirements with annual renewal fees and site inspections, acquire consent from neighbors and cap the number of permits in neighborhoods, appointment of additional administrative staff and resources and allocate funding for All Species Kinship to respond to cases.

“If our proposal seems cumbersome, it is,” DiPietro said. “Farming, whether done in the city, or in a rural environment, is a complex activity that affects animals, humans and the environment. It is a highly regulated industry for a reason.”

DiPietro said despite their size, it is challenging to provide care for birds - and there are no veterinarians in Calhoun County who specialize in chicken care. That would be coupled with upcoming law changes that will prohibit over-the-counter purchases for antibiotics, she said.

DiPietro said while there are responsible people who may be interested in urban agriculture, “we cannot look at this from an individual-centric viewpoint.” Gender often cannot be determined until months after acquiring the birds and a decline in egg production in later years has led to inappropriate relinquishment of chickens, she said.

“We have to have a community lens on, and we have to pay attention to what (All Species Kinship workers) experience on a weekly basis in this city, surrounding county and statewide, currently,” she said.

All Species Kinship, founded in 2001, is perhaps best known for its work with chained dogs and their owners. But the group also runs an abandoned bird sanctuary, which provides lifelong care to the animals that often have been abandoned at city parks and lakes or have disabilities. On its website, All Species Kinship said its rescues are mainly conducted in the Detroit area and in the rural and city communities of south-central Michigan.

A survey conducted by the city this summer showed a majority of residents supporting chickens and other farm animals in urban Battle Creek. Many have pointed to the desire to raise their own food and finding uses for vacant property.

Still, others have voiced their opposition, saying they have concerns about odor and the presence of farm life in residential areas. Many have doubted Animal Control’s ability to take on additional duties and have said its resources already are limited when dealing with dogs and cats.

DiPietro, too, said the city’s enforcement for common pets “is already deficient,” and Animal Control lacks expertise in farm animal assessments. She said her organization, without a contract or funding, works with the city to respond to calls for abandoned birds.

That work can add up - DiPietro said minimal routine intake costs can average $200 per bird, and her group’s professional fees range about $100 an hour. There also are fees associated with buildings for quarantines and shelters and additional veterinary care.

Total costs for proper care, she said, are more “than the city budget would even consider.”

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Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com

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