J.J. And The Chickens: When Compassion Should Trump Principle

J.J. and friend.

J.J. and friend.

This strange and infuriating news story about the autistic child who is about to lose his “therapy chickens” is yet another example of how even the best ethics practices not only have exceptions, but obvious ones. Obvious, that is, except for the muddled thinkers on the DeBary (Florida) City Council, who have decided to harm a young and vulnerable child while turning his family’s life inside out because the needs of one citizen shouldn’t be enough to justify an otherwise unwise public policy. That governing principle is undeniably true…except in this case. And since it is so screamingly obvious that the otherwise sound principle is cruel to apply in this case, it is the perfect, obvious, compassionate instance when making an exception to a rule that works 99.9999% of the time is not only reasonable, but the right thing to do. The city council in question doesn’t comprehend this. Dead-eyed petty bureaucrats seldom do.

This situation began a year ago, when the parents of  3-year-old J.J. Hart, who is autistic, asked for permission from the council to keep the chickens he had bought after reading about the effectiveness of exposure to animals in treating autism. The city council embraced this as an opportunity, for other local communities in Florida, like nearby Orlando, had begun allowing homes to raise chickens for eggs. DeBary enacted a one-year pilot project that allowed families in residential areas to keep up to three chickens. The home-raised chicken business has taken off in Orlando, but DeBary received only one application for a  backyard coop, in addition to the Harts’. It is not as if the sounds of crowing and clucking echo through the streets.

Now that the one year experiment is over, the city council voted to end the pilot program, and all those DeBary residents who didn’t choose to raise chickens over the last twelve months are being told that they missed their chance Nobody cares. Nobody, that is, except the family who sparked this idea for the program in the first place. J.J., thanks to his therapy chickens, is thriving, breaking out of the wall of autism and interacting with the world around him as never before. “He’s now doing amazing,” says Ashleigh Hart, J.J.’s mom. “He’s now going to a new preschool, and he’s able to communicate much better. And it all has to do with the chickens. He plays with them. He cuddles with them. And he runs around the yard with them. … It’s made a tremendous difference.”

The city council, however, has spoken, embodying the logic of DeBary Council member Nick Koval, who defended the decision with a fatuous statement that can stand as the epitome of what passes for local government “reasoning” on a wide range of issues.  “It’s unfortunate, and I sympathize,” Koval blathered. “But we spend a lot of time and money establishing codes and ordinances for the protection of the citizens and taxpayers of this community. And I believe that they [chickens] belong in agricultural areas.”

Let’s break this idiotic comment down, shall we?

1. He sympathizes, but not enough to refuse to make a decision that has  no tangible negative positive effects and a massive, life altering negative one for a child. This means he doesn’t sympathize at all. Saying “It’s unfortunate” is the same as saying, “Tough. We’ll do what we want.”

2.The council spends a lot of time and money on ordinances for the protection of the citizens, so this means that it is obligated to end a program that costs the city nothing for no good reason. Gotcha. This statement is nonsense, meaningless, a non-sequitur, and tells us that Koval has no substantive reason for wanting to end the program, except possibly the fact that he doesn’t like chickens more than he gives a damn about another family’s autistic child.

3. He believes that chickens belong in agricultural areas, and because of this ironclad belief, which is generally reasonable, one child cannot continue to benefit from three chickens being maintained for health and therapy reasons because that’s just not the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s that, so there.

Maybe the city council will come to its senses, remember the Golden Rule, and recall that the purpose of government is to keep order, help people get through their difficult lives, solve their problems when possible, and make laws according to abstract principles that don’t apply to the matters at hand. Oh, and not hurt autistic three-year-olds for no good reason other than ‘chickens should be on farms, not helping autistic kids have a life.’

Maybe. I’m not betting on it.

And they say J.J. is cognitively impaired.

DeBary might fare better being governed by the chickens.


Pointer: Fark

Facts: Orlando Sentinel

Graphic: Muckrack

13 thoughts on “J.J. And The Chickens: When Compassion Should Trump Principle

  1. If Chickens aren’t allowed then perhaps the entire City Council need remove themselves to an agricultural area

  2. They said we couldn’t do it!

    They said the people of DeBary were too stupid to elect a mayor!

    But we proved them wrong!

    As city councilman, I am therefore pleased to introduce to you our new mayor: this red balloon!

    (slightly paraphrased from The State. This reminded me of that.)

  3. When chickens are outlawed, only outlaws will have chickens…
    or something like that.
    Sadly, there is no shortage of petty bureaucrats.

  4. Pingback: Florida Town Bans Medical Poultry | Cretonia Times-Picayune

  5. Compassion did not win the council over but the Fair Housing laws and ADA sure did! Chickens will be staying with J.J. and at least we can say one of the opposing council members is on his way out this month.

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