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In Waltham, Plucky the chicken fights for pet poultry rights

Posted by Tom Coakley  February 10, 2010 09:15 AM

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Plucky the chicken just may change the law in Waltham.

The Hawkes family, which has kept Plucky as a pet in their backyard for the past 17 months, now has the backing of city officials to change Waltham's zoning regulations to allow homeowners to keep one chicken as a pet. The move is necessary because someone has complained to the city about Plucky, who violates a city ban on chickens.

“People have a lot of misconceptions about chickens,” said mother Sharan Hawkes. “They say things like, ‘Chickens belong in soup and not in Waltham,’ and that’s just mean.”

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Plucky lives in a coop, though she is sometimes let out in the Hawkes's fenced-in backyard.

Plucky's saga started a year and a half ago when the chicken happened into the Hawke's life.

Sharan Hawkes said that when her husband John Hawkes told her that he spotted a chicken wandering around in front of their home, she thought he was losing his mind.

She looked with her own eyes and saw something straight out of a bad joke: a featherless chicken crossing the road.

“It was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Sharan Hawkes said. “It was ugly, ugly, ugly!”

She said she called the Waltham police to see if anyone had lost a chicken. She was told no and Plucky became the Hawkes’s family pet.

Plucky has grown her feathers back and lives in a coop in the backyard of the Hawkes’s Dix Street home. The family’s three daughters take care of the chicken and love it no differently than they would a puppy.

Sharan Hawkes said Plucky has a friendly personality, comes when people call her, and plays around with the kids.

It’s their love for this chicken, she said, that is driving their fight to change Waltham zoning laws that currently prohibit residents from owning chickens.

Their fight started a few months ago when someone reported them for keeping an illegal pet. They called city Councilor Gary Marchese, who is now co-sponsoring the ordinance change with Councilor at large Paul Brasco to allow Waltham residents to own one chicken.

Marchese said he supported the change after hearing about Plucky and learning through some research that many other communities and big cities have started to allow people to keep chickens as pets or raise them for food. He said the change will only allow for a single chicken per household and roosters are specifically banned because they make too much noise.

“I don’t think this is harmful, I don’t think it’s detrimental to the neighborhood or community, and I wouldn’t stand behind it if it was,” Marchese said.

Sharan Hawkes said her neighbors have been supportive of the zoning change, however, some residents recently filed a petition against the measure.

Marchese read the petition, and said the main reason people give against the measure is that they believe chickens are unsanitary.

“I think that some people think chickens breed disease and they’re unsanitary, but I don’t think there’s any supporting evidence of that at all,” Marchese said. He added that the Waltham Board of Health will also have to approve the change.

Despite the occasional harsh feedback, Sharan Hawkes said the push to change the zoning ordinance has been a valuable experience for her family, especially her three daughters, who are learning about the process of changing laws.

The item is currently in currently in the Ordinances and Rules Committee, and was read to the City Council on Monday.

The Hawkes say that if people got to know Plucky, they would understand what a great pet she is. That said, Sharan Hawkes admits that the family still enjoys their chicken dinners.

“It’s different when it’s under cellophane,” she said, laughing. “But if Plucky was the last chicken on earth, I wouldn’t eat her.”

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