Leaning Against the Majority on Hens and Snakes

Tomorrow night at Minot’s special City Council meeting, I’m leaning towards allowing snakes as pets and backyard hens.

And if my support ends up in those columns, it would be in spite of what I consider a majority of public input that’s opposed to both. So, with that being the case — me likely voting against a majority of public input, I thought it appropriate to share my thinking.

On both sides of these issues, those with strong feelings have been making arguments and sharing their thoughts. Here’s a smattering of what’s been shared with me (bold and italic) and my reaction (normal text).

I want to know where my food is coming from. This is to do with backyard hens and the resulting eggs. As far as my food sources, I also want to know where it comes from. Plus, raising perhaps as many as a couple of dozen eggs a week is not insignificant.

I’m afraid of snakes; I don’t like snakes. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about this as a City Council member.

I want my kids to have the responsibility of looking after the chickens. This is one of the more interesting statements I’ve heard, because on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been hearing…

We had chickens on the farm, and I want nothing to do with them in town. Did you notice? Some in town are looking to instill the values and qualities of growing up on the farm. And those that grew up on the farm want nothing to do with some of those same qualities. I find this curious.

Snakes cannot survive a North Dakota winter if released into the environment. I think the information we’ve learned about snakes and those sold as pets suggests this is true.

If you allow snakes in town, you’ll have to burn down those houses when they get into the walls. You would be surprised how many times I’ve heard this. Also, I have no reason to doubt this happened in the past. But should we be shaping public policy around seemingly rare exceptions? I’m not sure.

Chickens are dirty, smelly, and spread disease. Dirty and smelly are relative terms, but I’ve been in enough barns to know there are smells there not commonly encountered in the city. The spread of disease is something that concerns me.

The City allows people to keep four large dogs in a home, all we want is four 10 lb. chickens in a covered coop. I see that as a fair comparison.

A limit to our hypocrisy?

We readily accept dogs as pets, but there’s no doubt we can find examples where they create friction among neighbors. Some dogs bark incessantly; some dog owners are a bit slow on the cleanup. We’ve all smelled those yards.

So here’s my question: why are we so quick to accept dogs, but yet unwilling to extend the same courtesy to those who want to keep hens? Few who oppose backyard hens have given me much of a response to that question. If you haven’t guessed, this is one of the reasons I’m having a hard time justifying why I should treat hens differently than dogs under Minot law.

That said, we do restrict dog ownership in cases where we think there’s a threat to public safety. There are studies that show outbreaks of salmonella contracted from handling poultry are rising. That makes sense, the trend of keeping backyard hens is also rising. Those same studies also seem to show that the largest risk is to those who’ve had direct contact with the birds.

Freedom or the protection of the government?

With both snakes and backyard hens (and even pit bulls), the question we have to wrestle with is to what degree do we want to restrict individual freedom and property rights in exchange for some protection enforced by our local government?

With snakes and backyard hens, I’m willing to err on the side of freedom. I don’t think the risks rise to the level of needing protection. And specifically with hens, I don’t think the experience many had on the farm growing up is what’s being considered in town. I have friends who keep backyard hens in other places, and from what I’ve seen, they’re no more a nuisance than a small dog.

In other words, I don’t think this a return to in-town hobby farms or poultry operations. I see both of these as a slight loosening of a very restrictive law. Yes, the folks fighting for these changes are a small minority, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to ignore their arguments. And in these cases, those arguments are the most compelling.

Tomorrow’s meeting starts at six. If you’ve got thoughts on the topic you want me to hear, the comment section below is a great way to share.

Josh Wolsky

Developer & Writer @TheMinot Voice, Fan of the Souris River, SavorMinot Advocate. Fortunate to be a 'former' City Council member ;)

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