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Resident, city at odds over therapy support chickens
Mary Anne Shirah
Mary Anne Shirah with one of her therapy support animals.

A Hinesville resident said the city of Hinesville is trying to remove chickens from his home despite the fact that they are medically necessary for the continuation of life of his terminally ill daughter.

Alex Shirah said his daughter Mary Anne suffers from Friedrick's Ataxia, a genetic disorder that will slowly cause her to lose control of her body, confine her to a bed and eventually cause her heart to fail.

The young girl is expected to live only another decade or so, according to the family. On Sept. 17, 2018, Mary Anne, now 11, underwent spinal surgery. After a brief period of recovery her physician recommended she keep chickens so that she could keep her muscle mass from deteriorating too rapidly and also help her cognitive state and emotional state.

Shirah said he soon received a notice from the city that a neighbor had complained and that he was in violation of a city code.

According to City of Hinesville PR Manager Whitney Morris-Reed, an investigation was opened by the city’s Inspections Department, based on the following City ordinance: 

Per Chapter 4(1) Section 4-5(a):

“It shall be unlawful for any person to keep or maintain any animal or fowl in the City in such manner as to create an unsanitary or obnoxious condition, or to become noisy, offensive or a nuisance to the neighbors or citizens of the City, or to disturb the peace of the City.”


“Over the course of this investigation, the resident has provided the Inspections Department documentation from his child’s physician stating that the chickens were therapy / emotional support animals,” Morris-Reed said in a written statement. “Thus the case was referred to the City Attorney for review and legal counsel. In the meantime, staff within the Inspections Department has made the determination that the resident be allowed to keep chickens on the property based on documentation and pending the conclusion of legal counsel’s review and confirmation of all documentation.”


But Shirah said the city came back to him again in February to tell him he had too many chickens citing that the current ordinance only allowed five pets per household.

“We explained that the first letter from her doctor stated that she needed multiple chickens of various ages for her to chase as part of her therapy,” Shirah said adding that they went back to the physician to provide the city with the specific number the medical specialists felt appropriate.

“He wrote another letter stating that she could have up to 15 chickens,” Shirah said. “She only has 10.”


Since February things remained quiet until just recently.

“The City received an additional nuisance complaint on June 13, 2019, which Codes Enforcement responded to,” Morris-Reed said. “The responding officer observed that additions had been made to the accessory building housing the chickens and notified the resident of the unpermitted additions as well as that a complaint had been received.”

But Shirah said what the city is calling an accessory building is nothing more than a chicken coop. Not a storage shed or something that would require a permit.

“It’s nothing but 2-by-4s and chicken wire,” he said. “And it can be picked up and moved.”

He said his neighbors have all been supportive and understanding of the need to have the chickens and have signed a petition in support of keeping the chickens.

 The city said they did file a stop work order by certified mail on June 17. Morris-Reed said that in this particular case, the issue at hand is to whether the accessory building requires a building permit – the necessity of which is a determination made by City staff.

"This particular structure is classified as an accessory building because it meets the definition of an accessory building," Morris-Reed said. "Per the ordinance, such a structure could be classified as such based on its intended usage as a kennel for a resident’s pet or even a child’s play area. To be in compliance with the ordinance in this particular case, and as stated in the notice sent to the resident, we need to inspect the structure to determine if a permit is/was necessary to make any changes so it still complies with the definition of an accessory structure."

Morris-Reed said the certified letter sought permission from the property owner to inspect the building to determine if a permit was necessary prior to work being completed. 

"At this time, a response has not been received from the resident to the Inspections Department," she added.  

“The City strives to foster a community of inclusion, diversity and fairness in its policies and procedures and emotional support, service and therapy animals are becoming more common nationally,” Morris-Reed said. “With that being said, this case is still pending legal counsel review in regards to City ordinance and its approach to emotional support / therapy animals.”

Shirah said he has filed a formal fair housing complaint to the Georgia commission of equal opportunity against the City for violating his child’s disability act.


The Courier will follow this story as it develops.

Family of terminally ill girl requests to keep chickens

By: Lewis Levine

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