Ashleigh Hart walked out of a city council meeting Wednesday in DeBary, Fla. with a big smile after city leaders voted to allow her family to continue keeping three chickens in their backyard that have helped J.J., her 3-year-old son with autism.

“I’m very thankful,” Hart said. “It feels good that this is finally done.

“DeBary is great.”

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Under a resolution adopted unanimously, DeBary will grant a special accommodation to the Hart family, allowing them to keep up to three hens for J.J. because of his disability. The resolution applies only to the Harts and would not allow other DeBary residents to keep chickens, city officials said.

About two years ago, J.J. would hardly speak and had difficulty socializing and often threw temper tantrums because of his autism.

His parents, Joe and Ashleigh Hart, bought several chickens with hopes that the birds would help their son.

J.J. quickly bonded with the hens — often playing with them in his backyard. And his parents say he is now able to communicate better because of the chickens.

But this month, DeBary Council members voted to end a one-year trial program on Dec. 31 that allowed residents — including the Harts — to keep chickens in backyard coops either for eggs or as pets.

The Harts said they were faced with either getting rid of their birds or moving to another city.

The Harts’ attorney, Mark Nation, had threatened to sue DeBary in federal court saying that the city’s ban on backyard chickens would violate the boy’s rights under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Under the act, “reasonable accommodations” must be made to enable a person with a disability, such as J.J., “an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling of his choice,” Nation said.

“I’ve always said that we should make a special accommodation for J.J.,” Mayor Bob Garcia said.

© 2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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