As predicted, chickens coming home to roost


This is an example of the kind of idyllic images that were used to foist the backyard chicken ordinance on the people of Billings. And of course the City Council fell for it.

The good, responsible citizens of Billings begged and pleaded with their City Council not to approve it, warning that a “yes” vote would lead to lawsuits, and to no end of trouble in bathrooms and changing rooms all over the city.

I refer, of course, to the ordinance allowing the keeping of backyard chickens, approved by the City Council in August 2012.

This seemingly benign ordinance, this feel-good legislation, was ridiculous from the start. People were already raising chickens in their backyards, and though it was technically against the law, they were generally left alone, allowed to pursue their dirty, disease-ridden pastime in peace.

Ed Kemmick

Ed Kemmick

But that was not enough for the chicken fanciers, as they loved to call themselves. No, they decided they had to cram their lifestyles down the throats of normal citizens who simply do not like backyard chickens, often because of deeply held religious beliefs.

And so it came to pass that the City Council, not wishing to appear out of touch with the “morality” of the present day, went ahead and approved the chicken ordinance on a 6-4 vote. (With Councilman Rich McFadden absent. McFadden, a bulwark of the forces of good, would have voted “nay,” but his vote would not have changed the outcome.)

And here we are two years later, watching as the dangers foretold by opponents of backyard chickens are played out in this place we used to call the Magic City.

Readers of the Billings Gazette will have guessed by now that I am talking about the recent incident in which a man was charged with “surreptitious visual observation or recordation in a residence,” by installing a hidden camera in the shower of his ex-girlfriend, who was letting him live at her house.

First of all, I have to say that “recordation” is my favorite word. But what is more important is the defense raised by the alleged recordater. He said, according to charging documents quoted by the Gazette, “that he had installed the camera the previous day to watch chickens he was cleaning in the bathtub and forgot to remove it.”

Didn’t we warn the City Council that it was opening the door to this kind of depravity when it blithely passed the chicken ordinance? I had written to several council members myself, asking them to insert this language in the proposed ordinance:

“Nothing in this section shall be construed as an endorsement of surreptitious recordation in shower stalls, locker rooms, bathrooms, hopelessly outdated highway rest stops, outhouses, biffies or port-a-potties, under the guise of monitoring the cleaning of chickens.”

They just scoffed at me. I was told that nothing so outlandish would ever happen. (One council member even called me Chicken Little, apparently because poultry puns are irresistible.) Well, tell that to the woman who not only was filmed while showering, but has to live with the knowledge that she was standing in a tub that had been, just a short while earlier, according to her ex, teeming with chickens.

Some people have said that the fellow with the camera hasn’t got a chance in court, since no judge is going to believe that anyone craven enough to raise backyard chickens would be so dainty as to give the chickens a thorough cleaning.

But the cat is out of the bag, the chicken has flown the coop. Because the City Council caved in to the chicken fanciers, granting them special rights and privileges, they will have special standing in court.

If people are allowed to have chickens in their backyards, doesn’t it stand to reason that they should have the right to bathe them in whatever manner suits them? And if that involves leaving the shower running on the chickens while the fancier watches a football game, simultaneously monitoring the said chickens via a recordation device, what judge would dare call that an illegal act?

Sadly, this is only the beginning. I have a friend, a very talented professional photographer, who was asked to take pictures at a party where three chicken fanciers planned to introduce their backyard hens to one another.

My friend, despite her very deep disapproval of the whole idea of urban chickens, nevertheless took the job on the advice of her lawyer, who advised her to do so or risk being dragged before the Montana Human Rights Commission.

Chicken Little indeed. Dear readers, the sky is falling. If you want it to stay where it belongs, up in the air, please join me in urging our City Council to repeal the backyard chicken ordinance.

Remember, it’s the squawky wheel that gets the grease.



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