A former Roseburg city councilor registered her chickens as emotional support animals after police sought to revoke her livestock permit. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Former Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks has taken a novel approach in her dispute with city officials as they seek to take away her pet chickens. Hicks got a note from her doctor stating that she suffers from emotional/mental health issues and by law is entitled to an emotional service animal — in this case, her chickens.

On March 18, Hicks filed a formal appeal with City Manager Nikki Messenger, appealing the decision of Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein to revoke Hicks’ livestock permit and force her to get rid of the four chickens.

“I have suffered a considerable amount of mental stress, severe anxiety and depression as a result of the ongoing fighting, untruths and misinformation with the revocation of my livestock permit and anguish caused by threats to revoke,” Hicks wrote in the appeal.

She attached a letter from Dr. John Davis Edmiston II, who supported Hicks’ claims of emotional stress and anxiety.

Edmiston wrote in his letter, dated March 15:

“I recently evaluated Ashley Ann Hicks’s mental health condition. I am familiar with her history and with the functional limitations imposed by her emotional/mental health issue…

Due to this emotional disability, Ms. Hicks has certain limitations related to social interactions, coping with stress, and anxiety. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance her ability to function independently, I am recommending an emotional support animal that will assist Ms. Hicks in coping with her disability. Ms. Hicks assumes all responsibility for the training, safety, cleanliness, health and conduct of her animal at all times.”

That emotional support animal Edmiston refers to are the chickens.

Hicks said she has also enlisted the services of attorney Geordie Duckler, who heads The Animal Law Practice in Portland. According to its web site, the firm’s clients “are companion, domestic, commercial, farm, and exotic animal owners, and its main focus is on the resolution, litigation, and trial of animal-related disputes and harms in cases at both the state and federal levels.”

The site goes on to explain that Geordie is involved in several hundred cases a year on issues ranging from resolving minor animal control violations to significant product defect, human injury, and veterinary malpractice suits and injury cases.

“His practice is the only one of its kind on the West Coast and one of a small handful in the entire nation,” the site says.

A GROWING DISPUTE

Hicks lives in the 700 block of Southeast Flint Street, a few blocks west of downtown Roseburg. Her home backs up to the South Umpqua River.

Last June, Hicks got a permit for her chickens and ducks. She said she went door-to-door to get the 23 signatures of neighbors that was needed, and paid the $50 permit fee.

“I did it right. I played by the rules,” Hicks said.

However, Hicks said that in September a dog owned by her neighbor, Susie Osborn, attacked one of her hens. Later another dog owned by Osborn attacked and killed one of Hicks’ ducks.

All told, Hicks said Osborn’s dogs have killed two of her ducks and injured two of her laying chickens. Following one such attack in January, one of the dogs was impounded and Osborn was ticketed by animal control, Hicks said. Osborn reportedly appeared in court on the incident and paid a fine.

Hicks said it is those incidents that prompted Osborn to take action to have Hicks’ chickens removed. Hicks ticks off the reasons she believes the removal of her animals is unwarranted:

Osborn is the only neighbor to actually petition for the removal; another neighbor who signed a letter was an elderly woman who doesn’t live in the property and didn’t understand what she was signing. The woman’s tenants, who are also her relatives, were told to sign the letter, Hicks said. No one else has complained, she said.

Her chicken coop and pen are over 200 feet from Osborn’s shared property line and nearly 300 feet from her house. Hicks said she keeps the chicken coop clean and the animals don’t make much noise.

In addition to helping with her emotional well-being, the chickens provide free, healthy food. “I haven’t bought eggs in nearly a year,” Hicks said.

Osborn declined to discuss the matter in any detail. She did say that Hicks posted “horrible lies” about her on Facebook, and that she had refrained from responding to Hicks or her posts.

“The only thing I have to say is I asked her to keep her chickens in the coop and she refused,” she said.

Osborn herself served a total of 10 years on the city council, from January 1991 to December 1998, then again from January 2007 to December 2008.

Messenger said that under city code Klopfenstein is required to revoke the permit if he receives written objections from more than 50% percent of the abutting property owners, which Messenger said he did in this case.

Messenger said she is scheduled to hear Hicks’ appeal on April 6; she has 20 days from that hearing date to issue her final decision.

Messenger declined to comment on Hicks’ claim that she needs a chicken for an emotional support animal.

Klopfenstein could not be reached for comment.

THE HEARING

Hicks has been something of a lightning rod at city hall for years. She took her seat on the Roseburg City Council in January 2017 and served one, four-year term. She was defeated in her bid for re-election by Patrice Spiros in November.

Hicks’ term on the city council was riddled with controversy, mostly in connection with her views and actions towards the area’s homeless population. Hicks would often lead cleanups of homeless camps, which some applauded but others saw as simply a way to displace homeless people.

Within months of taking her seat, a petition drive to have her removed from office was launched; it fizzled out.

In February 2020, Hicks was sanctioned by the City Council for comments she made on social media in support of a homeless camp near the airport. Later in the year Hicks filed a formal complaint against Messenger, accusing her of not living within city limits and therefore violating her contract and the city charter. The city council dismissed Hicks’ complaint, calling it unfounded.

Hicks said this latest action to remove her chickens is more “political harassment” from Messenger, the chief and the city council.

“The whole thing is embarrassing for our city. All this over some stupid chickens,” Hicks said. “It’s just more political harassment from my former colleagues. I just asked them to leave me alone and that’s it. These chickens are the only thing I get a little joy out of nowadays.”

Hicks also said part of the reason she hired Duckler, from The Animal Law Practice, is because she is considering filing a complaint in small claims court against Osborn for the harm to her ducks and chickens.

But first she is focusing on her fight to keep the four chickens she currently has. Hicks acknowledged that could be a tough hill to climb.

“I appealed to the city manager and then she decides, so my chances don’t look so good. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to get a fair chicken hearing,” Hicks said. “It’s so stupid when I say it out loud that it makes me mad. People are living in crisis, living on the streets, food banks are tapped, and the city is after me for my chickens. The whole thing is absurd.

“I just want the city to leave me alone.”

This story published with permission as part of the AP Storyshare system. Salem Reporter is a contributor to this network of Oregon news outlets.