FAIRMONT - Fairmont City Council has set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, after which it will decide what animals citizens should and should not be allowed to keep as pets.
The council originally was going to determine if chickens are suitable household pets, but after further study of City Code, city staff has decided much of the ordinance that pertains to animals needs clarification.
"I think it's time we do take a good look at it and clean it up, and that's what we're trying to do here," said city administrator Mike Humpal, noting the animal ordinance was last addressed in 1986.
As defined in the code, house pet means "a dog, cat or animal of a type customarily used as a pet by an individual family."
Livestock, on the other hand, means any domestic animal except a house pet, Humpal explained. That means horses, swine, cattle, llamas, poultry, rabbits, etc., are only permitted in agricultural zones.
"Some would argue that a rabbit is customarily used for a pet by an individual family, but it's also identified under livestock, and the only part of the code where livestock are permitted is in an agricultural zoning district," Humpal said.
Given the subjective nature of the code's language, the only animals that are expressly permitted as pets within residential zones are cats and dogs.
"The close interaction and emotional attachment between a person and any animal is how it ends up being called a pet," wrote Fairmont resident Angel Gordon in a letter to the City Council.
Gordon is fighting not only to keep her three chickens, but also for other people who own animals the city might not consider customary.
In a letter addressed to the council, Gordon wrote that, "Livestock is a word broadly used for the business/practice of raising live animals for product or human consumption; it's not a definition of an animal in and of itself."
Among the pet owners Gordon is advocating for is her neighbor's granddaughter, who also keeps three chickens. After overhearing that the city might not allow the family to keep the chickens, the little girl panicked and refused to let anyone near the small coop where the birds live.
"She was terrifed someone was coming to take her chickens," Gordon said.
Her proposed solution to the problem is for the city to better define pets, in order to prevent true danger to public safety and prevent threats to the environment if an animal escaped or was released.
Gordon also suggests pet owners who keep their pets in their backyards at all times should be required to get 80 percent of their neighbors' approval, including dog owners.
"Dogs barking all the time are much more of a nuisance to neighbors than any little peeps my chickens might make," she said.