By Tony E. Windsor

Much to the frustration of Laurel’s mayor, the issue of chickens in town continues to plague the community and remains a reoccurring topic at council meetings. Most recently, the concern about chickens roaming the streets of Laurel, attacking small animals and destroying property was raised during the Monday, Oct. 17 meeting of council.

Councilwoman Robin Fisher-Cornish expressed concerns that to date, the town has not adopted a specific code to either permit or prohibit the possession of chickens in town limits. This she said leaves little enforcement power and an inability to react to citizen complaints. “There are chickens that are roaming the streets in an area of the community and I was surprised to learn that in one instance a chicken injured a kitten by pecking its eyes. I always thought animals chased chickens, but it appears it is the chickens that are doing the attacking,” she said.

POLICE PROMOTION- Laurel Police officer Daniel Howard was recently promoted to the rank of Corporal. A special ceremony marking the achievement was held during the Monday, Oct. 17 meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council. Pictured here (left to right): Howard is presented a certificate by Laurel Mayor John Shwed as Chief Dan Wright and Capt. Rob Kracyla look on. Photo by Jamie Smith

In attendance was Danitra Fields, who resides in the Sixth Street area. She told Mayor and Council that there have been chickens coming into her yard and others in the neighborhood for “a long time.” She said despite contacting them, the owners of the chickens are doing nothing to prevent this from occurring.

“People are getting sick and tired of this,” she said. “Why should we have to put up with the chickens coming into our yards making a mess? These types of animals should not be roaming around town. What’s next, a farm?”

Town Manager Jamie Smith said she agreed that the town needed to adopt an ordinance to either allow chickens or prohibit the raising of the fowl in town limits. “Right now we can’t do anything about this problem because there is no clear cut ordinance to prohibit them. Animal control has informed us that like cats, they will not come to Laurel, catch the chickens and take them away. It will be up to us to figure a way to catch them and move them out of town if we adopt an ordinance to prohibit the raising and possession of chickens in town limits,” she said.

Fields said she understands that the SPCA will not trap the chickens, but said she does not feel it would be possible for her to attempt to catch the chickens that she is encountering. “I don’t believe I could catch these chickens,” she said. “I do not know where they came from, but it’s possible they were brought here for fighting and just let run.”

The chicken debate in Laurel has become a convoluted one in the recent months. Since last November, the issue has been debated back and forth, often during meetings void of a full council table, as well as some members seeking more time to review the issue before making a decision.

In November, after Laurel resident Cheri Clark voiced opposition to the town’s codes prohibiting chickens, in town limits, an ordinance was introduced as an amendment to Town Code, Chapter 49, and would allow a small number of laying hens to be kept by residents under strict guidelines. 

When a vote was taken it failed for lack of a majority, with a split vote of three to three. Following the defeat, the council proposed a new ordinance, which amended Chapter 49 and prohibits chickens from being raised in town limits. The ordinance lists, “game cocks, other fighting birds, and fowl, to include but not limited to poultry such as chickens, turkeys, game birds such as pheasants, or partridges, other wildfowl like guinea fowl or peafowl, and waterfowl such as ducks or geese” to be prohibited. 

As Ordinance 2021-7 was being planned for a second and final reading during the Jan. 18 meeting of Mayor and Council, Clark made a final appeal to allow laying hens to be allowed in town limits. Clark came to the meeting, this time armed with a community petition with 83 names in support of raising chickens in the town.

She was met with less than a sympathetic ear, as Mayor John Shwed made it clear he had “nothing against” Clark or her chickens, but would not support an ordinance to allow chickens other than the already permitted Delaware Blue Hen.

In March of this year, the council entertained a proposed ordinance crafted by the town’s attorney that would allow specific chicken types with special restrictions. The proposal was defeated 4-3 and the subject once again died with no changes made to existing ordinances.

On Monday night, Shwed said he has purposely avoided making any official reference to the chicken issue because he felt it had already garnered too much attention.

“It seems the media is fixated on the chicken issue,” he said. “Every time I opened the newspaper there was an article about chickens. We have a great number of important issues going on in town, including new development and efforts to fill our police department. I was not interested in bringing the topic of chickens up until everyone is ready to make a decision.”

Shwed said he will not entertain the chicken issue until all council members have considered a proposed ordinance and are ready to vote. 

“I will only bring this back up again and hold a vote if all members are present,” he said. “This decision will then be decided one way or the other.”

The mayor went on to say that for decades, there has not been a controversy about chickens. He said it has only become an issue due to people not taking proper care and allowing their chickens to roam free and become a public nuisance. He encouraged council members to consider the chicken ordinance over the next month and he will call a vote in November.