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Sask. woman can keep emotional support hens, wants city to change backyard chicken rules

Amy Snider found four healing hens in the midst of a pandemic.

The Regina woman first rented the chickens from a Saskatchewan farmer for the summer in 2020. 

“I felt really at a loss for things to do to bring me and my family joy, and I also was experiencing very severe anxiety and some other mental health issues,” she said. 

Snider said she’s always loved chickens and how they made her feel happy. 

She told CBC News she got approval from her south-end neighbours to have the hens in her backyard, despite a bylaw banning the animals from being kept within city limits. 

“I thought, it’s COVID, it’s summer, I’m just going to do this and if anyone complains, I’ll be able to give them back to the farm they came from,” she said. 

WATCH | How this Regina woman got a prescription for emotional support chickens: 

sask woman can keep emotional support hens wants city to change backyard chicken rules

How a Regina woman got a prescription for emotional support chickens

24 hours ago

Duration 3:55

Featured VideoA Regina woman got a doctor’s prescription for emotional support chickens to help with her anxiety and other mental health issues. She used it to successfully fight city hall’s ban on backyard chickens.

By the end of summer, however, Snider had grown attached to the hens. At the same time, she said, her mental health was “getting worse.”

She went to her doctor for a letter, “to give me permission to keep the chickens as emotional support animals. He did even more and he wrote me an official prescription.”

“So I have a prescription for chickens.”

Plucky plight

For nearly three years, no one said anything about Snider’s hens, affectionately named Julia, Martha, Scrambled and Omelette.

Neighbour Shelagh Campbell said she enjoys visiting the hens, which are “not annoying in any way.”

“I don’t hear them. If I think about the fact that from where I live, I can hear Mosaic Stadium every time a touchdown is scored. I can hear the traffic and drag racing on Albert Street … all of those things make more sounds than chickens do,” Campbell said. 

A black chicken sits on a small swing made out of a pool noodle in a snow-covered backyard.
Martha, a Jersey giant hen, enjoys a swing in Amy Snider’s backyard. Snider says chicken, and how they can be kept, are often misunderstood. (Stefani Langenegger/CBC)

This past spring, however, someone anonymously reported the backyard coop to city bylaw officers.

The Regina Animal Bylaw currently prohibits livestock — including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, ducks and geese — from being kept in any areas of the city.

That’s when Snider pulled out her chicken prescription.

“After a few months of deliberations with the legal department, the city has dropped the case and is letting me keep my therapy or emotional support chickens,” she said.

“I am so relieved I don’t need to live in fear they will be taken from me and it also allows me to be an even louder spokesperson.”

Snider is a member of Queen City Chickens. The group is petitioning for a two-year pilot project allowing 20 Regina residences to collect data on backyard hen keeping.

It would allow for three to six hens, with regulations in place to protect the wellbeing of the animals and other residents. Roosters would not be not allowed.

“They are just lovely pets basically, and it’s unfortunate for them that they happen to fall under the designation of livestock,” said Snider, who also has three cats.

Snider said people in urban centres should have the choice to keep hens for food sovereignty, environmental, humanitarian, or health and wellness reasons. 

LISTEN: Amy Snider speaks about the benefit of chickens on CBC’s The Morning Edition

The Morning Edition – Sask11:08Regina woman has an Rx for chickens

Featured VideoAmy Snider fell in love with chickens during the pandemic and since then has had them declared emotional support animals. But she wants others to be able to enjoy the birds without a doctor’s note. She is hoping Regina will allow a pilot program for up to six backyard birds.

A woman wearing winter clothes crouches down with a outstretched arm to hand feed four chickens on the snow-covered ground.
Shelagh Campbell feeds neighbour Amy Snider’s emotional support hens. Campbell says the chickens are no bother in the neighbourhood. (Stefani Langenegger/CBC)

Council’s call

Ward 8 Coun. Shanon Zachidniak said Queen City Chickens approached her after the 2020 municipal election about its proposal. 

She commended the group’s “extensive” research and willingness to voluntarily assist the city with developing the project.

“This will be a pilot project that will be covered by the participants in it. So no additional cost to taxpayers,” she said. 

Zachidniak told CBC News she will bring forward a notice of motion on Dec. 6 to address the two-year pilot project at council’s first meeting of the new year on Jan. 31, 2024.

“Backyard chickens allows residents to have control over producing their own food, their own eggs, at a time when food prices continue to rise,” said Zachidniak, who has a Masters degree in environmental studies, with a focus on community food security. 

A woman wearing a knitted hat and sweater takes a selfies while holding a chicken.
Amy Snider with her hen, Julia. Snider said her chickens produced 278 eggs over a three-and-a-half month period from May to August. (Amy Snider/Submitted)

Zachidniak acknowledged some residents may have questions about noise, smell and the overall look of backyard urban coops. She said Queen City Chickens has already put together a Frequently Asked Questions list that dispels myths and provides factual information.

The councillor said the group’s petition already has more than 650 signatures.

She added that backyard chicken projects have been tested globally and around 40 Canadian municipalities, including Calgary, have trialled it. 

Bridge City Chickens in Saskatoon is also circulating a petition for a pilot project that would allow three to five hens in backyards.

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