COOP (Chicken Owners Outside Philadelphia)
COOP (Chicken Owners Outside Philadelphia)

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Letter re: Connie

Dear Mr. McElhaney:

I am writing to request your assistance in a disturbing matter that occurred on my street early yesterday afternoon.


A chicken must have gotten loose, and was wandering on School Street. It was not aggressive by any means, actually it was quite adorable, and my young children squealed in delight at the sight of it. However, I was afraid it would be hit by a car. I contacted the Lower Merion Police Department so they could dispatch animal control. I told the dispatcher the chicken was not bothering anyone, but our neighbor’s cat did want to catch it. The call must have gone over the scanner, because one of your local fire fighters came to take pictures (I did as well see attached). We both watched the chicken so we could assist LMPD/Animal control. When Officer [withheld] arrived I told him my daughter informed me of some chicken coops behind Mel’s Italian. I even offered to call her and obtain more information if necessary. Officer [withheld] said he would go and take care of the situation, so I went back to my home. A few minutes later I saw local resident [withheld], he joked the chicken would be someone’s dinner tonight. I thought he was just making a bad joke. Unfortunately, another neighbor notified me Mr. [withheld] had in fact shot the chicken with a bow and arrow killing it. The officer was present at the time and allowed him to commit this cruel, unnecessary, and dangerous act. The animal was not a threat to society. When I confronted [withheld] he stated you are not allowed to have chickens in the area. I did not find a township law prohibiting chickens altogether, but there are guidelines and contacts within in the township to obtain a permit. This chicken may very well have escaped from an owner with a permit and a coop (see below).

Township Codes

  1. Definitions. As used in this section, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
    • BUILDING — A permanent construction consisting of at least three side walls and a roof.
    • COMMERCIAL USE — Operation of a business or enterprise which provides a service or product for sale to the public. For the purposes of this article, "commercial use" shall include but not be limited to animal hospitals, veterinarian establishments, pet grooming salons, pet stores, laboratories and zoological gardens.
    • CORRAL — An unroofed, enclosed area in which animals are habitually confined.
    • COOP — A building commonly used to keep fowl.
    • PEN — A small enclosure.
    • SHELTER — A roofed or partially roofed area providing protection from the elements.
    • SMALL ANIMAL — A dog or cat or other animal weighing under 100 pounds.
  2. General requirements. No person may keep an animal, fowl or reptile in or on any premises where such keeping is prohibited by law or ordinance of the Township or is prohibited as a use of property by the Zoning Commission or is prohibited by a regulation of the Building Inspector, Fire Marshal or any other governmental authority having competent jurisdiction.
  3. Location of buildings and structures.
    1. No person may erect a building shelter or enclosure for animals or fowl without securing a permit from the Director of Building and Planning. No person shall keep and maintain within the limits of the Township any buildings, shelters or corrals for any animals or domestic fowl unless said buildings, shelters or corrals shall be so located on the property as to be at least 100 feet from any building used for human habitation, at least 100 feet from any food service establishment and at least 50 feet from any property line. [Amended 1-19-2002 by Ord. No. 3631]
    2. Exceptions.
      1. Said buildings, shelters and corrals shall be permitted if they are at least 50 feet from any building used for habitation by the property owner or his family.
      2. This section shall not apply to a commercial use if it is limited to the keeping of small animals or fowl and is not within 100 feet of any food service establishment.
      3. This section shall not apply to pens, coops or enclosures wherein not more than two small animals or two fowl are kept.
      4. No setback from a building used for habitation by the property owner or his family shall be required for any barn, stable or structure designed for keeping animals which was in existence prior to September 21, 1977.
  4. Health and sanitation. Every stable or other building wherein any animal is kept shall be constructed of such material and in such manner that it can be clean and sanitary at all times. [Amended 1-18-2006 by Ord. No. 3768]
    1. Every stable or other building shall be provided with a flytight receptacle or container for manure, of such dimension as to contain all accumulations of manure and of a design approved by the Director of Building and Planning. The receptacle or container shall be maintained and emptied sufficiently often and in such manner as to prevent its becoming a nuisance. No manure shall be allowed to accumulate except in such receptacle or container.
    2. The Director of Building and Planning may require such other measures as may be necessary to avoid or abate a nuisance, including screening against files and sewer drain connection. The building wherein any animal is kept shall be provided with running water and flooring impervious to water, except where the animal is bedded. The Director of Building and Planning may require such other measures be taken as may be necessary to ensure proper protection of the public health and safety and compliance with this Health Code.
    3. All structures, corrals, pens or yards wherein small animals or fowl are kept shall be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition, devoid of all rodents or vermin and free from objectionable odors. No manure shall be allowed to accumulate nor shall be dumped on any open area or lot in the township. Neither shall any manure be used to grade in whole or in part any area in the township unless said manure be completely covered with at least four inches of soil. The Director of Building and Planning , upon the complaint of any person, shall inspect such structure or premises and issue any such order as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Health Code.
  5. Prohibitions.
    1. No persons shall operate or maintain a piggery in the Township.
    2. No person may keep a poisonous reptile of any kind in the Township.

§ 90-34. Prohibition of conditions conducive to rodent, insect and pest life.

  1. No person shall place food in the open for the feeding of any domesticated fowl or animal except in a container which will prevent the scattering of the food upon the ground. Unconsumed food shall not be allowed to remain where it is accessible to rodents, insects or other pest life.

While the actions of Mr. [withheld] shows a lack of adult responsibility and class, I find Officer [withheld]’s disregard for public safety, and the well being of a domestic animal disturbing. I contacted the police so they could handle the situation in a humane manner, and not to allow a resident to kill for fun.

I immediately went to Lower Merion Police Department to file a complaint against Officer [withheld]. Of course the Sergeant I spoke to did all he could to justify Officer [withheld]’s actions. The Sergeant stated the department received calls the chicken was attacking local dogs and cats. As I stated above, a local fire fighter and I watched the animal, and I assure you Mr. McElhaney, it did not pose any threat. It was merely walking and clucking on streets and front lawns, it did not appear to be afraid of us. When my husband called the police last night to obtain Officer [withheld]’s name, our address was the first one the dispatcher cited. I am curious to see how many calls they received regarding the chicken, and its vicious demeanor. When I asked the Sergeant why the department did not send animal control, he stated animal control was off duty today. The Sergeant also explained animal control is not equipped to handle farm animals. I decided to challenge his response, and asked if they have anyone else to contact for these types of matters since animal control cannot. He stated there is no one else. I was very unhappy with the Sergeant’s answer, so I contacted Montgomery County SPCA. The representative I spoke to was shocked at the conduct of officer [withheld] and Mr. [withheld]. She stated the police department is aware they can bring animals such as chickens to their facility. She also noted if an animal is hurt and an SPCA officer is in the area they will get the animal. The representative was also shocked they felt the chicken was threatening, she also alluded to the fact these animals are not known to be aggressive, and it is very possible to goad it along without harm. Officer [withheld] did not even attempt to be humane, nor did he think about other options available to prevent the unnecessary harm of a domestic animal. He could have contacted the SPCA, or tried to locate the owner of the chicken coops by Mel’s, I would have been more than willing to keep it in my fenced backyard until it could be taken to the appropriate place.

I feel his poor judgment in this situation goes against the core values of integrity, professionalism, and respect cited in the Lower Merion Police Department Mission Statement. I urge you to please contact Superintendent Mike McGrath and request a written warning for Officer [withheld]. More importantly, a civilian shooting a bow and arrow on a residential street is not only dangerous, but should be illegal, and Mr. [withheld] should be reprimanded by local law enforcement.

I contacted the Pennsylvania Gaming commission. Unfortunately, they cannot do anything because a chicken is considered a domestic animal (which makes the situation more disturbing). However, the representative did not feel shooting the bow was a good idea on a residential street. I asked if a cross bow is considered a firearm, he said no but it is a weapon. I think we need to work to amend 111-7 E below to include not just firearms, but weapons of any kind.

111-7. Acts constituting disorderly conduct. Without in any manner intending to limit or restrict the generality of the above definition of and prohibition against disorderly conduct, the following are hereby declared to constitute disorderly conduct: E. The discharging on or across the streets or highways of air guns, spring guns, rifles or firearms of any kind or character whatsoever. Editor's Note: See also Ch. 151, Weapons.

It is important to keep Belmont Hills a civilized, refined community that is safe for our children, and not a Wild West town where people shoot harmless animals on a residential street for fun. There are state sanctioned areas for hunting, and I am sure Belmont Hills is not on the list.

Mr. McElhaney we need to let these individuals know Belmont Hills is a nice residential neighborhood, and not a hunting ground. We need to keep our residential streets safe. I appreciate any assistance you can provide to amend 111-7 E.

Thank you for your time.


[Name Withheld on Request]