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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

Feathers ruffled by cleanup edict in West Leipsic

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WEST LEIPSIC, Ohio - The cluck stops here.

Leaders in this small Putnam County town have vowed to "clean up" West Leipsic, to make it more attractive for people to call home.

Toward that end, they have started citing people for having junk cars on their properties, and waist-high weeds in their yards.

It also means that resident Terry Berger's chickens must go, per a 1980s-era ordinance prohibiting residents from keeping livestock. But Mr. Berger isn't giving up without a fight.

"They want me to get rid of my chickens, and we're not going to let them get rid of my chickens," Mr. Berger said.

Last week, he and his wife, Betty, went to Ottawa, the county seat, to dispute the citation issued by the Putnam County Sheriff's Office. But the pretrial hearing was postponed to 2:30 p.m. Sept. 1, according to the clerk of courts there. Until then, the couple will keep the disputed chickens, Mr. Berger said yesterday.

West Leipsic is hardly the only municipality that takes a hard line on poultry possession. Toledo's municipal code bans livestock within the city limits, unless the owner has obtained a permit from the commissioner of health.

The issue hit the headlines in Toledo in 1997 when then-mayor Carty Finkbeiner made a personal call to a young woman who had applied for a permit to keep her two pet hens, Original and Extra Crispy, at her home in northwest Toledo. He told her no, and the chickens moved to a farm outside the city limits.

West Leipsic council member Glenda Bennett sighed when the issue of the Berger chickens arose. To her, it's a matter of town pride.

"It's not me, it's not the neighbors, it's an ordinance," Mrs. Bennett said. "You just have to go by it. We're trying to clean up the town. We had new sidewalks put in.

"We don't want to be a another town where it's a laughing stock," she said. "We can't get any young people to move in - they don't want to come over here and look at chickens, or trash in someone's backyard, or people parking in their yards."

But Mr. Berger sees it differently. When the ordinance passed, he said, he was told his flock was exempt because it pre-dated the law.

"We was grandfathered in," he said. "They said it was all right because we had them before the ordinance."

Mrs. Bennett, who is Mr. Berger's first cousin and whose backyard is catty-cornered to his, disagreed with his interpretation of the law.

"They can't possibly be the same chickens he had 20 years ago," she said. "They butcher them, and she cans the meat."

"What can I say?" she added. "Don't bring more in."

His chickens, which currently number 19, do a lot of good in town, Mr. Berger contended.

"We have them for our grandkids and our kids. We're advisors for 4-H, have been for 20 years," he said. "We raise them for 4-H and the FFA, for the kids. We have 20 to 30 kids in our 4-H group. They come here and we demonstrate [the care of] chickens and rabbits."

Mr. Berger intends to take his case "all the way." But if he loses, he has a plan: "If I don't get to keep 'em, I've got a 'for sale' sign [to go] in front of my house."

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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