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Calgary councillor weighs in on emotional support chicken case

Woman who turns to three emotional support hens when she needs support could lose chickens due to Calgary bylaws

Nikki Pike's emotional support hens offer her comfort.

Courtesy / Facebook

Nikki Pike's emotional support hens offer her comfort.

Emotional support animals are no joke, and one of Calgary's rookie councillors wants to legitimize the furry – or feathered – friends who help can citizens cope with mental illness.

On Monday, councillors will hear a notice of motion from Coun. Jyoti Gondek, asking administration to work together with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to come up with a way to certify animals providing an emotional boost to their owners. She's asking administration to outline responsible ownership and care guidelines for the working pets, some that don't fit into the city's urban setting.

This all came about because of one woman's inspiring story, and precarious situation.

"It was very eye opening," said Gondek.

Nikki Pike has three emotional support hens she uses to help her through anxiety and depression, but because they're considered livestock by the city, and not allowed within Calgary's limits, she's technically not allowed to keep them.

"Monday represents how serious my city is about allowing those of us who suffer mental health issues to have appropriate access to essential therapies," said Pike.

She explained that because her hens don't fall within the city's laws she was told she can't keep them.

"As someone who deals with severe anxiety and depression on a daily basis, the threat of having my therapy taken away is terrifying. I can’t imagine someone saying to a quadriplegic that they can no longer have their service dog. That animal provides essential physical support for that person."

These situations have come up before, Metro once reported on an emotional support pig in Strathmore. Eventually, the town voted to allow the family to keep the pig, but like Pike's situation, it put them through an emotional roller coaster.

Pike turns to her hens as an alternative to mood changing medication, and says they help her get through the day and care for her family where drugs would stop her from driving and other basic tasks her family needs her for.

"Her story is very illuminating to me," said Gondek. "Sometimes the good that we're trying to do by having policy in place can have unintended consequences on the good we could be doing for an individual."

AHS has information online about how a service dog is certified, but emotional support animals are uncharted territory for the province's health body.

"AHS does not have a role in categorizing and certifying any type of support animal," read a statement from AHS. "While this is not currently something AHS is involved in, we are happy to discuss this issue."

In Pike's case she was upfront with bylaw officers, but faced a neighbour complaint that landed her in court. She said now the case concerning her hens has been adjourned for six months. She hopes that's enough time to see a bylaw pass that would help her keep her hens legally.

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