Much needed joy via hen care

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A sign banning chickens looms in the left background over the shoulder of a person hugging a large self-satisfied appearing chicken. 
Will all signs in Regina point to yes? Those seeking licensed urban residences hope so. Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

How a pandemic, a medical prescription, and an appreciation for the humble chicken led to Regina City Council

On January 31, Regina city councilor Shanon Zachidniak will bring forward a motion asking for approval of a two-year pilot project to allow 20 residents to each keep between three and six backyard hens. The pilot project has been developed in partnership with local volunteer group, Queen City Chickens, who are advocating for a backyard hen bylaw in Regina.  

For those unfamiliar with urban hen keeping, this may seem a puzzling request that goes against everything urban centres once stood for: a separation of city and country. The irony is that Regina officially recognized that those clearly defined days of city vs country are in the past when it became a designated Bird Friendly City with Nature Canada. While a Bird Friendly City recognizes the responsibility of urban centres to support wild bird populations, not poultry, it bases that responsibility on an appreciation of the evolving impacts and implications of urban spaces on the lives contained within and without its boundaries.  

When Regina recognized that it had a responsibility, and greater than that – a  desire – to support wild bird populations that enrich life within its limits, it opened the door to other ways that citizens recognize value that may not conform with tradition.  

As it should, when one examines the track record for urban hen keeping in other cities. Keeping a few backyard hens is nothing new. Approximately 40 Canadian municipalities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Guelph, and Kitchener, already have successful bylaws allowing residents to keep a small number of hens. Such bylaws always stipulate that hens may be kept, not roosters, as hens are relatively quiet compared to their more noisome counterparts.  

Therefore, a pilot project to test out the proposed guidelines for hen keeping in Regina is not a big ask, nor one that is going to be earth shattering in its implementation. What it would do, however, is place Regina among cities that are responsive to citizens’ evolving needs. Additionally, the reasons that city residents engage in hen keeping are diverse, and as such are increasingly difficult to ignore in legal terms.  

An interesting case of keeping a few birds as companions made its way through court in British Columbia last year. Arielle Reid disputed a charge from the city of Vancouver that she violated a municipal bylaw by “harbouring a prohibited bird.” The judge observed that Reid kept two guinea fowl hens on her property for the “pure joy of companionship.” In this case, Justice Makhdoom considered Reid’s reasons for keeping the birds, the care that she took of them, and that her decision to do so did not adversely impact anyone else.  

CTV News reported on September 19, 2023, that the judge ruled in Reid’s favour, allowing her to keep her birds as long as she complied with other provisions of the bylaw. “The disputant kept them as beloved companions, for the pure pleasure of their proximity. Perhaps the same reasons many keep canines or felines, budgies, or parrots,” Makhdoom wrote.  

“Her conduct in stewardship and care of these birds is exemplary. She has provided for these birds an exceptional sanctuary. [The evidence] shows an excellent coop, clean, airy, and bright with fresh water and food, demonstrating the disputant’s diligent efforts in creating a comfortable habitat for these beautiful birds.” 

Makhdoom further noted that dogs and cats are kept as pets in “huge numbers” in Vancouver even if they cause noise, nuisance, and other issues. In contrast, the judge said there was “no evidence” the birds had any negative effects on civic life. 

Around the same time in Regina, a founding member of Queen City Chickens, Amy Snider, was struggling to have her reasons for keeping a few prohibited chickens recognized. Seeking safe options for herself and her family to destress during pandemic lockdown, Snider discovered the pleasure of caring for a few hens. At first, Snider rented a few chickens from a farm. The chickens could be returned for the winter, or if neighbors complained. But no complaints were forthcoming, and in the process, Snider realized how beneficial the hens were to their quality of life.  

“We fell in love with having chickens, […] they added so much joy to our lives. […] Watching them go about their daily business is very relaxing. They are quirky animals and have distinct personalities and they became pets, but even more than that they became therapeutic. I was very sad about having to give them up.” 

Snider took her concerns to her doctor, who recognized the therapeutic benefits of chickens in treating the anxiety and depression that she experienced. Her doctor wrote a medical prescription for her to keep the chickens for therapeutic and mental health purposes. Although Snider’s prescription was eventually recognized as a valid exception to the current city bylaw prohibiting chickens, she knew that this avenue would not be available to everyone who wanted chickens in Regina.  

Having heard that there was a Regina Chicken Underground that advocated unsuccessfully for hen keeping in the past, Snider began reaching out to other citizens who were interested in a hen bylaw whether for reasons of therapy, companionship, or food sovereignty through collecting eggs. Deciding to go aboveground, the group named themselves Queen City Chickens and got active putting together a formal application for a bylaw change.  

Answers to all your questions about urban hen keeping can be found on the Queen City Chickens petition at change.org “City of Regina: Allow Residents to Keep up to Six Licensed Hens.” Other ways to connect include Facebook, Queen City Chickens; Instagram, @QueenCityChickensRegina; and email, queencitychickens@gmail.com  

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