In America, our justice system is often at the hands of personal discretion. While the law may be a logical construction of our civil ambitions, the interpretation and implementation of the law is ultimately left up to the individual agency of government actors. Dawn Welsh, a resident of East Stroudsburg for over 30 years, found that out the hard way.
Last summer, she found a chicken in the parking lot of her job and took it home after saving it from running out onto North Fifth Street. Since then, she has found herself on a purge of hospitality, taking in chickens she’s acquired from those who no longer had the resources to care for them. Recently she has found herself with as many as 40 hens and several roosters.
Welsh separates her chickens by gender and keeps them contained in chicken wire in the summer and an enclosure that she has built in the winter. Welsh, like many others in our agricultural region, uses her chickens for non-commercial egg production.
Welsh is not the only one in her community that has benefited from her chickens. She has given eggs to the elderly who were too at risk to go to the grocery store themselves during COVID’s reign over America and continues to provide her neighbors with free-of-cost eggs to this day.
“People in my community, I give eggs to them because if you haven’t seen the price of eggs, they’re almost five dollars a dozen. It’s Ridiculous,” Welsh Testified, “Mine are organic. They’re farm fresh.”
However, there is a discrepancy among Welsh’s neighbors over just how much of a burden her birds place on her neighborhood. While some neighbors, such as Brad Bennet, have testified that “We’ve not had any problems with odor.” Others such as Chris Paul depict a juxtaposed situation; “…as soon as I drive up my driveway or anybody comes to the driveway to my house, that smell just hits you.”
There have also been alleged instances of incessant crowing, suggesting that neighbors whose schedules force them to head to bed in the early morning hours are suffering from the noise.
Ultimately, legal action is being taken against Welsh under township ordinance 27-508, which states, “1) A maximum of five customary household pets may be kept. 2) The keeping of farm animals shall require a minimum area of three acres plus an additional ½ acre of land for each animal more than the first animal.”
As zoning laws such as this one have caused some of Welsh’s neighbors to face fines and even dump their chickens in fear of continued enforcement of this law, Welsh has and continues to fight back in court through the appeals process, citing selective enforcement, that chickens are not customary household pets, and that her chickens are not farm animals, and therefore are unregulated.
Phil Dailey, who is only two blocks away from Welsh, has been fined $49,500 for his birds, while Lisa Counterman, who lives only two blocks away from Dailey, was allowed to keep hers. Emily Shoop, an Extension Educator, specializing in poultry at Penn State, has testified that “Poultry are regulated differently from hooved animals or what we would consider traditional livestock…” As more and more people rally around or against Welsh’s cause, only one thing is certain: the court’s decision will shape the lives of those who live for and care for poultry in the region.
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