A sense of calm comes over Nikki Pike when she’s with her three hens Nugget, Nibble and Noodle, at her home in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 4, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Snuggles with feathers: City of Calgary allows livestock as emotional support

In December 2017, a complaint prompted the city to investigate a Calgary woman’s chicken coop

A sense of calm comes over Nikki Pike when she’s with her three hens Nugget, Nibble and Noodle.

The Calgary woman has had anxiety and depression since she was sexually abused as a girl. Spending time with backyard chickens provided a safe haven during that traumatic time, and the mental link between the birds and peaceful feelings has followed her into adulthood.

“When I’m holding them, I’m feeling, I’m smelling, I’m hearing,” she says. ”What calms me down is all of those sensory aspects of being with them.”

Pike is working to formally register her “girls” as livestock emotional support animals under a new city program.

READ MORE: Alex Trebek posts new video on his cancer therapy: ‘I’m feeling good.’

In December 2017, a complaint prompted the city to investigate her backyard chicken coop.

“I was worried that somebody was going to come and take them away,” she recalls. “That’s incredibly stressful on top of my already crazy life that involves a lot of anxiety.”

Pike urged the city to amend its pet bylaw to allow animals normally found on farms into urban homes for mental-health purposes. Council voted to make the change last fall.

Pike is happy the city has recognized her chickens’ importance to her mental health — and that the bylaw takes into account animal welfare and effects on neighbours.

Pike’s hens spend most of their time in a heated coop decked out with disco balls, but they come inside at night for cuddles and treats. Her two sons, eight and six, like to read them bedtime stories.

Chickens are more affectionate and show more personality than people realize, says Pike.

“They will hop up on you and demand snuggles.”

To get a permit, an applicant must provide a letter from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist stating an animal is needed to treat a mental-health condition.

Many websites will provide a boilerplate letter for a fee. But Aalika Kohli, a business and policy analyst for the city, says those won’t do.

“The process is pretty robust to ensure there are no loopholes.”

The city must be satisfied the animal has adequate space and that there’s contact information for a veterinarian who can provide specialized care. An alternate home for the animal must also be lined up.

The city has not received any applications since its online portal opened in March, but Kohli says she’s expecting five to 10 a year.

She thinks most applications will be for chickens, pot-bellied pigs and miniature horses. Larger animals, like cows, would probably require too much space, but Kohli says each application will be weighed case by case.

Strathmore, east of Calgary, is the only other jurisdiction the city found with a similar bylaw. An exception there was made for a family with a pot-bellied pig.

In 2014, Trevor Dahl and his family convinced Strathmore’s town council to allow Chuckles, a pot-bellied pig, into their home.

The Dahls had taken in Chuckles as a rescue a few years earlier, but were told he couldn’t stay. Dahl says the pig was a big help to his daughter, then 10, who had been having nightmares after a large fire on their street.

“As soon as he started sleeping through the night, she started sleeping through the night, too,” he says.

The Dahls have since moved to a more rural area where county officials have no problem with Chuckles and another pig named Fairie as long as they’re not a nuisance.

Unlike service animals — such as dogs that help blind people get around — emotional support animals don’t need training.

Dahl took Chuckles to be trained in Edmonton anyway to bolster the case before Strathmore’s town council. The course was a breeze for the pig, he says.

Dahl believes municipalities should regulate pot-bellied pigs the same as cats or dogs. They’re clean and quiet, but their sharp minds do need to be kept occupied with games and toys to keep them out of trouble.

“They are more loyal than a dog. They’re incredibly intelligent. They’re extremely affectionate.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Ethel Williams gifted a donation for the Community Recreation Track resurfacing

The running track in Stettler is a legacy from the 1991 Alberta Summer Games

Annual Gord Bamford Foundation Charity Golf Classic returns

To date, the Gord Bamford Foundation has raised over $3.6 million

Maskwacis RCMP investigate deaths of two children

The RCMP can confirm that these children were siblings

Community mourns the deaths of two Maskwacis toddlers

Siblings found drowned on family’s property

Stettler dancers land amazing experiences in the ‘Big Apple’

Hailie Ripley and Elisa Collard will soon be jetting off to New York City

Feds lowered poverty line, reducing the number of seniors in need: documents

Liberals introduced a poverty line that was below the prior low-income cutoff

Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate indecent act at By The Lake Park

Complaint said man exposed himself in Wetaskiwin

$900M settlement reached in class action on sexual misconduct in Canadian military

After facing criticism, the government moved to begin settlement proceedings in early 2018

Chiefs honour Indigenous leader wrongfully hanged in B.C. 154 years ago today

Chief Joe Alphonse says they want his remains returned to his homeland in B.C.’s Cariboo region

Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate attempted armed robbery

Police seek information about alleged attack and identify suspect

Scrapie, a disease related to mad cow, found in two flocks of sheep in Alberta

Health Canada says there is no known link between scrapie and human health

Alberta oil and gas producer cleanup cost estimates set too low, says coalition

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. facing the largest bill at $11.9 billion to clean up 73,000 wells

Scheer on Trump: It’s ‘offensive’ to question the family background of critics

Trump is being called a racist for saying that the four congresswomen should go back where they came from

Instagram expands Canadian pilot removing ‘like’ counts to more countries

Social media giant plans to roll out the test in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Italy and Ireland

Most Read