While strolling in the backyard of her home on Lotthrop Street in Beverly, 7-year-old Raffaella Cirosido introduced NBC10 to her chickens.
“Yellow is Chirpey and the other is Polka Dot,” she said, crowing a chicken in her arms.
Raffaella’s parents fight to keep the pets in the backyard, but city officials say the chicken coop needs to be gone due to neighbors’ complaints and zoning restrictions.
“We’re in a COVID crisis and they want to get rid of the chicken? To me, that’s stupid and ridiculous,” said William Wilson, Raffaella’s father.
The family is now taking the fight to court and asking the judge to allow the girl to keep the herd as emotional support animals.
Wilson explained that his daughter’s personality exudes happiness. However, when it comes to school, he and his wife notice the disappearance of Rafaela’s joy as she struggles to learn to read and write.
“When they tried to get her to perform, she just started crying and got very anxious and nervous,” Wilson said.
Doctors diagnosed Rafaela with performance anxiety disorder.
This past Easter, the family decided to have a baby pup. The parents told us they soon saw an emotional turn.
“We noticed that once she engaged with the chickens, her anxiety improved,” Wilson said. “She seemed to be relaxing and calming down.”
Wilson paid a fee to register the chickens in town and installed a coop for them in his backyard.
But months later a health inspector came and told the family that the system had violated city rules.
The problem is a city ordinance that requires something like a chicken coop to be at least 25 feet away from any home.
In the crowded neighborhood near the sea, there was no way for the coop to meet this requirement, so the city told the family that the chickens would have to go.
But for Wilson and his wife – both doctors – that answer won’t work.
“These chickens were for me playing an emotional support animal,” Wilson said. “I mean, it was obvious to me as a doctor.”
Attorney the family hired Jeremy Cohen, who argues that under the Federal Fair Housing Act, Beverly officials should make reasonable accommodations for Raffaella’s anxiety disorder.
Taking (the chicken) away now would be devastating to her, Cohen said. “They are emotional support animals and the government allows people to have emotional support animals when their ability to cope with life is diminished by a mental disability.”
When NBC10 contacted city leaders, they told us they could not comment due to pending litigation.
Court documents filed by Beverly show that neighbors complained about the smell, the noise, and the presence of rodents. Several neighbors have submitted affidavits detailing their concerns about mice.
“What the board has been told is that the rats came when the hens came,” Attorney Joe Padolsky, who represents Beverly, said during a recent hearing.
It is now up to the Essex County Judge to rule on the poultry problem.
Wilson worries that Rafaela will take a big step backwards if the chickens can no longer provide their support.
“What would you do for your daughters if it was something for their well-being?” asked Wilson. “You know, you’ll do anything.”