Stacy Reno loves animals. So does Tanya Floyd. The two Oakhurst neighbors disagree, however, on the type and number of animals appropriate for individual residential lots in their densely developed Decatur neighborhood.
on the City of Decatur acting on a complaint Floyd filed that Reno was keeping livestock at her home. Officials cited Reno for having three goats, a violation of Decatur health and sanitation codes. The when it learned that Reno’s goats are Nigerian pygmy goats. Since 2000, the city has considered the breed pets, not livestock.
The disagreement among the neighbors spilled out onto blogs and Twitter and Decatur officials are investigating. Behind the investigation and the Internet exchanges is a story of two people who love animals, the environment, and their funky Oakhurst community.
Reno is a realtor who lives with her husband and children in a modest frame bungalow on the west side of Feld Avenue. Reno’s house is about 1,900 square feet and it sits within an irregularly shaped 8,200-square-foot lot. Zoned R-60, the Renos live in a single-family residential district. City laws regulate the size, setback, and types of buildings allowable in residential districts. And, they regulate uses, including the raising of livestock.
Floyd is an environmental attorney who lives behind Reno on Cambridge Avenue. Floyd’s home also is zoned R-60 and she lives alone with her two dogs on a quiet street where chats with neighbors during dog walks can stretch for hours. When strangers approach one of the homes, emails are sent and calls are made to ensure the resident knows of the activities.
Both women love their neighborhood and their neighbors. Aside from a brief encounter at the wood privacy fence that separates their properties, Reno and Floyd have never really spoken. When Reno popped her head over the fence one day last year to announce, “We’ve got chickens now,” Floyd wasn’t too concerned about living next to a few of the birds.
“I think urban farming and chicken coops, I think it’s a cool thing,” Floyd explained while sitting in her living room.
“That’s fine with me,” she added. “I’m thinking a couple of chickens, you know two, three, maybe five, I’m not thinking fifty or however many it actually is.”
According to Reno, by last week the number of animals living on her property included 17 hens, 12 baby chickens, an adult turkey, two ducks, and three pygmy goats. The Renos also have two dogs, two cats, a turtle, and pet fish.
Last month Reno gave away three roosters that also had been living in her yard. One of the ducks was killed by a cat and late last week Reno found a home for the second duck.
Reno harvests eggs from the fowl. The goats and birds are pets. “These are members of my family,” Reno explained. “Instead of my kids sitting in front of the TV in the afternoons and evenings, my daughter says hey, let’s go out and sit with the chickens.”
The animals live in Reno’s back yard. She has constructed wire and wood frame coops for the birds. One large coop abuts the rear fence adjacent to Floyd’s yard. Other coops are scattered throughout the yard where the chickens, turkey, and goats wander freely beneath a trampoline and other yard furniture.
Floyd and other neighbors first became concerned about the types and number of animals living in Reno’s yard earlier this year when roosters could be heard crowing day and night.
Like most of the neighbors interviewed along Feld Avenue, Katie Pugh considers Reno a friend and she loves Reno’s animals. “The chickens never bother me so I never hear the chickens or anything,” Pugh said. “But I don’t live right next door or right up against it so I don’t know what it’s like.”
Pugh admitted that the roosters may have been a little too much. “Stacy’s my friend. We’ve talked about it and I wouldn’t have liked the roosters," Pugh said. “But she doesn’t have the roosters any more so I mean I really think the goats are precious.”
Reno’s friend Karen Rawle lives two houses down. The Reno and Rawle families have been friends for years, long before the Rawles moved from East Lake to Oakhurst last year.
Rawle enjoys letting her kids play with Reno’s animals and she appreciates the educational opportunities afforded by Reno’s animals. “When she got the little baby goats, my kids got to go over there and feed goats,” Rawle said.
Reno’s coops are clearly visible across the tops of fences from Rawle’s back yard. The duck, chickens, and turkey were audible on a recent morning at Rawle's home. There was a light breeze but no livestock smells from the Reno yard.
“I have not experienced a smell,” Rawle said. But, she added, “I haven’t lived here in the summer and she has more animals than she did last summer.”
Although Rawle easily admits that Reno is an animal lover, she is concerned that her neighbor may have gotten in over her head with the number and diversity of animals.
All of the people who live along Feld and Cambridge who were interviewed for this story expressed concern for the health and welfare of the animals. Folks like Rawle and Pugh clearly believe that Reno’s animals are being treated humanely and that they are not creating a public nuisance. Reno is adamant that her animals are well-treated and that they are being housed in a lawful manner.
According to Decatur Assistant City Manager David Junger, there is an open investigation into the conditions at the Reno property. The investigation was prompted by complaints filed April 14 by Floyd shortly after the attorney discovered rats in her kitchen.
Floyd believes that the conditions in the Reno lot and the proximity of animal pens to her home are inhumane, unlawful, and the source of the rats. “I would like strict compliance of the setback requirements, the housing requirements, and the livestock,” Floyd said.
The Reno family’s lot is 50 feet wide, and Decatur’s animal ordinance requires a setback of at least 50 feet from neighboring houses. The code also requires at least four square feet of living space per adult animal.
Reno's coops are about 31 feet from Floyd's home office and about 30 feet from Floyd's laundry room, which is next to her kitchen in the rear of the house.
Gary Peiffer is a Georgia state agricultural extension agent stationed in DeKalb County. Peiffer said that pygmy goats require little space. “They can fit in very small spaces, even the same amount you would have for a dog,” he said.
Peiffer said the types of animals kept in Reno’s yard pose little threat of disease to humans and pets.
“The main thing that tricky about all those animals though is other animals will also be a problem. That’s what they need to keep in mind, also, is that other animals will prey on them, especially chickens,” Peiffer explained.
Another neighbor witnessed one of Reno’s goats standing unattended. “I heard a goat and then I saw the goat. A small goat,” said Steve Cobb, an Indiana resident who is staying at his son’s Feld Avenue home across the street from Reno.
Reno’s goat was captured by children who live down the street.
Reno explained that the goat had escaped by climbing over the fence. She said that the condition that allowed the goat to escape has been corrected.
Besides the animals’ welfare, extension agent Peiffer noted that urban animals can create nuisances. Noise and odors are the leading complaints, he said. “But the big issue on most chickens is the noise so you do want to make sure that people have hens and not roosters. Because if they have even one rooster, it’s going to be so annoying the neighbors are going force them to get rid of the chickens.”
Before Reno got rid of her roosters, however, Floyd and other neighbors could hear them at all hours of the day and night.
Helena Ekpfadt lives on Cambridge and remembers the roosters. “Yes, I’ve heard roosters, half a year, maybe less,” she said. “I know that I didn’t hear them in the beginning and then I knew about them and then I heard them.”
The flap over the fowl and the goats has impacted Reno and Floyd deeply. Reno is distressed that strangers are commenting on her animals without knowing the details of the situation. “I feel a little invaded,” Reno lamented. “I feel a little – people on the message board calling me a hoarder. You know, somebody that’s never even met me. That was upsetting.”
Reno may have exacerbated the attention she is receiving by tweeting about the situation and by posting photos and comments on her blog, The Crazy Chicken Lady. She dubbed the episode “Chickengate 2011” in one post last week.
Floyd has spent nearly $4,000 on repairs to her house and in fixing the pest problem she says stem from Reno’s animals. She no longer invites friends and family over and she has stopped cooking in her kitchen.
“It’s quite frankly embarrassing to have friends over and you don’t want to have a dinner party and sit around the back patio and have cocktails and try and eat dinner with farm smells coming through,” Floyd said.
Reno and Floyd both hope that the situation is resolved this week when Decatur officials meet at the Reno property to inspect the animals’ living conditions and evaluate whether the animal pens are violating the city’s setback requirements.
Reno hopes that the solution doesn’t force her to get rid of any more of her animals.
Floyd wants her Oakhurst neighborhood to return to the quiet friendly community it was before the arrival of roosters, goats, ducks, and the turkey. “Basically, give these animals the life that they should have,” Floyd said. “I truly believe that she deeply loves those animals.”