City of Pratt residents are upset about amended ordinance that outlaws pets now considered livestock in city limits.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Willie Thorne has lived in Pratt at 821 S. Taylor for six years. For most of that time he has taken what he views as harassment from his neighbor to the north in stride, knowing there was a problem from the beginning when he purchased his home, because he said, that neighbor, a former city administrator, also wanted to buy the property.
"I've always liked animals, I grew up on a farm, but my few pets that I have here are nothing like that," Thorne said. "I have a few chickens and ducks, and dogs on either side of the pen to help keep them safe. They are just pets. It brings joy to my heart to come out here and care for them each day. I keep the pens nice and painted, I make their enclosures safe so they don't get out and nothing else gets in to hurt them. I don't know why anyone would have such a problem with this and take from me the rights I earned serving my country, my community and my fellow citizens."
Thorne was surprised to learn last week, from an article in The Pratt Tribune, that Pratt City Attorney Regina Probst had recommended city leaders amend an ordinance to state that chickens and ducks were no longer allowed in the city limits of Pratt. The city council voted 3 - 2 to follow those recommendations, though Thorne said the public was never notified of the changes coming or given a chance to express their opinions on such a change. He felt he certainly should have some right to voice an opinion on the subject as he has paid more than $3,000 in fines and court costs to the city of Pratt because of complaints filed by his neighbor to the north, Harley Dancaster.
"That same neighbor has a dog, a beagle, that howls all night long sometimes, but I never call in and complain about it. That's just not the kind of person I am," Thorne said. "I get tickets for nuisance animals, because I have two chickens and five ducks. They don't howl, they don't run loose in the yard or down the street, they don't leave a mess in the yard. My own dogs cause much more trouble that these few pet birds, and I never get a ticket for them. I just pay my tickets and go on because these ducks and chickens give me a reason to get up each morning. I feel a peace in my heart to be able to watch them, feed them, create a good environment for them. I protect them because that is what I do."
Thorne said his situation wasn't likely to be resolved by the pressure he is sure his neighbor has been putting on former co-workers at the city to change laws and outlaw his personal pets.
"What is wrong about this all is the underhanded way it was done, and all the other people who are being affected by one grouchy person," he said. "I live in Pratt, I worked at Dillons for years, my wife works in town here, we have just as much right to have certain pets as anyone else. I feel I am being targeted and harassed, and unfortunately it's something that shouldn't have gone this far. There is a right and wrong about this, and if the city commissioners would follow what they know is best for all of the citizens of Pratt, not just for someone who thinks they have higher influence, then it would have been handled in a much better way."
Also affected last week by the ordinance amended to outlaw ownership of chickens and ducks in city limits of Pratt was Darcia Killingsworth, who just happens to live across the alley from Thorne on Mound Street.
"I've wanted to have some chickens and ducks for pets for a long, long time," Killingsworth said. "I spent many months researching the best pens and shelters for them to keep them clean and healthy. My husband and I put more than $1,000 into building the best place to keep them. I bought six chicks here in Pratt from Orschelns and raised them this summer. It was all completely legal. When I moved them outside three months ago, I started getting harassed by the Dancasters and I recently got my first ticket for a nuisance animal. My chickens aren't bothering anyone. They are neat and clean and quiet."
Though Pratt City Police Chief Nathan Humble stated at the city commission meeting earlier this month that more than 20 complaints about chickens and ducks had been filed for those in city limits, a check of municipal court records indicated that only two were currently pending, those against Thorne and Killingsworth. Those tickets have now been dropped under the old ordinance.
"These are my babies, I can't just get rid of Jersey Girl and all the others," Killingsworth said. "I feel the whole issue was handed wrongly, based on lies and misinformation at the city commission meeting."
Both Killingsworth and Thorne said they were not sure what would happen next. Neither is willing to give up their rights to have poultry that benefits them in many ways in their back yards, as do citizens of many other small towns in Kansas.
"Already on Friday I got a new ticket for harboring nuisance animals," Thorne said. "I don't feel I have nuisance animals, and I don't like bullies."
Thorne and Killingsworth both said they should have an option to keep their pets under a grandfather clause that would protect the investment both have made in proper facilities for them. That did not seem to be a point considered in the rushed process of getting the ordinance changed before anyone knew what was happening, Thorne said.
In the meantime, Thorne said he was still going to enjoy going out every morning to feed his ducks and chickens.
"It's my therapy," he said. “They aren’t livestock, they are pets and I enjoy them. What’s next if we allow this to continue, outlawing dogs that bark, cats that meow, birds that sing in the trees, people feeding birds or squirrels in their backyards. People have a right to do that which makes them happy, in their own yard, according to common sense. This is not common sense what is happening here in Pratt.”