The case against a Bluffton family cited for keeping an unpermitted chicken was dismissed Tuesday by a local judge.
However, in his ruling, Bluffton Municipal Judge Kayin Darby sidestepped questions about whether the Stewart family's chicken is, legally speaking, a pet or livestock.
No ruling was issued because the arresting officer didn't show up in court. Officer Joseph Mooney has left the department for another job, according to an assistant solicitor, and no testimony was offered to help determine if the animal creates a nuisance, the judge said.
Mike Cerrati, the assistant solicitor, said he was satisfied with the ruling.
Stephanie Stewart of Mill Creek was cited under the town's animal ordinance Aug. 30 for keeping unpermitted livestock. She has argued that the hen, Smartie, which lives in the garage and spends much of the day inside with the family, was a pet and should not be considered livestock.
Stewart said she was pleased the case was thrown out, but warned that the hen wasn't out of the woods yet. In the past two weeks, they have received two letters from the Mill Creek neighborhood association saying the bird must go.
"It has come to our attention that you are keeping a chicken on your property," said the Sept. 5 letter, sent by the Mill Creek at Cypress Ridge Homeowners Association. "We ask that you please find a new home (for) the chicken."
Stewart plans to appeal that order, as well, on grounds that their chicken is a pet, not "livestock or poultry."
"Our (homeowners association) will have to decide if she is a 'common household pet,'" said Stewart, citing language in the association's covenants.
The Stewarts adopted Smartie last summer from friends in Yemassee. Since then, their three children, Shaelyn, Spenser and Shannah, have come to love the little clucker, who sports painted talons and wears a diaper indoors.
"She's pretty fun," said Spenser, 13, after Tuesday's hearing at Bluffton Town Hall, where dozens of minor traffic cases also were decided.
Shannah, 9, said Smartie has been known to snatch food right off their plates, and sometimes steals a nibble from the dog's bowl.
It's not clear if or when the homeowners association will hear the appeal, but Stewart hopes the bird will ultimately get a similar reprieve.
"Was it worth it? Not if my HOA says we can't keep her," she said. "But (Tuesday's ruling) might help other chicken people in the city."