We might never know why the chicken crossed the road, but a local judge will be asked this week to answer another vexing question: Are chickens livestock?
Stephanie Stewart, who lives in Bluffton's Mill Creek neighborhood, was cited Aug. 30 for running afoul of Bluffton's animal ordinance, which requires a permit to keep livestock. According to a police report, the family doesn't have town approval for its pet chicken, Smartie.
Stewart acknowledges she doesn't have a permit for the bird, which has lime-green painted claws and wears a diaper around the house. Stewart also admits failing to get permission to keep the bird from her homeowners association, which has its own animal rules.
But Stewart plans to argue in Bluffton Municipal Court on Tuesday that the clucker is a family pet, not a farm animal.
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"Growing up in Indiana ... I think of cows and horses as livestock," Stewart, 41, said. "I am not looking to farm, and I'm not going to build an ugly coop in my yard. She sleeps in a dog crate in the garage. She mostly stays in my flower beds underneath plants I have out there. She scratches around, and if it's getting dark, she will peck on the door to come in."
Although the town requires permits for livestock kept in areas not zoned for farming, its ordinance doesn't specify what constitutes livestock. It also prohibits animals from running loose or becoming a nuisance, although it doesn't appear the chicken was cited for that reason.
Town manager Anthony Barrett said police issued the citation after receiving a complaint.
"I will assure you the police department was not just riding through the neighborhood and saw a chicken and issued a citation. A complaint was filed, and the police department responded," he said.
He declined to elaborate, saying the case "is now a matter for the court to decide."
The chicken is the latest in a series of animal ownership issues in Bluffton.
In May, the town's former police chief David McAllister proposed an outright ban on livestock amid complaints about a goat in Old Town Bluffton. A month later, Town Council denied a Rose Dhu Creek Plantation woman's request to keep two potbellied pigs.
The Stewarts adopted Smartie in July from a family friend in Yemassee who raises chickens. The Stewarts' 3-year-old daughter, Shaelyn, fell in love with the bird and asked to bring her home.
"I was thinking, 'What am I going to do with a chicken?'" Stephanie Stewart said. "But being a good sport, we brought it home. She is the sweetest thing. I had no idea how sweet these animals are."
Although Smartie spends much of her time outdoors, she's apparently taken to domestic life. Stewart says the bird loves watching TV and will snatch crackers from an unsuspecting hand.
Stewart believes the town should clarify its rules about chicken ownership. At the very least, she said, "one or two hens" should be allowed. Even so, she acknowledges the family might have to give up their pet.
Barrett suggested Smartie could get a reprieve, even if a judge sides with the town. He said the town would "have no issue" with the chicken if Stewart got permission from the homeowners association to keep it.
Attempts to reach the Mill Creek homeowners association were unsuccessful Friday.