It's that time of year again! The holidays, "January Thaw" and just about any other reason for our local and state legislators to "take a break" are over. It's time for them to get back to their offices and start working on their "agenda," whatever that might be. The political thing to do to get re-elected as a politician is to have your name on a legislative bill as the author and/or sponsor and see that it is enacted into law! This is a sure way to let those in your district know that you deserve to be re-elected. So we let them do their thing in office and we go about our duties of caring for our birds. As we are all aware, it takes a lot of time to care for our "feathered friends" and we just don't have the time to attend those long public meetings downtown at the city building or travel clear across the county to the courthouse. After all, we have many more things that we need to be doing, right? While we are assuming that our elected legislators are doing what we elected them to do, we find ourselves drifting down the river of time, and all the while we are being rocked to sleep as to what our officials are really up to.
The past 3 years as AFA Florida Regional Director has been a real eye opener for me as far as legislation goes. I was one of those people who thought that legislative issues were for other people who knew more about "all that stuff' than I did. After all, I rationalized, I was too busy to go sit and listen to all the mumbo-jumbo language that just makes a person want to catch up on lost sleep!
Back in the spring of 2003, word got out that there was going to be a public meeting at the county's agriculture building. The word was that the county officials were going to "rewrite" all the animal laws for Polk County. A neighbor asked me if I wanted to go with him since I had cattle, a few goats and some birds. I agreed, and when the time came we gathered up a few other neighbors and off to Bartow, Florida we went. We weren't expecting much to take place; maybe they would tell us that they had changed the name of our cows to "grazing machines" or something.
The meeting was called to order by one of the County Commissioners leaning into the microphone and welcoming us all to the meeting. He then proceeded to tell us that under their new "proposed changes" we could only have 1 cow per acre and that we had to keep our cows at least 25 feet away from our property lines, etc., etc., etc.
After a few minutes of this nonsense, those in attendance started lining up to use the microphone themselves! It only took about 15 minutes before the meeting was clearly out of control. One person screamed into the microphone that, "none of the animal laws on the books needed [to be] changed!" Another shouted "leave our animals alone," and yet another stated that, "this meeting is a waste of my time!"
After the Commissioner finally re-established some semblance of order, he stated that the State of Florida had mandated that each County "revisit" their animal laws. When it was clear to all in attendance that the proposals were not going to be accepted by the attendees, it was decided that a committee would work on a new ordinance for the county, at which time it would be brought back to the county residents for their input. In total, there were 19 individuals in the group, including a veterinarian, a feed shop owner, a person representing the cattle ranchers, a few others representing other aspects of the animal community, and me, representing the exotic animal and bird owners.
Our duty was to read through all of the county's animal laws to determine if there was anything that needed to be updated. The county officials had given us a list of proposed changes that they wanted to make. Most of the changes were so ridiculous that the committee decided to make our own list of changes (if we felt that any were needed). As we searched the county's documents, we found many unbelievable laws that were already on the books!
One case involved a lady who was given a mandatory fine of $250.00 because the cage for her daughters' pet rabbit was outside and "not in an air conditioned facility". Another case I found stated that a resident, " ... must own an acre of land for each caged bird inside the owner's home ... " In other words, if you owned a canary and two finches, you must own three acres! It became obvious that practically every line of the current animal ordinance would have to be rewritten. Each time the committee met, another member would lose interest and drop out, leaving the remaining members to work out the proposed ordinances. At the final meeting, there were only two of us who were still working on the proposal!
After spending nearly 600 hours in meetings covering over a year, we finally had a proposed animal ordinance that we could bring to the public and then to the Board of County Commissioners for approval. The proposed animal ordinance passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners just as we had written it. This shows that if we aviculturists would only get involved in the initial planning of any proposed changes to the animal laws, we can make it work to our good and to the good of our feathered friends.
You may follow the law in every aspect as it pertains to your birds, but if two property owners claim that your birds are a nuisance, you could be sued by the county's Animal Services Department. This is exactly what happened to a couple in Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa area) in just the past few months. A lady was told that she could no longer keep her chickens, roosters, Amazon Parrots, Jenday Conures and Patagonian Conures because she was in a "deed restricted" community. This didn't sit well with her, as her neighbor behind her (which was not in the restricted community) had 23 lovebirds and some finches in a block building and was able to keep her birds.