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And the pet vs. livestock debate rages on

A Bluffton woman managed to get her criminal charges tossed out last week, but local residents got no answer to a crucial legal question: do chickens count as livestock under the city’s municipal code, or can they be considered pets? Alas, the court’s chance to set poultry precedent flew away when the state failed to present its key witness.

Stephanie Stewart, 41, was cited on Aug. 30 under the town’s ordinance holding that “no swine or livestock shall be kept within the corporate limits.” The city code, however, fails to define what qualifies as livestock. Stewart, who represented herself pro se, argued that the family kept the hen as a pet and that she should be treated as such under the law.

Hopes that the case would produce the NFIB v. Sebelius of Bluffton’s chicken law were dashed when the police officer who wrote the ticket, Joseph Mooney, failed to show up for court. According to the Island Packet of Hilton Head, Mooney had left the Bluffton Police Department for another job. Thus, prosecutors had no choice but to dismiss the case before it reached the desk of Bluffton Municipal Judge Kayin Darby.

The dismissal leaves a great many questions unanswered: Is Judge Darby a livestock originalist? Or does he believe in a “living” Bluffton Code of Ordinances? It now appears we may never know.

This figures to end the state’s involvement in the spat, but Stewart’s battle goes on. The Island Packet reports that she is still fighting her homeowners’ association, which has told her that the hen, which goes by the name Smartie, must go. And anybody who’s ever had to deal with an HOA knows that they can often be less likely to offer a break than city prosecutors.

David Donovan

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