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Disabled Marine, Illinois neighbors clash over support chickens

By DENISE CROSBY
Chicago Tribune

June 11. 2018 9:32PM
Brittany and husband Luke Villotti say the chickens they are keeping in their Montgomery subdivision backyard, are emotional support animals that have helped Luke cope with the injuries he sustained while in the military. “I take care of them and they take care of me,” he says. (Denise Crosby/The Beacon-News/TNS)



Brittany and Luke Villotti may be young suburbanites with chickens in their backyard. But don’t confuse them with egg-loving hipsters who are part of a growing urban farming movement.

Luke Villotti is a disabled Marine with a note from the Veterans Administration stating these birds are “support animals” that help him cope with the depression and pain he faces on a constant basis, the result of injuries from rigorous training exercises while he was in the military.

From childhood experiences with chickens owned by family friends, said the 25-year-old husband and father of two children, he found the birds to be fun, loving and therapeutic. And so, when he had to leave the service after stress fractures on his spine, he turned to these fine feathered friends as a way of coping.

“I take care of them,” added Villotti, who told me he has a degree in criminal justice and had planned a career in law enforcement until his injuries. “And they take care of me.”

Some of his Montgomery neighbors, however, are crying “fowl.”

That’s because, they claim, unlike a growing list of other Illinois communities such as Batavia, Naperville and Elburn with backyard chicken ordinances, Montgomery does not have anything on the books that would allow residents to keep poultry on their property.

And even with that letter from his VA counselor that states these chickens can be important “support animals” for the disabled veteran, they question why the Villottis have 20 of them running around their fenced-in coop, which is a large Rubbermaid shed they insist is too close to the next door homeowner’s property.

“Bottom line,” says Travis Klostermann, who can see the coop from his home across the street, “he’s breaking village rules. If you want to have farm animals, then you should live on a farm.”

Klostermann and other neighbors, some of whom showed up at the most recent Village Board meeting to complain, have additional concerns — like odor, noise and disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, salmonella cases from backyard chicken coops are, indeed, on the rise. And at the board meeting, next door neighbor Chad Davis said he’d already found chicken feathers in his yard.

But the Villottis insist none of the above complaints are valid: Their coop may not be made of wood, but it did pass inspection. And because their flock is so important to the family, including their little children, they insist they take exceptional care of the birds and are especially vigilant about cleanliness.

Rich Young, director of community development for Montgomery, said he talked to Villotti recently about culling the flock to the six recommended by the VA counselor. And based on surrounding communities — seven out of the 10 he surveyed allow for these hen houses — Young said village officials are now working to understand what “reasonable accommodations would be under the Fair Housing Act.”

Still, Luke Villotti is upset he’s being asked to get rid of most of his beloved birds, all of which have names, he noted, and “distinct personalities.”

“He definitely has benefited since bringing them into his life,” said his wife. “We spend a lot of time taking care of them. I love them as much as he does.”


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