Last summer, Kathy Dennis and her family welcomed three new members into their brood: Panda, Buttons and Roger. The family cared for the new pets, fed them, cleaned up after them, and even built them a little house in the backyard of the Dennis' Education Hill home.
But Panda, Buttons and Roger are chickens, and the Dennis family, who enjoyed three fresh eggs every day that summer, did not realize the animals are not allowed on city lots that are smaller than one-half acre. Eventually, a neighbor reported the chickens to the city’s code enforcement office, which informed the Dennis family that the pets were illegal.
Kathy Dennis, a 40-year city resident, still believed chickens could be beneficial to Redmond families like hers. The nearby cities of Bellevue and Sammamish both allow chickens on city lots, and Seattle even allows backyard goats if the owner obtains a permit. So, Dennis thought, why not Redmond?
Last fall, Dennis began to take action. She spoke at a city council meeting and met with Redmond officials individually. But Dennis soon realized she needed to seek the support of more Redmond residents.
Today, Dennis has a Facebook group called “Chickens in Redmond” with more than 20 supporters. At the urging of Councilwoman Kimberly Allen, who also chairs the council's planning and public works committee, the ordinance that restricts chickens from smaller city lots will be included in an upcoming review of the city's comprehensive plan.
Allen said she has been pro-backyard chickens since 2000, when she became interested in having her own chickens.
“It’s part of a broader question — how does Redmond become a sustainable community?” she said.
Allen is optimistic that the city council will vote to change the ordinance to allow backyard chickens, but she said the group will have to work through several of the council’s concerns, including issues of odor, noise, and a possible rise in animal predators, such as rats, raccoons and predatory birds.
The council must also balance its goal of sustainability with neighbor concerns, Allen said.
In the meantime, Dennis is rallying fellow Redmond residents to promote the benefits of backyard chickens.
Anja Mancano, who has lived in the Idylwood Park neighborhood for eight years, also wanted to invest in chickens. Mancano said she grew up with them at her rural childhood home in Germany’s countryside and was surprised when she discovered Redmond did not allow them on average-sized city lots.
Then she read a column Dennis wrote in the Redmond Reporter.
“I didn’t know there were other people like me out there,” Mancano said.
After contacting Dennis, Mancano spoke with her neighbors and found others interested in backyard chickens, but the group did not have a means to organize.
“People were just coming out of the woodwork,” Mancano said.
Susan Proebsting, also of Idylwood Park, heard about Dennis’ efforts from Mancano and their neighborhood babysitting co-op. After last year’s massive egg recall, Proebsting, a mother of two, said she saw backyard chickens as a means to provide her family with a healthy and safe protein source that is also animal cruelty-free.
“The more I read, the more I’m appalled by the way chickens are treated on those large farms,” she said.
Moreover, Proebsting's young daughters were begging to have a pet, but their father wanted an animal that could be kept outside. Proebsting sees backyard chickens as the ideal option: The birds would stay outdoors and would teach her children about personal responsibility and where their food comes from.
Dennis, Mancano and Proebsting spoke before at a Feb. 15 city council meeting, in an effort to expel some concerns. The “Chickens in Redmond” group is asking the council to allow three hens per household, without roosters, so as to prevent unwanted noise.
As for smell, Dennis believes the issue is all about owner responsibility.
“You need to take care of it like you would your dog droppings in your yard,” she said.
At the city council meeting, Proebsting listed several benefits to changing the ordinance. Chickens not only provide a cruelty-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free source of protein, she said, but some studies suggest eggs from backyard chickens are healthier than those from commercial farms.
Mancano told the council backyard chickens would coincide with Redmond’s goal to promote locally grown food as well as provide a natural way to fertilize backyard gardens, manage weeds and eliminate harmful garden insects.
The “Chickens in Redmond" group is still seeking additional support from residents. In addition to its Facebook page, the group has also started an e-mail listserv to reach out to potential chicken supporters.
“I have a feeling there are a lot of other people out there who would like chickens but haven’t heard of our efforts,” Mancano said.