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Police chief decapitates family's pet chicken that violated city ordinance

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A south central Minnesota woman says the city's police chief went too far when he killed her son's pet chicken, leaving the head near the family's backyard chicken coop.

Ashley Turnbull says she didn't know it was against Atwater's city ordinance to have backyard chickens when her 5-year-old son got three chickens and two ducks for his birthday last spring, the West Central Tribune reports. She does acknowledge she violated the ordinance, but says Police Chief Trevor Berger didn't handle the situation professionally when he went to her property and clubbed and decapitated the red hen with a shovel.

Berger says he was enforcing the city's ordinance, telling the newspaper he's "sorry it had to happen that way" and he didn't intend to leave the chicken's head behind, thinking it was still attached to the body as he carried it away.

On Aug. 7, police told Turnbull and other residents with backyard chickens to remove them, but Turnbull says she didn't take the verbal warning seriously and kept the chickens. She adds it didn't make sense to remove them yet because the city council was planning to vote on an ordinance to allow backyard fowl in a few weeks, the West Central Tribune says.

About a week later, Berger went to Turnbull's home and killed the chicken after getting complaints from a neighbor. Turnbull filed a written complaint with the Atwater Police Commissioner Aug. 20, the newspaper says.

Turnbull says Berger owes her son an apology and a chicken.

The issue is expected to be discussed at a city council meeting Wednesday, the same day Berger is scheduled to discuss a proposed ordinance to allow backyard chickens – a report the city council had asked him to prepare earlier this year, the West Central Tribune says.

Atwater Mayor Mark Olson declined to comment on the incident, but referred to it as the "chicken fiasco," the newspaper says.

Owning backyard chickens has become more popular in recent years. Minneapolis and St. Paul both allow backyard chickens in residential areas and several other cities have recently passed ordinances to do the same.

The blog BackYardChickens.com has the basics of raising chickens in residential areas, which says there are many benefits to raising them, noting they're easy and inexpensive to take care of compared to other pets, they produce fresh eggs and provide chemical-free bug and weed control.

Although supporters of backyard chickens say they want them so they can have a sustainable food source, some cities have said no to proposed ordinances. Earlier this summer, the City of St. Cloud voted no to backyard chickens because residents already have issues being compliant with city code, and officials fear adding chickens would increase those issues, the St. Cloud Times reports.

The Minnesota Department of Health notes that while there are benefits to raising backyard fowl, there's also a risk of illness, especially in children, from taking care of live poultry or anything from where they animals are kept.

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