By JESSE BURKHARDT
A Bingen couple's plea to be allowed to keep their pet duck may lead the Bingen City Council to alter its "livestock" ordinance.
At the Sept. 2 meeting of the Bingen City Council, Oliver Pochert and Michelle Halbin explained that they had run afoul of Bingen's restrictive ordinance regarding "livestock." As a result, the couple is in danger of having to give up their pet duck, "Duffy."
The city's livestock ordinance provides a definition of the animals that are covered, and issues a strict and specific prohibition on ducks: "Animals and poultry shall include all forms of poultry including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigeons, or any other form of fowl within the commonly known classified distinction of poultry ... It is unlawful for any person, persons, firm, partnership, or corporation to permit the keeping or maintaining of any poultry or animals as defined in this code within the city limits, whether enclosed or not."
The owners dispute that the ordinance covers their pet.
"We have one duck. It's not poultry -- we don't raise ducks, farm, or sell eggs. She's a pet. Therefore the city's rules on this do not apply," explained Pochert.
Halbin added that their duck is now like family.
"I got her when she was one day old. So I'm like her mother," Halbin said.
Pochert contended it would be unfair to force them to give up their duck at this point.
"She's now 12 weeks old, and even our dog is attached to her," he said.
Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending pointed out, however, that the city ordinance does not permit ducks to be kept within the city limits.
"You cannot keep ducks," Brending said.
The owners countered that the ordinance is geared toward raising animals as a food source.
"It refers to animals raised for meat. We're not going to eat her," Halbin said.
Duffy's owners explained that the controversy came to light when the city's animal control officer saw the duck in their front yard.
"We did not know of this law or we would not have gotten this pet," Pochert said. "It's not posted anywhere, and we did not know. Now that we know about the ordinance, we won't be getting a second duck, but we want to keep this one."
Halbin said their Franklin Street neighbors also enjoy the duck.
"We asked our neighbors and they are all OK with the duck and really like the duck," Halbin explained.
One neighbor even wrote a letter of support for the pet duck.
"The ordinance against fowl was obviously addressing a problem during Bingen's transition from a rural to an urban area," wrote neighbors Joan and Michael Lamoreaux in a letter to the Bingen City Council. "I am sure that a permitting process could be put in place that could satisfy that the pet owners are not breaking the intent of the existing law, but recognizes the basic human right to care for a pet that does no harm to others. As one who lost her beloved old cat to the wanton vicious attack of dogs entering my property, I am unable to see how this charming duck creates any problem."
Mayor Brian Prigel noted that the anti-duck ordinance was written in 1963.
"I'm sure the intent at the time was a reference to livestock," Prigel said. "I personally had a duck as a pet at one time, and know what it's like. They can be reasonable pets."
Some council members said they were mainly concerned with setting precedent.
"I don't have a problem with these people having a duck -- but where do you draw the line?" said council member Clinton Bryan.
"If we allow you to have a duck, we have to allow anyone who wants a duck to have a duck," Brending added.
Halbin said she did not anticipate there would be a rush of Bingen residents going out to get ducks if the ordinance was changed.
"I don't think it's really going to be a trend-setter," she said.
Bingen city attorney Tad Connors said the law was clear, and under current rules, the duck could not be allowed.
"The only way to allow the duck is to amend the ordinance," explained Connors.
Pochert said he did not believe the ordinance needed to be changed, because he contended a single duck did not constitute poultry.
Connors responded that claiming a duck does not really fit the definition of "poultry" was not likely to be upheld.
"That's an argument you could make to a judge, but I think you'd lose," Connors said. "It is poultry."
The newest member of the council, Catherine Kiewit, suggested that the council consider ways to alter the ordinance in a way that would allow the couple to keep their pet.
"Can we take a stab at it (revising the ordinance)?" asked Kiewit.
"As a general rule, we don't like to modify our ordinances to fit one specific case -- but it's up to the City Council," Prigel said.
Brending said she would research how other Washington cities handle ducks as pets and report back at the council's Sept. 15 meeting.