Calgary

Calgary woman hoping council will review bylaw and allow her 'therapy' chickens

A Calgary woman says her backyard chickens have been a more effective therapy for her depression and anxiety than counselling or drugs. She’s hoping city council will change its bylaw to allow exceptions to the rules that prohibit them.

Nikki Pike says hens have been more effective than psychologists or drugs at managing her extreme anxiety

Calgary woman pushes for chicken bylaw changes 3:21

A Calgary woman says her backyard chickens have been a more effective therapy for her depression and anxiety than counselling or drugs, and she's hoping city council will review its bylaw and allow exceptions to the rules that prohibit them.

"They are a lifeline for me," Nikki Pike told CBC News.

"They do for me what therapy animals do for people who have significant trauma in their history. They help calm me. They have a way to centre me. It is very sense-driven. The texture brings me back to my childhood. Feeling them and hearing them and smelling them brings me back to a very centred, calm place. I can feel myself start to breathe again."

Pike says she experienced multiple forms of abuse as a child that led to extreme anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, which got worse following the birth of her two children.

One of Nikki Pike's hens. She says they have been more effective than counselling or drugs at dealing with her extreme depression and anxiety. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

But after trying out the concept of hen-therapy last May, she was hooked.

"When I am home and I am having an anxiety attack, I have easy access to my hens. I can go and pick up a hen and I don't feel like I need to medicate myself chemically. I feel like it's healthier and it does almost exactly the same thing for me. I think that's significant," she explained.

But a neighbour didn't see it that way, and filed a complaint with bylaw services and the Calgary Humane Society, arguing the chickens weren't being taken care of properly.

Nikki Pike says her birds have allowed her to overcome anxiety and be a better parent to her children. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Pike says that while the investigation concluded there wasn't merit to the complaint, it remains against Calgary's bylaws to keep livestock, including chickens, within city limits unless permitted.

Pike says she's been given six months to comply with the bylaw, but she's hoping city council will review it within that time and come up with a system that allows for legitimate exceptions to the rule.

"I get really upset when I think about that," Pike says, at the thought of losing her birds.

"They are such a big part of my daily ability to function, to cope with the little things that seem so big normally."

Nikki Pike says the value of her 'therapy' chickens cannot be overstated. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

With files from CBC's Monty Kruger