EAST PEORIA — Robert and Shannon Brinker dragged their heels for a while, but ultimately gave in this summer to the laws of the city of East Peoria. Following an official complaint from an allegedly disgruntled neighbor, who no longer lives next door, the couple found a new home in Spring Bay for their beloved pet chickens.
Court date canceled. Case closed.
Which is why a visit to the back of the property in the Sunnyland section of East Peoria earlier this week, at their invitation, yielded something of a surprise.
Chickens. Eight of them. Five healthy black-and-gold Wyandottes; three fat, happy, snow-white Leghorns, all bobbing and pecking at bugs in the dirt, real and imaginary. The chickens had returned to Sunnyland.
"We're not in a fight with anybody," Robert Brinker said this week about his mild defiance of East Peoria's City Code of Ordinances. "We just want to keep our pets."
Last March, the Brinkers bought three baby chicks without doing any research about the legal status of the birds in the city of East Peoria.
"They were real little and real cute," Robert Brinker said. "We'd let them play out in the yard and then walked them into a pen in the garage at night."
So they bought five more.
"No one complained," he said. "No one could really hear them, smell them or anything else. Really, at that point who cares?"
But, chickens are prohibited in East Peoria. Ordinance 10-2-3.23 titled "Certain Animals Prohibited in City," lists "bees, pigeons, horses, cattle, sheep, ponies, mules, goats, pigs, swine, hogs, ducks, geese, chickens, minks, skunks, foxes, rabbits, or any other livestock or poultry or any wild or vicious animals dangerous to mankind."
A problem with a renter neighbor led to that person being forced to move from the property. Next thing the Brinkers knew, the city wanted his chickens removed from their property. They're convinced the events are related.
"Out of nowhere a note on the door from the city told us to get rid of the chickens," Robert Brinker said.
After the chickens were moved to Spring Bay, the Brinkers made a plea to the East Peoria City Council to change the city ordinance to allow chickens. The topic keeps cropping up at council meetings. Resident Bob Sink, a strong advocate for well-regulated chicken coops, has regularly brought the issue to the council's attention. Earlier this year city planning director Ty Livingston presented to the council a potential ordinance that defined all aspects of legally raising chickens in East Peoria including number of birds allowed (no roosters), setbacks from property lines and dimensions of coops.
"But it never got to where it looked like there were three votes on the council to put the amended ordinance to a vote," Livingston said Thursday.
Now come the Brinkers.
"We've talked to all of the neighbors and there is no one who would complain," Robert Brinker said.
Livingston said he wasn't sure what a newspaper article that outs the Brinkers as illegal keepers of Wyandottes and Leghorns would mean to their cause.
"Without a complaint from the public, it doesn't seem likely we would come knocking on their door again," he said. "I think they just want to see if their responsible handling of chickens would in any way influence a vote on the City Council."
The Brinkers live in a well-kept working-class neighborhood in Sunnyland. There are two well maintained coops in their large backyard that is surrounded by a tall, wooden security fence. The coops sit atop bricks that are easily hosed off. A couple of nesting boxes hang from the fence. The chickens follow the Brinkers around like puppies. They gather and swarm when the bag of dried mealworm treats comes out. They make an amusing, prideful noise, after laying an egg. They are a joy to watch.
"They're a hoot," Shannon Brinker said.
"Ain't no kidding, they're a hoot," Robert Brinker said.
Shannon Brinker came upon the brood recently in an unusual spot. Some unknowable avian impulse gave all eight of the birds the idea to hop up on a pair of glider chairs in the backyard, and roost. She took a picture and showed it to a friend at work.
"Oh my God," the amused co-worker said. "How did you get those chickens to pose like that for the camera?"
To which Shannon Brinker responded, immediately and profoundly:
"You can't pose a chicken."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.