DEBARY, Fla. - Several therapeutic chickens that helped a family's autistic toddler were killed over the weekend, and the family believes someone did it to hurt their son.
J.J. Hart’s parents told WFTV they discovered four chickens had been beheaded when they went to check on them Saturday morning.
"The police came out, and they did an investigation, and they found the cuts were clean, and they think a person decapitated the chickens," said Joe Hart, the toddler's father.
However, authorities said the killings could also have been the result of animals.
On Wednesday, Ashleigh and Joe Hart sat down in front of news cameras with their attorney, Mark Nation.
The family said they can't see why an animal would take the heads off the chickens and leave the bodies behind, and they believe someone killed the chickens to hurt their son.
“Had it been an animal, feathers would've been everywhere, chickens would've been ripped open and eaten,” said Nation.
The family has been fighting to keep the chickens, which code enforcement said are against city ordinances.
But last week, the code enforcement board made a temporary decision that only delayed a potential $100-per-day fine under the current law. It gives the Hart's 60 days to appeal to the City Council.
Nation said he plans to call the sheriff to talk about the case, as well as DeBary's alleged order of violation.
“There is no rule in the city of DeBary preventing anyone from having pet chickens, if that's what they were,” said Nation. “But they're not, they're therapeutic chickens."
Even if DeBary leaders believe the birds violate a city ordinance, Nation contends the family would be protected under the federal and state fair housing acts, which call for special considerations for people living with disabilities.
“I'm not going to give up. I'm going to keep fighting,” said Ashleigh Hart.
Nation faxed a letter to the city of DeBary to appeal the violation, asking this issue be put on the agenda for Nov. 7 so the Harts can present their arguments.
Volusia County deputies said they are investigating the incident.