Cats and dogs are well-known therapy animals, but what about chickens?
Brownsburg, Indiana, mom Sherri Frushon says her son's chickens help him with his autism, but she is worried they won't be able to keep the five hens they have had since May.
The town does not allow chickens where the Frushons live unless owners have received approval. Frushon said she didn't know until recently that consent was needed. And she doesn't think it should be, because the chickens are therapy animals.
Frushon is mounting a social media campaign to help her son Anthony, 10, keep the birds.
Feeding, cleaning, training and spending time with the hens has helped Anthony with his anxiety, Frushon said. The chickens have helped him like nothing else has, she added.
Now she fears they will have to get rid of the birds or go through a lengthy and costly process to keep them.
Frushon said two weeks ago, she called the town office ask whether there were any requirements to keep chickens. Frushon said an employee told her she had to get rid of the chickens in 10 days or pay a $2,500 fine.
However, Todd Barker, Brownsburg's planning director, said the town never ordered Frushon to get rid of the chickens.
But now that the town officials know the chickens are there, Barker said Frushon must go through the process of getting the chickens approved — just as anyone else would.
She must fill out the appropriate paperwork, pay the required $600 fee, have neighbors give their OK and follow the other steps necessary to obtain a variance to have farm animals. Barker said the town has offered assistance to helping her through the process.
"I have to go out with a clipboard and ask my neighbors all around me if they mind me having therapeutic chickens on my property," she said, adding that no neighbors have ever complained. "I just can't believe I have to go through everything just to be able to allow him to be with the therapy chickens."
After her conversation with the town employee, Frushon moved the chickens to a farm. But after Anthony began to regress and have trouble sleeping and eating, she brought them back to their home. Frushon said he can't be separated from his chickens — to the point he will begin online schooling so he can stay close to them. He attended Brown Elementary last year.
Anthony received therapy for autism and anxiety from ages 6 to 8, but Frushon said they had to stop when insurance no longer covered it.
"When that therapy ended, I couldn't find any other therapy. ... to help me help him," she said. "I started researching and educating myself on Silkie chickens."
Silkie chickens are smaller and and softer than typical chickens, and also smarter and more social, she said. When Anthony pulls one toward him, it nuzzles his neck in a "hug," and Anthony's face lights up every time.
The use of chickens as a therapy for autism has been catching on nationwide. A recent case in Florida similar to the Frushons' resulted in that young boy being allowed to keep his chickens despite city ordinances.
For Anthony, he's learned to bathe, feed, love and care for the chickens. They've made him calmer and more social, Frushon said. He's sleeping and eating better, too.
"I just know it works," Frushon said.
An online petition on thepetitionsite.com was started to show support for the family keeping the chickens. So far, almost 33,000 people have signed.
"The online petition is showing support from all over the world, which has just been phenomenal for my son," she said.
Frushon said that as a mother, it's her job to advocate for her son, and she will continue to do so for him and his chickens. Because of his autism, Anthony depends on routine, and the chickens are a major part of that routine.
"I live through the eyes of my child now," she said. "You mess with my boy, you get the mama bear."
Call Star reporter Hannah Smith at (317) 444-6755. Follow her on Twitter @hannsmit.