COSHOCTON – A veteran who was cited for keeping farm animals within village limits was found guilty Wednesday in Coshocton County Municipal Court.
Darin Welker, 36, of West Lafayette was fined $50 for violating the ordinance. A veteran, Welker said the ducks help him cope with post traumatic stress disorder and depression he developed after serving a year in Iraq in 2005.
Prosecuting Attorney James Skelton made the argument in court that the case was cut and dry. The relevant ordinance,Skelton told Judge Timothy France, clearly states that no farm animals, including ducks, may be kept within village limits and no federal law exists that trumps it.
“The ordinance says there are no ducks, then there are no ducks,” Skelton told Judge France. “Your hands are tied.”
Welker was cited for the minor misdemeanor in June for keeping 14 ducks in the backyard at his home on Grandview Street in West Lafayette. Since then, the case has developed into a clash between local government officials trying to maintain the letter of the law and an Army veteran trying to heal from mental and physical wounds.
After Welker pled not guilty to the charge, his attorney, Bob Weir, filed an affirmative defense, meaning that the facts concerning Welker’s situation should be enough to excuse what is otherwise illegal conduct.
Testifying on Wednesday, Welker’s wife, Shirley Wagner, argued that since the ducks are registered with a national service registry as emotional support animals, and since no neighbors have personally complained to them, they should be permitted.
But that was not enough to sway Judge France; though he said he liked the idea, he said there are reasons for the law, and “they make sense.”
He advised Welker to talk with Weir about what to do with the ducks at this point.
Welker has given away eight of the ducks within the past couple of weeks because they were too much to handle, but he still has six that he keeps in a fenced-off portion of his yard, he testified in court Wednesday.
Though the village recently amended the law to allow therapy pets into the village, that amendment comes with limitations that Welker still does not meet, said Village Solicitor Bill Owens.
Whereas the previous law made no mention of therapy pets, the alterations allow for two therapy pets per household with written documentation from a medical provider and approval from village council. Passed in September, that law recently went into effect in October.
“The new ordinance tries to balance the needs of the community as well as the need of somebody who may legitimately be in need of a therapy animal,” Owens said. “So they decided that two was enough.”
There was also talk that Welker might be able to annex his property from the village, but that plan was scrapped after it was determined that an alley behind his house that the city maintains makes it unfeasible Owens said.
Welker declined to comment when reached by the Tribune Wednesday afternoon.
Weir told the Tribune he is unsure what Welker plans to do next, and whether he plans to keep the ducks.
Since he can’t annex from the village, it would seem his only other legal solution besides giving the ducks away is to move, as Skelton pointed out during the hearing.
Wagner said she has seen a noticeable change in her husband’s outlook since he’s had the ducks. He’s taking less medication, and requires fewer visits to their psychiatrist at the VA outpatient clinic in Zanesville, she added.
“It really helped boost his spirits,” she testified. “He laughs easier; he’s happier.”
Welker served in the National Guard between 2004 and 2008 before he was medically discharged. He spent a year in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he did ground vehicle maintenance.
His ducks, which he has raised since March as ducklings, and which all have names, help him to keep a “baseline,” he testified. They give him something to take care of, and help him to maintain a calm environment, he said.
“They’ve been in the house, they sit on the recliner, they’ve been on the mower,” he said in court. “They just love to be held.”