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Garden City man's chickens could land him in jail

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Randy Zeilinger's chickens landed him in trouble with the law.  Now he could end up behind bars if he doesn't get rid of them or pay his fine. Randy Zeilinger's chickens landed him in trouble with the law. Now he could end up behind bars if he doesn't get rid of them or pay his fine.
GARDEN CITY, Mich. (WJBK) -

53-year-old Randy Zeilinger calls himself just a regular guy from Garden City except he will admit he takes some things to the extreme.

"Pretty geeked up about wildlife and nature.  It's all around us.  We're part of it," he said.

And don't be jealous, gentlemen, but Zeilinger is a man's man, a real chick magnet.

"My chickens, they run around the backyard, they scratch, they cluck," he said.  "The chickens were a good way to take care of slugs and other bugs."

"The bonus is they make you breakfast.  They give you an egg every day, and they're healthy, wonderful creamy eggs, so much better than you're getting in the store."

Zeilinger says this poultry is how he pays the piper.  He has eleven of them, and he loves them.  But some of his neighbors don't care for the chickens or Zeilinger, either.

"Actually he's become a public nuisance," said neighbor Craig Swarthout.

"It's not like the chickens come and bother them.  It's not like the chickens harass them.  The chickens can't even be seen," Zeilinger said.  "I have all hens, so they don't even make any noise."

"I hear them every single day," Swarthout countered.  "Their argument is, well, a dog makes noise, too.  I've never seen anybody put a leash on a chicken and walk it around the neighborhood."

"They just don't want me to have them," Zeilinger said.

"Because of the chickens, it's now attracted mice, rats," Swarthout said.  "It's not only noise.  It's the smell.  It's annoying.  You shouldn't have the chickens.  You're violating city ordinance.  That's all there is to it, and you're using taxpayer money to do all this stuff."

"I get a ticket in the mail.  The ticket was a postcard from the court that said please show up at court for a pretrial hearing," Zeilinger explained.

When it was all said and done, the ruling was not in Zeilinger's favor.

"It wasn't a zoning or an ordinance violation.  It was a criminal case," he said.  "That just blew me away."

"I was a witness for the prosecution," Swarthout said.

"The sentence was 30 days in jail, fines and costs $905," Zeilinger said.  "Six months of reporting probation."

"I don't think it was harsh," Swarthout said.

This backyard guy has never been to jail.  He has no idea what the big house would be like.

"I figure I'm going to find out because there's no way I can pay the fine.  I mean, the chickens are my only source of income.  That's my only cash flow is the eggs I can sell from my chickens," Zeilinger said.

"Punishment should fit the crime.  I think they should make him go work at a real chicken farm and have him shovel chicken waste and see what it really is like because then he would understand what we feel like," Swarthout said.

Zeilinger says state law is on his side, although Garden City's ordinance says you can only house dogs, cats and canaries or animals commonly classified as pets.

"Fortunately in Michigan, we have a thing called the Michigan Right to Farm Act, which is supposed to protect small operations, large operations from nuisance lawsuits brought by local governments," he said.

"The farmer wants to protect his right to farm.  That's fine.  It's not somebody that lives in a residential neighborhood that gets a bunch of chickens in his backyard," Swarthout said.

"I'm not going to crack.  I believe then, I believe now I'm perfectly within my rights," Zeilinger said.

Zeilinger was sentenced to 30 days in jail, but the jail time was suspended.  However, he could be violating his probation if he doesn't get rid of those chickens and pay that fine.  Then he could end up behind bars.

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