Covington resident David Corley loves his nine chickens, from Black Beauty to Lady Red, because they literally saved his life.
He had fallen into despair following five debilitating strokes, rarely moving from the couch, skipping meals and sleep, and even pondering suicide. When his doctor told him he needed a hobby, he turned to his childhood love of chickens. Raising and caring for the baby chicks helped him recover and gave him a new spin on life.
As he talks lovingly to his chickens, nothing remains of his stroke-induced stammer.
"Each one of them has a name. I can pick them up and talk to them, and they cuddle. To me they're like somebody that has a dog, and they're my babies," Corley said Tuesday.
"Literally after I had my stroke, I gave up on life. I said, this is it, I'm going to sit here and die. But when I got the chickens, I would sit with the babies and talk to them and handle them. My wife would get up the next morning, and I would still be out there with the babies."
A neighbor recently complained about Corley's roosters, so Corley got rid of them. But Corley was still in violation of city ordinances. Residents can't keep chickens or other fowl in the city unless it's on a lot of three or more acres. Corley's Hartsook Drive home is on less than a quarter-acre.
Corley asked the Covington City Council to allow him to keep his chickens, and the council agreed Monday night to temporarily suspend its ordinance and consider allowing chickens on smaller lots.
Planning Director Randy Vinson said many communities are allowing residents to keep chickens as part of an urban agriculture movement, focused on fresh, locally produced food and healthy living. Vinson will study the laws in those communities and craft a proposed ordinance for Covington. The ordinance would likely allow a certain number of chickens per square foot of lot size. He said most ordinances do not allow roosters in densely-populated areas because they make too much noise.
Newton County's animal ordinance allows chickens and other fowl to be kept in the city or county, if they are not allowed to roam free. Animal Control Director Teri Key-Hoosen said she didn't see a problem with keeping chickens as long as they were in a pen that was kept clean. She said roosters did result in noise complaints in the city.
Georgia cities that allow chickens to be raised in residential areas include Decatur and Savannah.
Corley said he's willing to offer his fresh, hormone-free eggs to anyone who needs to be convinced of the benefits of chickens.
"I don't want to cause any problems for my neighbors, but I love my chickens," Corley said, noting that many of his neighbors also own chickens. Crowing could be heard from nearby houses on a recent visit.
Corley is returning to a normal life, and plans to once again be a Santa helper for the holidays. The 58-year-old has appeared in Coca Cola's polar bear-themed commercials in year's past. He's hoping for an early Christmas gift from the city council.