Detroit couple fight confiscation of animals.
They moved in in June and hung a sign in the front welcoming visitors to “Kibbutz Detropia.” They built a pen in the large backyard and bought three baby pygmy goats, which they named Idan, Raichel and Sarai, and six young chickens, one of which recently laid her first egg. They planned a vegetable garden.
They hoped to convince friends to buy neighboring vacant properties to farm and join them in communal enterprises.
But their hopes were dashed on Oct. 22 when a Detroit animal control officer removed the animals and served the Browns with two criminal complaints for violating a city ordinance.
The ordinance forbids the “owning, harboring, keeping, maintaining, selling or transferring of farm or wild animals” although exceptions can be made for circuses, zoos and “other approved activities.”
The Browns are marshalling support to become one of those “other approved activities.”
The Browns say they had no advance notice when a Detroit Animal Control officer arrived and told them she was taking the animals and they’d never see them again.
The couple offered to remove the animals themselves and take them to a farm outside the city. As they loaded the animals into their car, the animal control officer called the police. The police were polite, but they made the Browns turn over the animals. The animal control officer refused to say where she was taking them.
The Browns contacted their city council representative, James Tate, but got no response. City council member Gabe Leland, who represents a neighboring district, offered to help and learned that the animals were at a shelter in Rochester Hills.
“Here’s an example of people who move to Detroit, interested in cultivating the land, and they become a target,” Leland said. “The actions of that animal control officer are not indicative of the way most Detroiters feel.”
Leland said he is working with the city’s corporate counsel, Melvin Butch Hollowell, to create a temporary ordinance that would allow the Browns to keep their animals. He said he’d like to see the law revised to allow more small farms in the city.
David Brown, 33, grew up in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from the Cranbrook School and Oberlin College in Ohio. His primary occupation is circus performance: fire breathing, juggling and aerial silks, acrobatic tricks done while hanging from a long strip of fabric. He has taught circus skills at the Jewish Community Center.
Sky Brown, 34, has a law degree from the University of Massachusetts and plans to take the Michigan Bar exam in February. She is active in the new Jewish Bar Association of Michigan. She met her husband through a website dedicated to aerial silks.
The Browns say they don’t know why Detroit Animal Control was interested in them. There are only a few inhabited houses on their block, they said, and they have friendly relationships with all their neighbors.
When they moved in, they said, they hoped to create something combining the ideals of an Israeli kibbutz and a hippie commune.
They spent most of the summer sprucing up their house, which needed extensive repairs. They installed a composting toilet and a gray-water system, which recycles used water for the lawn and vegetable garden they hope to have next summer.
They’re hosting a member of WOOF — Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms — who lives in an RV parked outside their house and trades work for food.
When their goats matured, they planned to use their milk to make cheese and beauty products. They hoped the hens would produce eggs they could sell.
At the end of October, the Browns learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had gotten involved, insisting that the goats be taken to a facility where they could be screened and tagged for scarpie, a disease similar to mad cow disease.
Sky Brown found some farms willing to take the goats in and tag them and forwarded the information to the USDA, but she has been unable to get a clear answer from any government official about what will happen to her animals.
“This entire thing has been an emotional roller coaster, and I’d like to get it taken care of soon. It astounds me that the federal government really cares about me and three baby pygmy goats,” she said.
“I have been told by numerous city officials that the ordinance will most likely be changed and that it is even probable that an emergency exception will be made to protect people in my position until the cumbersome process of changing the law actually happens,” she said.
“I am not ready to give up hope that one day, my kids will be able to come home.”
By Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer