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Penn Hills man seeks approval to keep pet ducks that flew under municipal radar for 3 years

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 2:51 p.m.
Louis Ammon with Slagathor, one of the four pet ducks he has had at his Penn Hills home for the last three years.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Louis Ammon with Slagathor, one of the four pet ducks he has had at his Penn Hills home for the last three years.
Pet ducks Slagathor, Mildred, Ida and Cora at home in Louis Ammon's backyard.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Pet ducks Slagathor, Mildred, Ida and Cora at home in Louis Ammon's backyard.

Louis Ammon has kept pet ducks within his fenced property on Boyd Boulevard to fertilize the soil of his organic garden for three years.

He said he was unaware he was breaking the law. After all, Penn Hills passed an ordinance last year allowing people to keep up to four chickens in a residential zone. And ducks are just chickens with flatter bills, right?

“I assumed it was the same as chickens,” Ammon said about the municipal rules for keeping ducks.

Turns out that not all fowl are created equal under Penn Hills code. Ducks are grouped with farm animals like goats and horses in the regulations, so Ammon is only allowed one duck because his property is less than 5 acres.

Because of a neighbor's complaint, and if he isn't successful getting a variance allowing him to keep all his ducks, he may soon be in the tough position of deciding whether Slagathor, Mildred, Ida or Cora gets to stay. That's not something he wants to do.

“The ducks are pets. They fertilize the soil. I shovel it out and spread it around my garden once a quarter,” Ammon said. “Ducks, they've always fascinated me.”

He says they also eat insects and provide eggs for his family and friends.

At least one of his neighbors, though, has cried foul on the fowl.

Chris Peters, whose property on Idaho Avenue abuts Ammons' land, said the ducks attract raccoons and other critters that have pestered her. She said she has seen rats and possums in the area that she suspects were attracted by the ducks. Peters, who has lived in her home for about two decades, estimated she has spent around $300 in exterminator costs over the last year.

“As long as they're not a nuisance, I don't mind,” she said. “But I think they're going to attract more vermin and rats.”

Ammon, a laboratory manager at the Wikinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority, said fruit from the Asian pear and pawpaw trees on his property are more likely to blame than the ducks for attracting unwanted wildlife.

“I've been more concerned with them eating my fruit,” he said of the uninvited guests. “I set a trap in mid-October and caught one raccoon. Then I set another one around Halloween and three weeks went by and I didn't catch anything.”

A public hearing on Ammon's request for a variance to allow him to keep his ducks will take place at a 7 p.m. zoning hearing board meeting Wednesday at the Penn Hills municipal building, 12245 Frankstown Road. At least one of his other neighbors on Boyd Boulevard said she won't mind if his request is granted.

“It's not like they're out walking around on everyone's lawns,” Cherlyann Dizak said about the ducks. “I don't have a problem with it and I don't think anyone else here really does.”

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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