Pet ducks run afoul of Delmont Borough ordinance

James Kistler of Delmont holds his pet duck Fred at his home on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.
James Kistler of Delmont holds his pet duck Fred at his home on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.
Photo by Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
| Monday, July 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

On warm summer mornings, James Kistler likes to stand in his backyard and watch his pet ducks peck at the ground for worms.

Now he wonders if his days with Larry, Moe, Curly and Fred are numbered.

In May, Kistler received notice alleging he is in violation of Delmont's ordinance regulating domestic pets.

He said he will fight to keep his beloved pet ducks.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Kistler said, recalling his reaction when he read the letter.

“What do they hurt?” he said. “They're as peaceful as can be. I just want them (borough officials) to leave me alone.”

The violation letter, dated May 10, states that Kistler must relinquish the ducks or incur a $500 penalty for each day they remain on his property. The other option was to file an appeal to the borough zoning board, which costs $400.

After he talked it over with his wife, Dawn, the Kistlers decided to fight for their pets.

“The whole experience has just been a total hassle,” he said.

The borough zoning officer, William Heaps, and the zoning hearing board solicitor, Jon Sweeney, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The board has not yet scheduled a hearing.

Blue Swedish ducks are fairly common pets, said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

The breed is known for being docile and quiet, he said.

“They are a domesticated species,” Bonner said. “These guys have been bred for centuries. It's really no different (from a dog or cat). If my neighbor had one, I wouldn't mind.”

The ordinance at issue — “household pets” — lists several animals that Delmont residents are barred from keeping in the living quarters of a residential structure.

They include swine, goats, sheep, insects, reptiles having a venomous or constrictor nature, bovines and quadrupeds — such as elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, moose and deer.

Also banned under the ordinance: poultry.

Kistler said he believes the term “poultry” is meant to target chickens, which typically are raised for use of their eggs or meat.

“I am not going to eat my pets,” he said. He noted that none of his four male ducks is capable of laying eggs.

Kistler, 53, who grew up on a farm and already had a cat and two dogs, had been thinking about getting the ducks for awhile. He paid $3.50 for each at a local agricultural store.

At first, the ducks stayed in dog crates inside his Colonial-era home on East Pittsburgh Street.

When they grew larger, Kistler built a pen, equipped with a disposable pool, in his yard.

“The neighbor kids come over and I'll let them pet them,” he said. “The elderly neighbor lady next door talks to them when she's outside.”

The ducks' pen is fenced in with a lock. It is topped with a predator screen because a redtail hawk is known to visit the area, Kistler said.

At night, the ducks retire to a wooden house inside the pen.

During the day, they crowd together and relish the steady spray of water when Kistler comes out with a garden hose.

“I enjoy watching them and talking to them,” Kistler said. “I'm going to see this all the way through.”

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or

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