‘Till death do them part?’ — Man given three years — or rest of their life expectancy — to get rid of ‘therapy ducks
by Jon Gillooly
May 10, 2013 12:00 AM | 4090 views | 11 11 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry and Bonnie Epstein of east Cobb have kept pet ducks in their yard since they moved into their neighborhood in 1985.

But a complaint attracted the county’s code enforcement department. County residents must have 2 acres to have poultry unless they are given a variance.

Bonnie Epstein made a variance request to the Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday, but the board denied it.

Epstein said the ducks are used for her husband’s therapy. Since her husband suffered a car accident years ago that prompted multiple back and neck surgeries, it left him reliant on pain medication, she said.

“One of the major side effects of the medication is depression,” Bonnie Epstein said. “Caring for these ducks gives him an avenue of motivation that helps overcome the depression. Regardless of how much pain he may be in on a given day or how he feels, he is enthusiastic about going to care for his animals.”

She submitted a letter from her husband’s physician, Dr. David Steinberg of the Emory Clinic, who wrote that without the animals, Larry Epstein “would probably require an anti-depressant or psychotherapy otherwise in my opinion.”

The ducks, Bonnie Epstein said, would die naturally, likely in three years, and not be replaced. By that time her husband will have transitioned to another means of therapy.

Bonnie Epstein also submitted letters of support for her ducks from her adjacent neighbors.

Jill Flamm, president of the East Cobb Civic Association, asked the board to deny the request.

“The ECCA recommends denial of this application as there is no hardship as dictated by the code,” Flamm said.

Commissioner Bob Ott’s appointment to the board, Kim Swanson, asked about the length of a duck’s life.

“They usually live about eight to 12 years, and so therefore with the ages of the ducks we have, we are just assuming within the next three years or so they will all have died of natural causes,” Bonnie Epstein told her.

Swanson said after speaking with the county attorney, she learned that the code does not offer a legal reason for granting Epstein the variance. While Cobb falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA only accepts dogs as therapeutic animals, she said.

Swanson also spoke of her visit to the Epstein home.

“I was quite surprised to learn that some ducks don’t quack,” Swanson said. “These ducks don’t quack and these ducks — I lived on a farm, and I had a duck, and he was actually a very mean duck. These ducks come up to you, and they’re the most pampered ducks that I’ve ever run into. I was very impressed with the enclosure and how well it’s kept, how well the ducks are kept. They have a little exercise area, they have a little swimming pool area that’s clean, they have fresh food and fresh water.”

Swanson recommended denying the application for a variance, which the board approved in a unanimous vote. However, she directed code enforcement not to visit the site until May 8, 2016.

“I will give you three years for the last duck to pass away,” Swanson said.

In her comments to the board asking that it reject the variance request, Flamm said she had no comment regarding the length of time it takes for Epstein to come into compliance.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Poor Living
May 11, 2013
If your neighbor's pets bother you, it's because you're too poor to afford enough property for your neighbor's pets not to bother you!

That is YOUR fault, not their fault!
May 11, 2013
According to their website, the East Cobb Civic Association "brings individual homeowners and associations together to promote and maintain the community, lifestyle and camaraderie we moved to East Cobb to enjoy."

Doesn't the Taliban also want to "to promote and maintain the community, lifestyle and camaraderie" they enjoy?

May 11, 2013
The east cobb civic Assn is the best reason not to live in east cobb.

An unelected, self appointed bunch of busybodies who think what's theirs is theirs, and what's yours is theirs, too. And the commissioners actually listen to them.

Maybe one day somebody will sue them for a couple of dollars and shut them down for good.
May 14, 2013
The "we moved to East Cobb" part says it all.

Duck! It's Chickens!
May 11, 2013
It sounds like the East Cobb bored housewives fear these ducks may set precedent for the backyard chickens.

Get over yourselves, busybody ladies! Try some yoga or tennis! Leave your neighbors ALONE! YOU are the real pests in the neighborhood!
Native Georgian
May 10, 2013
The arrogance and pettiness of some people, especially the "East Cobb Civic Association", who sure as blazes doesn't speak for anything approaching the majority of East Cobb. They can oppose this man for ducks that don't quack and the neighbors say aren't a nuisance? Why don't you try to do something useful, like outlawing squirrels?
Col. Kurtz
May 10, 2013
Im my opinion the arrogance is with you sir/madam ...you are stating YOUR OPINION and masking it as an empirically driven statement of fact. Where is your empirical study? Personally, and in MY opinion, I think the board showed great compassion, taking into consideration that this is an isolated situation with unusual circumstances.
May 10, 2013
So EECa is dead set against a disabled man have a few ducks, but they will support a drug store on every corner and any big box company that wants to build a new shopping center.

Seems to me they are a bunch of quacks!!!
Just Wait
May 10, 2013
Maybe it's time for the East Cobb Civic Association to get their noses out of the air, realize they are not God and become "civil."
Be Careful
May 10, 2013
If the zoning was in place before they moved in, they are in violation and the ducks gotta go.

I understand the benefits of having pets for therapy.

Dogs, cats, birds, fish???

There are plenty of alternatives available.
May 10, 2013
There is something that is distasteful and unpleasant about this situation. These people have 3 ducks, and obviously take good care of them and love them. So did a lot of folks complain or was this one complainer who wants rid of the ducks? (After all, its just not good for the neighborhood, don't you know!) What it sounds like is that there are some (very) minor bureaucrats who have decided to, by gum, show just how powerful they can be. Lucky for the ducks they didn't come chase them down with a machete!
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