NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A husband and wife who house and train emotional support chickens in their backyard have one year to find a new location for the program.
Rick and Wendy Montalbano, co-founders of the non-profit Touch My Heart, say the animals are used to provide comfort and relaxation for adults with special needs.
The idea to create the organization was born during COVID, when the Montalbanos decided they needed to find a way to get out of the house and socialize. Combine that need with the fact that the Montalbanos have a special place in their hearts for adults with disabilities, and the non-profit came into fruition, with notable fanfare from the community.
“Agnes is their favorite, Lavernge is their favorite,” Rick Montalbano said of their emotional support chickens. “We get emails. We [even] get birthday cards.”
Touch My Hearts’ feathered friends currently number at 16 in total, and according to Wendy Montalbano, each one has been trained to provide a unique, special experience for those who are welcomed to the farm.
“They are trained, they know how to be held and loved and cuddled and show empathy,” Wendy Montalbano said.
Problem is, according to Naperville city code, 16 chickens at the Montalbano’s residence is a few too many, and neighbors who have grown tired of their presence filed a complaint, hoping to oust the emotional support chicken non-profit.
“We now have learned that there had been a complaint against us [filed] in October 2021,” Wendy Montalbano said. “I do have to say, we were never notified.”
During a Naperville City Council meeting Tuesday night, a neighbor voiced his concern — not with the mission of Touch My Heart — but with the sights, sounds and smells brought about by the chickens.
“My opposition is not against Touch My Heart,” said neighbor Eric Rush. “We respect and appreciate what they are trying to serve in the community … We just don’t believe that the operation and method is meant in a residential setting.”
Naperville City Council members also approved a temporary use exemption during the meeting, giving the Montalbanos until Nov. 15 to remove structures added to their original chicken coop, install a six-foot-tall privacy fence along the perimeter of their home, remove a portable bathroom in their backyard, and reduce the maximum number of chickens down to 12.
According to the Montalbanos, after accommodating the temporary use exemption, they have until around this time next year to find a new property for the non-profit.
“We are more than willing to work and be flexible,” Rick Montalbano said. “But assistance, other people coming to the table — as we always say — this charity runs on time, talent and treasures. Without all three of them, it doesn’t work.”