WINDHAM, Ohio – The empty enclosures in Ted DeSalvo’s Portage County backyard serve as a constant reminder of what could have been.
“They’re like a gift from God to me,” said DeSalvo standing in his Windham driveway.
DeSalvo is fighting a battle of several fronts, against Multiple Sclerosis, depression and against village officials. At the center of what could turn into a legal conflict are 14 therapy ducks DeSalvo says he was forced to give away after village officials told him the farm animals were not allowed on property smaller than five acres.
“I’ve had them for five years, the majority of them and no one said anything,” said DeSalvo. “Neighbors would actually hand me a baby [duck] to take care of if they found. I would give eggs to my other neighbor.”
According to Windham officials, exceptions to the rule are if the animals are housed at all times in the owner’s home or kept on a restraining device no closer than twenty-five feet from the owner’s property. Violation of the rule could result in a fourth degree misdemeanor.
DeSalvo says his ducks had free range of his fenced backyard. He says he was initially fearful of breaking local laws so he housed all the ducks in other homes this summer. Since then DeSalvo has been in contact with Disability Rights Ohio who sent multiple letters to him and at least one to the Windham mayor in October.
Portions of the letter to DeSalvo dated in December read, “…The Fair Housing Act requires villages like Windham to make reasonable accommodations in land use policies where there is a disability related need.”
In addition to DeSalvo’s MS diagnosis in 2008, he says he is blind in one eye and needs the assistance of a cane to walk.
A doctor’s note from the Cleveland Clinic, dated in September on behalf of DeSalvo, to the village inspector reads in part, “Patient has Multiple Sclerosis and Chronic Depression…Since he has had to find a new home for them [ducks] he has been depressed despite taking his medications consistently and I am concerned that this may cause his MS to worsen.”
DeSalvo says he does not feel comfortable uprooting the ducks that have already been housed. He says he wants new therapy ducks now that he is armed with the additional information to counter the village’s argument.
“It’s depressing because I can still see the pond and I know where they were and I know when I open the back door they would run to me,” said DeSalvo from his backyard.
Village leaders say they are open to continued discussion about the therapy ducks.