Long Branch family fights to save backyard menagerie

A Long Branch family is fighting the city in order to keep its pet miniature horse.

Cocoa Puff the horse is one of the many animals Bruce and Kathi Owens own and keep in their backyard. The couple also has a pair of mini-goats, Billy and Tucker, in addition to ducks and chickens.

"We adore them," says Bruce Owens. "They're our pets."

But city officials say the pets are farm animals and do not belong in a residential neighborhood, and have issued the Owens' a ticket for public nuisance.

In order to cut back on the number of animals in the Owens' backyard, the city is relying on an ordinance that requires at least one acre of property per horse. The Owens' home is about a half acre. The couple is fighting to change the law in order to keep Cocoa Puff, which they rescued from abuse about a year ago.

Amending the ordinance could be a slippery slope, according to Assistant City Attorney Lawrence Shapiro.

"Changing the law will impact the whole city in that everybody with a small piece of land will be able to have a horse," says Shapiro.

In addition to the couple's legal problems, neighbor Jack Mandall has other complaints. "The smell at times has been quite bad," says Mandall.

Bruce and Kathi Owens are scheduled to appear in court March 4 over the matter.

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