Like most hardworking 18-year-olds, Emily Price wants to move into a place of her own. She wants to stay in Fort Worth, where she works as a waitress. She would love a two-bed/two-bath house with a little bit of land. Not too long ago, her search brought her to the area near Camp Bowie Boulevard and West Loop 820. The neighborhood, she said, looked nice, and there were lots of houses for rent in her price range. One place in particular stood out. In more ways than one.
While great looking from the curb, the house –– the closer she got –– seemed to be shrouded in the stink of manure. From about two doors down, on only about half an acre, she could hear loud barking and what sounded like oinking. She began looking around and eventually found the source of all the commotion. And the odor.
Running around the property were two dogs and about five cats, a goat freely roamed the front yard, and a horse covered in flies and undoubtedly fleas was tied to a dump truck. In the large backyard that had been ground to mud, an old car served as part of a pigpen, an un-cleaned cage with rusty metal pieces scattered around. There were more goats, all of them tied to a wooden fence that they were slowly pulling down. Price is a city girl, but she knows that a neighborhood isn’t anyplace for a farm.
Mary Miller knows this, too. About three years ago, two years after Miller and husband Mark Miller moved into a ranch-style house on about a half-acre nearby, she began to notice the animals and the smells. Mary said she tried talking with her neighbors but never got anywhere with them.
“It has been chemical warfare trying to keep the fleas, ticks, and vermin out of our place … coming over from the neighbors’ yard,” Mary said. “We have been spraying and poisoning, but it never seems to be enough, because [the neighbors] don’t care for their animals.”
Mark said it has been “kind of tough” living next to the farm.
“But that is how [the neighbors] lived for 30 years in Mexico,” he said. “They don’t have the same regulations here, and it starts with someone offering them a horse and a couple of pigs and a few goats, and next thing you know you’re living next to small farm.”
Yareth Davila lives at “the farm” with her mom and two brothers. Her father, who recently moved out, was the one who brought home the animals, she said.
“My dad likes animals,” she said. “He used to live on a ranch” in Mexico.
Davila said the goats were gifts to her dad, but they turned out to be kind of “crazy” and difficult to keep penned. Her dad traded two of them for the pony and later brought home two young pigs. Davila and her brothers cared for the animals, and her 9-year-old brother liked to ride the pony in the backyard, she said.
“Our backyard is huge,” she said. “We feel like they had space to move around. The [code compliance] guy who came to talk to us said [neighbors] have been complaining about the smell.”
Davila said she didn’t notice any foul odors.
The neighborhood, clearly, is not zoned for those kinds of animals. Mary and Mark Miller, after getting nowhere with the Davilas, reached out to the city. Mary filed anonymous complaints with the ASPCA, Fort Worth Humane Society, the local animal shelter, and Fort Worth Animal Control. The Millers’ cries for help went nowhere.
Finally, Mary called the city and threatened media attention.
“They sent someone right out,” she recalled.
She added that “everyone hates code compliance, but they are the ones actually doing something about this.”
Supervising the ongoing investigation of the farm is code compliance officer Leonard Shearman, who said he could not comment but added that the family was warned to remove the horse and pigs. And if the family would have refused?
They would have been “issued citations,” which can range in cost from $100 to $500, Shearman said. “There is a specific square footage that regulates how many animals you can have and how far away from the home the animals must be kept.”
From code compliance’s appendix, large animals must have at least 10,000 square feet of land per animal, a measurement that does not include areas occupied by buildings or land outside where the animal is penned. Large animals are not permitted in residential zones A through D. The Millers’ and Davilas’ homes sit in A.
Price, the young woman looking for a place of her own, loved the rent house not far from “the farm.” The bedroom and bathrooms were nice, there was more than enough room for her and her roommates, and the yard stretched for about half an acre in the back. She decided that she would take the house, but as she stepped back out the front door, the overpowering smell of manure turned her stomach. The house was perfect, but living in the same neighborhood as Old McDonald’s place was not her idea of great. Price found another rental in another neighborhood.
As for the Davilas, well, they beat the city to the punch and got rid of the farm animals a few days ago, including the horse, Blaze, and the two pigs, Wilbur and Babby.
Diane Covey, code compliance public information officer, confirmed that the animals have been removed.
“We sold them to one of my uncles,” Davila said. “We’re kind of sad. My little brother was really attached to the horse since he was the one who would ride him. But we don’t want to be getting in trouble or getting tickets.”
Now, Mary Miller has a problem with the Davilas’ barking chihuahua in the backyard.
“She’s always complaining about everything,” Davila said.
Weekly Associate Editor Jeff Prince contributed to this story.