VIRGINIA BEACH — Nicholas Olenik has battled psychological well being challenges all through his life.
As a typically anxious little one, it took longer for him to course of feelings. 4 years in the past, the 41-year-old fell right into a despair when his brother died from a coronary heart assault. The darkish days of the pandemic, and his father’s battle with — and later demise from — most cancers in 2021 solely made issues worse.
So final yr, after a buddy informed him about emus and the way they could be a nice emotional help companion, Olenik determined to offer it a strive.
That’s proper, emus — the big flightless birds from Australia that usually stand about 5-foot-7 and weigh greater than 100 kilos.
Olenik bought an emu egg regionally, watched over it till the chick hatched in December, and bottle fed her as she grew. He and spouse Sarah named the chick Nimbus and allowed it to roam freely all through the home they share with their teenage daughter and Olenik’s aunt within the Kempsville space. Whereas all of them watched with delight as Nimbus cuddled with them and their different pets, it was clear her closest bond was with Olenik, whom she adopted all through the home and yard.
“I got here again to life due to that emu,” Olenik stated throughout an interview Friday at their house. “You’ll be able to’t be unhappy whenever you’re with an emu. They’re the cutest damned issues ever.”
All that pleasure got here to a halt earlier this yr when a neighbor complained to Virginia Seaside Animal Management, and Olenik was cited for having livestock in an space not designated for it. In March, a District Court docket decide discovered him responsible and ordered him to pay a $50 high quality. As a result of Olenik deliberate to enchantment, the decide held off on ordering him to eliminate Nimbus.
Olenik received the information he’d been hoping for Thursday when Virginia Seaside Circuit Choose Kevin Duffan issued a 2-page written opinion discovering Olenik not responsible of the cost and ruling he can maintain his beloved pet at his house. The decide additionally dismissed the matter with prejudice, which means the town can’t refile the case.
In accordance with Duffan’s opinion, the authorized definitions of “companion animal” and “livestock” — and the way Nimbus match into these definitions — weighed closely in his choice.
On the new trial earlier this month, Olenik’s lawyer, Alexander H. Bell, introduced the decide with images exhibiting Nimbus roaming in Olenik’s home and cuddling on the ground with the household’s golden retriever, in addition to a letter from Olenik’s psychologist, confirming the emu was an emotional help animal. Olenik testified Nimbus spent most of her time indoors and wore a harness and leash when she left the property.
“What’s a trial court docket to do when introduced with proof that an animal clearly outlined as livestock can be outlined as a companion animal,” Duffan wrote in his opinion.
The decide famous that whereas metropolis code prevents livestock from being in areas not designated for it, there are exceptions when the animals are stored as family pets. He additionally pointed to case legislation that outlined livestock as animals “raised for meals or fiber.”
“The file is evident that Nimbus is handled like household,” Duffan wrote. “There isn’t any query that the Defendant isn’t elevating Nimbus for ‘meals or fiber’… Whereas it’s extremely uncommon that somebody would maintain an emu as a pet — or as a companion animal — whereas residing within the coronary heart of suburbia, Defendant has proven to the court docket that it isn’t not possible.”
The information, nonetheless, got here somewhat too late for Olenik to have a cheerful ending with Nimbus.
Because the case stored getting continued within the spring, he stated prosecutors would solely comply with a one other continuance if Nimbus had been faraway from the house till it was resolved. So he determined to take her to stick with the good friend in Tennessee who’d informed him about emus and in addition runs an animal rescue and wildlife rehab middle. In June, Olenik drove 16 hours there in a minivan along with his mom, a good friend and Nimbus.
“I cried all the way in which house,” he stated. “It was so onerous.”
Whereas in Tennessee, Nimbus has fallen for a male emu on the property, Olenik stated. She and her mate appear so completely satisfied in movies that Olenik has determined to depart Nimbus there. However he hasn’t given up on emus, he stated, and plans to get one other so as to add to the household’s now in depth assortment of birds.
After they received Nimbus, Olenik and his spouse added six hens, three geese, and a turkey that every one reside exterior. Emus like watching over different birds, Olenik stated, and he needed to offer Nimbus one thing to do when she was exterior. The household’s indoor pets embody three canine and two cats.
Whereas he enjoys all his pets, Olenik stated Nimbus was particular, making him smile and snigger on a regular basis. He believes emus may also help others like him and needs to get the phrase out.
The court docket case even spurred Olenik to run for workplace: He’s now vying as an Unbiased for Virginia’s 96th District home seat, going through Democrat incumbent Kelly Convirs-Fowler and Republican Mike Karslake.
On the backside of his website’s homepage is a photograph of Nimbus sporting a purple, white and blue hat with the sentence, “It began with an emu.” Along with psychological well being, Olenik’s platform contains supporting navy members and veterans, farmers, legislation enforcement and training.
He stated he determined to file for workplace instantly after being discovered responsible on the decrease court docket degree.
“The decide informed me: ‘Mr. Olenik if you happen to don’t like these legal guidelines you could go to Richmond and alter them your self.’ And that’s what I plan to do.”
He is aware of there are individuals who most likely will snigger at him for having an emotional help emu, and he’s even heard different politicians consult with him as “the emu man.” However he stated it doesn’t hassle him.
“It might not be for everybody, but it surely was for me,” Olenik stated. “I wanted that hen and she or he wanted me. She introduced me again sufficient that right here I’m now working for state delegate.”
Jane Harper, firstname.lastname@example.org