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Zoning may put an end to boy’s therapy rides

Zoning laws may prevent family from keeping the animal

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Clayton Hunsaker helps brother Dallin buckle up his helmet as their dad, Tim, waits with Dallin's horse, Chick.

Clayton Hunsaker helps brother Dallin buckle up his helmet as their dad, Tim, waits with Dallin’s horse, Chick.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

LEHI — Since developing cerebral palsy when he was 2 months old, Dallin Hunsaker has spent most of his 6 years struggling to walk. His gray quarter horse, Chick, however, can gallop across the Hunsaker lawn without tiring.

"I can be like Chick," said Dallin, while taking his daily trot on the horse with dad, Tim Hunsaker, by his side.

"Run. Slide. Circles real fast," he adds, naming Chick's best movements. "Me and Chick."

Part of a medical treatment called hippotherapy, the Lehi boy rides the horse to stretch muscles and simulate human walking patterns. Since receiving Chick as a Christmas present nearly two years ago, Dallin has learned to walk and grown right out of his toddler-size clothing, Tim Hunsaker said.

"Mentally and physically, it's just paying off," Tim Hunsaker said. "We credit it to two things — Shriners Hospital and hippotherapy."

Despite Dallin's growth, however, keeping Chick on the Hunsaker two-acre plot looks unlikely thanks to a zoning restriction that denies animal rights to homes in the subdivision where the Hunsakers live.

The Hunsakers — who say they purchased their home under the impression the zoning did allow animals — discovered the restriction when they approached the city about a separate fencing issue. Shocked, they brought the issue before the Planning Commission, which unanimously approved the needed zoning change.

The City Council, however, voted 3-2 last week to deny the request.

"When I had to tell Dallin that we were going to lose Chick, he cried," said the boy's mother, DaraLynn Hunsaker. "It's been very devastating for the whole family."

For Lehi Mayor Ken Greenwood, the situation is equally frustrating. While he sympathizes with the boy's condition, he understands the argument of a next-door neighbor who opposes spot zoning, or granting one property different zoning rights than the surrounding area.

"We certainly want to be attentive to those who have concerns, but we'd also like to be helpful to a challenged young man," Greenwood said. "If there is a legal way to do it, I would like to see it happen."

"I realized legally you couldn't do it," added Councilman Johnny Barnes, who voted in favor of the zoning change, "but I was hoping and am still hoping that it can be worked out."

The Hunsakers are hoping, too, that Chick won't have to leave Dallin's side. After all, they bought their Lehi residence with the sole purpose of housing the horse.

Thinking the decision would be economical — sessions with a hippotherapist can run $600 a month — the Hunsakers have since discovered Chick to be a phenomenal investment.

"We're not rich people — heck, we don't even have a truck or horse trailer," Tim Hunsaker said, "but we want to give Dallin the best we can."

According to Dallin, the best thing in his whole world is Chick. Even 13-year-old brother Clayton agrees.

"That's the best therapy seven doctors have recommended," Clayton Hunsaker said, watching his little brother ride. "If we can't keep Chick, I would be surprised if we didn't move to another house where we had animal rights."

For Dallin, however, losing Chick is far from his mind. He's too busy riding Chick — his best friend and, according to his parents, his best treatment.

"I want to ride every day," Dallin yells out in his high-pitched voice. "Chick is the best horse."

E-mail: lsanderson@desnews.com