A flightless bird related to ostriches and rheas ruffled feathers in Pendleton after one of the birds escaped a pen twice in one day in August 1997, prompting calls from neighbors and a legal scuffle for the owner.

Pendleton police logged nine calls on Aug. 2, 1997, from neighbors of Budd Wolchik on Pendleton’s South Hill, after one of his flock of 20 emus flew the coop and wandered about the neighborhood. Dan Beaver and his wife, residents of Southwest Nye Avenue, could look from their backyard over Interstate 84 and see the emus bouncing around in their pens at the top of Southwest Seventh Street. And sometimes, Beaver said, they bounced off them too — nothing unusual about that. But that day, one of the emus hit the five-foot-high fence and bounced out of the pen, then proceeded to explore its surroundings as far as Southwest Isaac and 13th Street.

Wolchik chased down the errant bird and herded it back into its pen by 9:30 a.m. — not an easy task, as emus weigh 100 to 120 pounds, stand 6 to 10 feet tall and can run 40 mph. Since he’d worked a 16-hour shift the night before, Wolchik then went back to bed. Just three hours later, he was pulled from his slumber a second time for the same bird, who had again managed to escape. Sightings were called in from the 800 block of Southwest Eighth Street to the 1000 block of Southwest Hailey Avenue, and almost every street in between. Wolchik said it took less time to retrieve his bird the second time, as it was “probably hot and tired by that time,” and the emu was returned home again by 1 p.m.

But neighbors had had enough of the emu antics. In March of that year, a neighbor had filed a complaint with the Pendleton Police Department, citing problems with feathers and flies, and also called into question the zoning of Wolchik’s emu pens. Only one of Pendleton’s residential zones allowed raising livestock, bees, fowl and rabbits for non-commercial use, and Wolchik’s property was not in that zone. A “non-conforming use” exemption on the books only applied if other animals had been raised on the property within the prior year. And while horses had been raised on the property before Wolchik bought it in January of 1997, the question of whether emus could be exchanged with horses within the exemption was a sticking point.

The matter was scheduled to go before a judge, but the case was shipped to the Pendleton Planning Commission instead for an April 21 hearing. The commission heard arguments from Wolchik and his supporters, who said that emus are livestock and as such should be allowed the exemption. Two of Wolchik’s neighbors also weighed in, claiming they did not want the emus living in the neighborhood.

“We’re still getting his emus’ feathers in the swimming pool,” said neighbor Donna Schweigart.

The commission eventually voted 4-0 to oust the emus from the city limits. Wolchik explained that originally he had established his emu flock as an investment in 1993, but the market had gone south and he had changed his emphasis to raising brood stock, hoping to sell the offspring. “This is no real money-making proposition,” Wolchik said during the meeting.

Wolchik said he wouldn’t challenge the commission’s decision to the city council, and planned a “big barbecue” for the following weekend.

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