Dylan Dyke’s best friends are ducks.
There Dylan is playing cards with “Bill.” There he is swimming with “Nibbles.” In another photo online, the 12-year-old with autism is seen talking to his two animals outside in Georgetown Township, Mich.
Earlier this year, Dylan even drew a picture of a duck and wrote an acrostic, defining his feathery friends as “Determined,” “Undefeatable,” “Caring” and “Kind."
"These ducks are his everything,” his mother, Jen Dyke, told NBC affiliate WOOD. “They’re his whole life.”
That’s why Dylan’s parents said it was so upsetting earlier this summer when neighbors began to complain about the animals, which Mark and Jen Dyke said provide emotional support for their son. It prompted officials in the township, near Grand Rapids, to order them to remove the ducks, saying they violated an ordinance against keeping farm animals in the neighborhood, according to the station.
But after an emotional fight, Dylan’s parents announced that members of the Georgetown Township Zoning Board of Appeals said Dylan could keep his friends.
“It looks like Dylan will get to keep his ducks!” the Dykes wrote Wednesday on a Facebook page called Dylan’s Duck Adventures, where they have been chronicling their son’s relationship with his beloved pets.
“The board postponed the final decision to the next meeting to work out details of how they will be kept, the pen, etc. but before postponing they did say they all agreed on Dylan keeping the ducks.”
The family could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon by The Washington Post.
The news comes months after Georgetown Township officials sent a letter to the Dykes, informing them that the ducks must be removed from the property.
“This is what mean people do. Try to take away one of the greatest joys a 12 year old autistic boy has, his ducks,” the parents wrote on Facebook in May, explaining that neighbors had complained to the homeowners association, forcing the township to get involved in the matter. “This will devastate Dylan. Lots of tears at our house this morning, and we haven’t told Dylan yet because we just got the letter on the mail.”
According to WOOD, which obtained the complaints, a person who claimed to be a member of the homeowners association acknowledged in writing that it was a “unique situation” because “the ducks are used for a comfort animal for their autistic child.” But the person expressed concern that the ducks were “free to roam around when their autistic child is present, but often stray from the property and defecate on others lawns, beaches, and patios.”
Another complaint stated that the animals violated the homeowners association’s bylaws, adding that residents were forced to “smell and look at duck waste, hear quacking and look at a messy pen."
“It looks terrible and is quite an eye sore in an otherwise beautiful neighborhood,” the complaint added.
WOOD reported that the Dykes filed for an ordinance variance to try to keep their son’s pets — and their fight gained international media attention, with people from all over pledging support for Dylan and his ducks.
The board of directors for the Cory Estates Association told WOOD it was aware of the family’s request.
“While weighing the interests of all neighbors in our neighborhood, we have attempted to facilitate a manageable resolution, and remain committed to an outcome that balances clear and stable expectations for all neighbors, the consideration of specific family requests, the mitigation of negative impacts on others, and a predictable path for any similar future requests. We look forward to engaging all neighbors in this process,” the board said last month in a statement to the station.
On Wednesday, according to WOOD, dozens attended the board meeting to determine the ducks' fate, some wearing T-shirts to show support.
One person who had complained said it was not about Dylan.
“We love Dylan,” Maggie Phillips said, according to WOOD.
The station reported that Phillips’s father then added that: “Nobody wants to hurt Dylan. Nobody’s against the ducks. The issue here is cleanliness.”
It’s unclear whether Dylan’s ducks have received special training to assist him or whether they are simply pets that he relies on for emotional support.
Dylan’s psychologist, Eric Dykstra, told WOOD that the ducks are important to the boy’s well-being — and Dykstra recently wrote a letter explaining that they are considered emotional support animals.
"They provide the opportunity for him to calm down. They provide the opportunity for him to practice emotional regulation,” he told the station. “For Dylan these ducks are extremely helpful.”
After Wednesday’s announcement, the Dykes said Dylan’s story has given them the opportunity to advocate for people with special needs, writing on Facebook that they are “fortunate” that “we found something that works for Dylan. He still struggles with many things, but Nibbles and Bill help him. Is our hope that you find what works for you, and if there is anything we can do to help please let us know."
As for Dylan, he said that the ducks just get him.
"I can tell them anything and they just won’t be bothered by it,” he recently told WOOD. “These ducks understand me so much. My siblings do as well, but these ducks just trust me more.”