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Virginia man wins fight to keep emu as emotional support animal

“That bird brought me out of my darkest days.”

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Nick Olenik has always surrounded himself with animals.

Outside of several cats and dogs, he cares for three ducks, a turkey, and six hens at his Kempsville home in Virginia Beach. But it’s what isn't there right now that brought us to his backyard in Virginia Beach Thursday.

“I understand how crazy it sounds, but yes, an emu makes a great household pet,” Olenik said.

Olenik raised a nearly six-foot-tall emu named Nimbus for six months, beginning in December of 2022.

“They are majestic creatures,” Olenik said.

In the years leading up to their life together, Olenik was down on his luck. He lost his brother in 2019, and a year later the pandemic forced him into isolation. Then, his father passed away.

Olenik was depressed and stuck in a rut, but he found hope in Nimbus after hearing about alternative animal therapy from a neighbor.

“No side effects,” Olenik said. “Except for the city being mad at me.”

The last few months he’s been wrapped up in a legal battle with the city of Virginia Beach.

Even though Nick has all the proper paperwork, Nimbus didn’t jive with city ordinances.

He had to give her up and leave her with a friend at a rescue in Tennessee while he fought for her in court.

“It was disheartening to me," Olenik said.

But the court would eventually rule in Nick’s favor, meaning he’s now allowed to have an emu as an emotional support animal. But his bond with Nimbus is now only a memory.

During her time in Tennessee, Nimbus found a boyfriend in another emu, who will now court her for the rest of her days.

Olenik misses his beloved pet but knows Nimbus is in the right place, and thanks to her, he is too.

“It’s just a magical thing raising a bird and having it fall in love and trust you completely,” Olenik said. “That bird brought me out of my darkest days.”

Olenik says he eventually wants to open a rescue ranch of his own locally, and he plans to raise another emu this winter.

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