I live in the suburbs, but as a person who has always been very fond of animals, I try to integrate whatever non-humans I can in my life. I’ve had fifteen dogs (typically three at any given time, including now), a pond full of fish, and a bunch of chickens. In fact, we’ve given these hens a pretty spiffy lifestyle. This is their pen in my backyard.
Our dogs would kill the chickens if they could, but the pen is quite secure, so the animals collectively learned long ago that the dogs can’t get to the hens. From time to time, a dog might lunge toward the pen, but the chickens generally roll their eyes and walk away.
A few weeks ago, one of my children accidentally left the door open a little (I have since then made it self-closing), and one of the new hens wandered out and was immediately killed by my “hunter” dog. I have resurrected a hen in the past (a story which, amazingly, I’ve never told here – – but the chicken was a total goner until……….ahhh, forget it and buy me a beer some day) but I could not un-kill this particular hen. She was gone.
I was horribly sad about this, but over the week of July 4th, I managed to find a replacement hen. She’s a Easter Egger, and she was incredibly afraid. She would hide in the corner of the pen, and the other hens would be really nasty to her if she dared venture from her corner to get a drink or some food. As a person who hates bullies (which I’ve only written about six hundred times on Slope), this really bugged me, so I would guard her as best as I could.
Last Saturday morning, I was going to take my family up to the wine country. It’s a treat for the hens when we are away, because the dogs get boarded and the hens get to free range in the yard. So I put all my dogs in the car and, before heading to the dog hotel, I opened up the chicken pen. All the hens happily scampered out and started running around the yard.
After I dropped the dogs off and came back home to help finish packing, I instantly noticed that the new hen, Opal, was gone. This was very distressing to me, particularly since my little girl had grown so quickly attached to her, so I looked high and low. I got other family members involved, but she was nowhere to be found. Our miniature vacation already had a cloud over it. After searching for hours, we finally headed up to the wine country, hoping by some miracle she would come back home.
I called the police to submit a missing animal report. I let my next door neighbors know. I checked our multiple cameras all over the property constantly. I looked at the video history to try to figure out where she went. It was driving me nuts, and all of us felt bad.
We came back Sunday night (early, as it turns out, as we intended to return the next morning, but we were eager to keep looking). She was still nowhere. I roamed the neighborhood at midnight with a flashlight (OK, I hear some of you laughing at me doing all this for a chicken I had just met, but look, I feel like chickens the way I guess I’m supposed to feel about humans, so bear with me). We started to give up.
To make matters worse, one of my hens that hadn’t run away from home had a very nasty cough. This is a common ailment with hens, so I made a vet appointment, which was for yesterday. She’s a huge hen, and by far the friendliest. I carefully put her in a pet taxi, set her gently in the back of the car, and started driving to the vet).
She was coughing along the way, and I kept talking to her, saying everything was going to be all right (again, I hear you laughing; knock it off). Just before I got to the vet, it became silent. Oh, CHRIST, I thought, no WAY. But, sure enough, when I parked and looked, I had a dead hen in the pet taxi. I was starting to feel completely cursed. I just felt awful (which partly explains my completely sparkly and charming post on Tuesday night). So I buried her in the yard. Three chickens lost in just a few weeks. Miserable.
This evening, there was a knock at the door. My dogs all flipped out, as they always do, and I went into the garage and opened the door. 99% of the time, it’s just a UPS guy ignoring my “Do not Knock” sign and leaving a package. The other .9% of the time, it’s a Jehovah’s Witness. But this time, it was my neighbor from across the street. Holding Opal.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had been a full five days. This chicken was wandering around the neighborhood, full of cats, dogs, lawnmowers, curious children, and no reliable source of food or water. But there she was, happy and healthy. “Do you have chickens?” my neighbor asked. I was absolutely slack-jawed.
So sometimes prayers get answered. At this very moment, Opal is happily sitting on my daughter’s lap. And now, of course, I’m more protective than ever, since her life has oddly because more precious by seeming to have been reborn. It’s odd to hear, I know. But her absence gave me terrible dreams. And now she’s back home, where she belongs.