Farewell, Feathered Friends

Shelly's granddaughter, then 2, holding Flo.

Shelly’s granddaughter, then 2, holding Flo.

This is my final column about The Supremes – my twin’s beloved chickens.

Mary, Flo and Diana are dead. They were ripped to shreds by a pair of small dogs Saturday morning while Shelly and I were away for just two hours.

mary-dead-chicken1

The dogs also killed Eleanor, one of a pair of younger chickens Shelly bought at Easter.

Just last week, Eleanor had matured enough to begin producing small, pale, leaf-colored eggs.

Two pieces of good news. First, we actually saw the dogs that killed the chickens, dogs that left the scene of their crime down a Garden Tract alley, but hopefully, we can soon find and identify them.

Second, after searching the neighborhood we later found a panting, wide-eyed Abigail hiding in a neighbor’s yard, after she’d miraculously managed to clear a 7-foot-tall fence and escape the chicken-yard massacre.

Massacre. That’s the only word that aptly describes what Shelly and I saw when we arrived home that morning.

We pulled in the driveway and were puzzled to hear high-pitched, frenzied barking of multiple dogs coming from the area behind our house, the vicinity in which the chickens have a deluxe coop and their own fenced yard.

The dogs sounded frantic. Shelly rushed to the back yard, and before I could catch up with her, she screamed my name. When I reached her, the sight was something that neither of us could comprehend: a pair of two small, terrier-like dogs were jumping and yapping and barking and running back and forth inside the chicken yard, behind the closed, locked gate.

How did they get in?

The dogs barked, barked, barked – at us – as if we were the intruders.

Shelly later said her first thought was that someone had played a joke on us and dropped off two dogs inside our yard.

Her second thought was her chickens. Her chickens – Mary, Flo, Diana, Eleanor and Abigail – lived within that yard.

That’s when our brains finally left the noisy dogs, and we turned our eyes toward the chicken yard, where the birds’ food and water containers were up-ended and strewn about the yard that was absolutely carpeted with feathers, thousands of them in familiar colors: Mary’s ebony feathers, Flo’s red-and-green feathers, Diana’s salt-and-pepper feathers, Eleanor’s rust-and-brown feathers, Abigail’s rice-white feathers.

Red was represented there, too. Blood.

Then we saw Shelly’s pet chickens, mangled, torn and ripped to death among the four farthest corners of the yard, frozen in absurd, unnatural positions. It as if each chicken had gone as far as she could to escape, but eventually, they’d reached the end of hope, because that’s where the dogs caught up with them, killed them, and had even started eating them. (These photos are the least gruesome of the batch.)

chicken-massacre-flo

I yelled at the dogs, which high-tailed it out of the yard through a new slit of an opening near the fence that leads to our carport, which has about a 5-inch-wide opening where the gate wheel is. That’s obviously where the dogs entered, and how they gained access to the zip-tied snow fencing we’d used as a barricade along the side, which was now trampled down, as if the dogs jumped up on it and then used it as a ramp into the yard.

Oh yes, the dogs. We’ve scoured the neighborhood looking for them, but no luck.

In the meantime, a wonderful young man from Redding Animal Regulation named Chris Van Eych wrote up a report, and hauled the dead chickens away.

Shelly and I clung to each other and sobbed as we imagined how the birds must have suffered before they died, and how terrified they must have been.

Questions vexed us:

How could two small dogs have done so much damage to adult, large chickens?

Why were those dogs allowed to run loose in the first place?

Could we have saved the chickens if we’d been home?

Would those dogs stop at chickens? What about cats, smaller dogs, even children … which reminded us …

what in the world would we tell May?

Kimberly Ross, anewscafe.com’s managing editor, kindly allowed Shelly’s freaked-out Abigail to live with the Ross chickens, because, as Shelly says, chickens are social creatures, and Abigail wouldn’t like to live in that big Victorian coop alone. Besides, Shelly was afraid the dogs would return for Abigail and kill her, too.

I’ve written before about Shelly’s chickens, and told how those funny birds were Shelly’s adored pets, animals that helped fill the void of unspeakable loss my twin has suffered over the last few years.

In fact, one of my first chicken columns shared my previous bout of chicken envy, gradually cured after I watched Shelly with her chickens, and realized how much work they were.

She doesn’t have to worry about doing any more chicken chores.

The thing is, Shelly never thought of her chickens work as a chore; not the poop-raking, or wing-clipping, or the closing-of-the-chicken-house-door at night or opening-the-coop-door-in-the-morning, or going to the feed store for wood chips, oyster shells and organic feed, or collecting eggs, or making decorative egg gift packages, or nursing ill chickens back to health, or taking them to the vet or preparing and feeding them their favorite treats of cooked oatmeal, cold spaghetti and corn kernels.

Some might say Shelly spoiled those chickens, what with the special attention and electric fans and water misters to cool them and vine-covered awnings and umbrellas to shade them.

Shelly even passed on her love of chickens to her granddaughter May, whom Shelly taught how to gently hold and speak to a chicken, and how, if you approach a chicken from behind and hover over her, she’ll crouch down and let you pet her, or pick her up.

My sister taught me plenty about chickens, too, some of which I recently put into practice when Shelly flew to Norway for a month’s vacation and left me in charge of the poultry princesses. I learned that if you softly say, “chick, chick, chick” and hold out a bowl of cooked corn, you’ll have a bunch of best-friend chickens for life. I kept my promise to Shelly to cut social engagements short to rush home after nightfall to shut the chicken house door so they’d be protected from nocturnal invaders.

Shelly is heartbroken. Shelly is chickenless. For a while Saturday, she vowed to never have chickens again, to never open her heart and allow herself to love those winged animals, no matter how many eggs they laid, and no matter how varied the colors.

That sentiment passed after a few hours, because Shelly is one of those people who believes in risking the pain of loss for the potential gain of joy and love.

Even so, she can’t bring herself to follow through with organizing Redding’s 2010 Tour de Coops. Maybe next year.

For the time being, Shelly will give herself fall and winter to mourn the loss of her flamboyant, expressive, lovable birds.

Come spring, Shelly plans to buy some new chicks – black ones, like The Supremes, if possible.

But first, you can bet she will have designed a new chicken yard, impervious to any chicken-killing creature.

Until then, rest in peace Mary, Flo, Diana and Eleanor.

If it’s any consolation, you were loved by the best.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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