I spent my Saturday morning beautifying a chicken. That's right – while other people were having lunch out with their husbands (maybe even someplace with silverware), or sleeping in, or attending a nice civilized ballet recital, I was giving a chicken a shampoo and blow-out.
When they hand you that fuzzy little bundle in the delivery room, they never mention the fact that soon you'll be able to add “Zookeeper” to your resume.
Through the years I've taken care of – in addition to human cubs – cats, dogs, rats, gerbils, mice, frogs, hamsters, parakeets, ducks, rabbits, horses, homing pigeons, pigeons with no sense of direction, innumerable insects and chrysalii, ferrets and fish. However, Lance is allergic to just about anything three-dimensional, which rules out most standard household pets.
Except for the tropical fish – and the chickens.
I'm a cat person, myself. Without a cat around the house I feel only about 75% complete. Naturally cats are the things in all the world to which Lance is most allergic, so I can't even look at online pictures of cats any more. Have you read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman? Without a cat around the house, I am like a character from that book who has been sundered from her daemon. A perpetual catless state was one of the biggest adjustments I had to make to marry him.
Of course kids love animals too, and they crave pets. When they were small and wanted a furry or scaly little something, I made them research the animal in question. What did it eat? How much exercise did it need? Did you have to walk it/ shoe it/ get it vaccinated/ clean up its poop? They were always “responsible” for pet care, but make no mistake – the buck stopped with me.
Lance lived in a very rural area growing up and did some time in 4H as a boy – a fact which you would find as hilarious as I do, if you knew him. He raised rabbits and an Audubon catalog of various fowl. I didn't suspect his agrarian side until one day when we stopped at a feed store to look at their tomato plants and my logical engineer husband got all googly-eyed over the chicks in the back of the store.
I didn't want chickens. They smell bad, they peck you, they're noisy and you can't cuddle them. I knew where the buck stopped, remember, and I drew the line at picking up the poop of anything I couldn't cuddle. But you know how it goes . . . the kids look at you with their Bambi eyes and plead, and the husband casually remarks how nice a coop would look over by the grape arbor, and eventually they wear you down.
I have to admit I've enjoyed having chickens, especially since Sassy and Jack turned out to be Chicken Whisperers and really do all of the work. We live in the city so we can't keep many and we can't have roosters, so the only noise they make is a rather nice companionable clucking. We're on our second batch of birds, and they actually make pretty great pets. There is the delightful bonus of fresh eggs every day, and since the kids have hand-tamed them they don't peck. Jack tends to walk around the yard looking like a land-locked pirate, with a hen perched regally on his shoulder. Of course, they aren't like cats – they're not really capable of giving or receiving affection.
Or so I thought – before I met the Duchess.
The second batch of chickens were a birthday surprise for Sassy (they were her “Tweet Sixteen” present), and we got her some lovely little Leghorn chicks. The next day Lance and I stopped by a different feed store to pick up a feeder or something and – they had baby Silkies.
A Silkie is to a regular chicken what a Vegas showgirl is to a secretary; they have the same basic equipment, but they jazz it up a bit. Silkies are bantams, which means they're about half the size of a standard chicken. They have extra toes, big snowshoe feet, hairy feathers and large fluffy pompoms on their heads. They look like hippies or clowns or walking pillow fights.
Due to a delivery snafu these Silkies had gotten stranded in the post office over a holiday weekend, and they weren't doing too well. It took all of Lance's Jedi Mind Tricks to talk the lovely women into selling us a couple of them – we got a white one for Sassy, and a black one for . . .
I don't know why. She was a CHICKEN, for goodness' sake, but she was teeny and fluffy and looked just about as much like a kitten as a chicken can look. It was love at first sight, even though she and Alice (the white one) were both awfully weak and shaky. I named her “Duchess” because of her regal, deliberate walk. She almost didn't make it because she couldn't figure out how to drink, so I hand-fed her drops of water – and she imprinted on me. Sassy or Jack will bring her in from the coop and present her to me with a flourish, and she will climb up into my hair and snuggle her head under my chin and purr (contented Silkies make a low rumbling sound like a cat's purr). I guess, sometimes, chickens do cuddle.
Which brings us to this morning. I took pity on the poor birds because it was 2 p.m. and Sassy hadn't gotten up to let them out of the coop, so I went out to put them into the run and of course they all escaped and began wandering all over the yard. I noticed that Duchess, who has been molting, had a bloody neck wound from the other birds pecking at her – so (after Lance helped me round up all the escapees) I brought her in, gave her a bath in the sink and dried her fluff with the hair dryer before putting Neosporin on her neck. Then (I must admit) I sat and had a good, long cuddle with her while she told me all about her day.
I guess it's my destiny to take care of the small things, because the small things keep finding me somehow.
As I have said before . . . the cluck stops here.