Once again I speak of chickens.
Not Miss Chicken, the former feral chicken with whom I’ve had a three-plus year acquaintance, but this time of chickens I’ve never met. This is about the loss of chickens, chickens who were pets, lost not by the natural death that comes after long life (always difficult), but by something worse – theft.
In hearing recently of such a theft, I was reminded again of that thing I really already knew but didn’t think that much about – how very dear our pets are to us and how very cruel some people can be when they tear them away from us.
I recently met Darcey Byrne, who has been a wellness coordinator for seniors in Spokane for 13 years. She lived previously in a remote area of the Methow Valley with her husband and horses. After becoming a city girl on Spokane’s South Hill, she still wanted animals around her, so she opted for chickens. Three Buff Orpingtons joined the family.
Once I could never imagine that chickens could even be pets, no less charming pets. How wrong I was.
They built a little barn, but the girls got too big (one grew to 13 pounds), so they added a run covered by a tarp. Finding that inadequate, they opted for a shed within an area surrounded by a stock fence in the yard, which itself was enclosed by a larger chain-link fence. The chickens couldn’t be seen from the street unless they were in the outer yard, and they weren’t in the outer yard unless Darcey or her husband, Harry, were there as playground monitors.
“Still, I understand that chickens are kid magnets, so when I’d be out in the garden with the chickens and a child would see them, I’d pick up one of the girls and let the child pet her,” Darcey said. “I could also teach them a little about chickens in the process.”
That first year the Byrnes enjoyed the antics of Brunhilda, the lowest in the pecking order; Goldie, the leader of the flock; and Blondie, the favorite one, the one who would hop on Darcey’s lap and purr. Brunhilda was the first to go broody, so Darcey got her some baby New Hampshire Red chicks to raise.
City ordinance only allows for four animals at the home, so Brunhilda and some of her babies went to a family friend who wanted to build up a flock. The second year Blondie took to brooding, so four babies were brought in – two Rhode Island Reds and two Gold Sexlinks (crosses between Rhode Island Reds and White Plymouth Rocks).
More relocating of birds to friends left the Byrnes with just Blondie’s four babies, and that’s how the family has settled in these past few years – with Fancypants, the Sexlink with lovely gold feathers with strawberry tints; Plain Jane, the other Sexlink, a lovely bird but lacking the femininity of her sibling; and the two Rhode Island Reds – Big Red, the largest of the group and clearly the ruler of the flock, and Little Red, the runt and lowest member of the pecking order.
And so they enjoyed life. Fancypants would stand on Darcey’s shoulder eating grapes. The girls would gather at the fence when they heard the car coming into the driveway.
When Big Red was with Darcey and Harry in the outer yard, and Fancypants decided she needed to join them, she part-flew, part-climbed the stock fence to get to them.
“She was really too heavy to fly so it was quite something to see,” said Darcey, who delighted her co-workers daily with stories about the girls’ antics.
Then one day two years ago Plain Jane went missing. A neighbor said she saw two teenage girls enter the shed and put the chicken into a backpack and leave. The teens were never caught, and the Byrnes beefed up security, particularly with locks on the back gate.
One morning this June, Harry discovered the other three chickens missing. The feed bins had been rifled through and the shed door was open. The theft had happened overnight. No one had seen anything, and the neighbor’s dogs hadn’t even barked. And, of course, the chickens have never been found, even though a police report was filed.
Darcey shakes her head when she said, “They’re of no real value to anyone but us. If anyone thought they could gain something – they’re too tough to eat at this point and they’ll not lay eggs any more due to shock. They were our pets, our friends, part of our family.”
Darcey said she’s working her way through shock and disbelief, anger, acceptance and letting go. Still, she feels a tremendous sense of violation, that someone would invade her home and take these little beings that were so dear to her.
Yes, they’re just chickens. And if they had been puppies, you could say that, after all, they’re just dogs. But our pets become loved ones whether they have fur, a coat, scales – or feathers. They come with personalities and they make us feel good. And shame on the people who steal them from us.
“What our chickens had when they lived with us couldn’t have gotten much better in terms of the lives they lived,” Darcey said. “I can be content with that. For now, I miss them and am respecting the grieving period.”
About the future, she added: “they were too much fun not to have chickens again.”