I know, I know, you’re all sick of chicken stories but I just have to write this. It seems only fair.
I went out to the chicken coop on Friday morning, as bright and beautiful a day we’ve had in a bright and beautiful summer and found Dot, our boss chicken, our little black bombshell, dead. It was a freak accident. I like to think she didn’t suffer. But, as you can imagine, after our other recent chicken death, I was pretty sad.
We Arkansas Magsams are animal people. We’re not folks who think our pets are our children. We have a child. There is a titanic difference.
Still, my wife, my daughter and I love our animals and feel a certain obligation to them. We’re not folks who get a dog and just keep it out in the yard, untrained and uncared for. Our standard poodle Bijoux is as loved as a pooch can be. My wife and daughter volunteer with the animal shelter dealing with homeless cats, now we have two black felines – Indy and Asia. We have tanks full of fish, have had them since Laynie was small, many of the fish were named and were buried in a fish graveyard when their times came. And we had chickens, three chickens. Now, in less than two weeks, we have one.
I broke the news about Dot to my wife with all the subtlety of a sledge-hammer being swung into a China cabinet, because, in retrospect, I was a little stunned. I had never expected this sort of thing.
We let our birds loose in our fenced backyard for most of the day. In the back of my mind I was prepared to lose one to a hawk (even though we live in the city, we’ve had hawks perched on the back fence with the girls raising Cain from the relative safety of our bushy bushes) or a stray dog that dug under the fence or even a gate that was accidentally unlocked and blown open. Dot’s death by oddball circumstance really sucker-punched me.
I got a good heavy shoebox that my Merrell hikers came in and placed her gently inside, got my pick and shovel from the garage and buried her in the side yard. It’s a good, green shady spot, on the other side of the big tree from our fish graveyard. Once buried, I covered her with solid stones and marked the spot with a little lantern that has a Japanese feel to it.
I said a few words over her while my wife stood by and sniffed a bit, her eyes still a bit puffy from earlier sobbing. Our daughter was still asleep. In the summer she keeps college student hours. We thought it would be foolish to wake her.
I had warned my boss I would be late due to a chicken death. She was kind, as usual. I showered, drank a quick cup of tea, and like a coward slunk off to work leaving my wife the task of breaking the second chicken death to my daughter.
As I drove in, I wondered how my daughter would take the news. She had a love-hate relationship with Dot. Though Dot was the smallest of our flock, a group my wife liked to call The Three Amigos, Dot asserted herself as top bird early on. Dot was feisty and very brave. She was the chief of our little tribe.
In my favorite movie, The Duelists, Harvey Keitel plays a French Hussar named Feraud during the Napoleonic Wars. One of his contemporaries says of Feraud, “Now there was a man who would ride straight at anything.” That was Dot.
But she could be mean in unpredictable ways, too – much like Keitel’s Feraud.
She seemed to know my daughter was bit afraid of her and would peck her viciously when she got the chance. The girl took to carrying a broom when she went in the backyard to fend Dot off.
When Shawna, our gentle chicken was sick, Dot seemed to sense her weakness and would try to attack Shawna even with a full-grown human standing guard over her. One of her attacks was so determined I punted Dot across the yard and had to follow that up with intense chasing and a thrown flip-flop to get her to break off the assault.
My daughter took the news about Dot well. She was sad but nothing like when Shawnna, her sweet chicken, the one she sang to, had died. Shan and I have taken it a bit harder.
We know sometimes you have to have a Dot in the group even if it means you carry a broom now and again.
And, now, with Dot gone, Tessa, our big, beautiful Rhode Island Red is alone. The one who walked and sat next to Shawnna when she was sick and who let out the loudest and most righteous bocks when there was trouble in the yard, like a hawk or a closed door to the run, seems very lonely. And if a chicken can feel such things, confused about where her friends are.
The girl, though she had her reasons to believe that Dot might not have made the cut, is certain Dot and Shawna are together now in the after-life.
“I think Shawna is with Dot now, showing her around Heaven, and teaching her where all the best spots to find bugs are,” she said thoughtfully on Friday evening. “And, I bet, in a bit, Dot is going to peck God.”
She might be right, Lord. Keep an eye out, Dot can be fast. If all else fails, a hurled flip-flop seems to work. Tell Dot we miss her. She was a good bird.
If you want to read a heroic tale featuring Dot, click here. It’s one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy it.