If there’s a chicken’s chance …
“If it’s suffering, chop its head off with the ax.”
That was my advice to my wife when she texted me about a chicken getting out of the pen. The German shepherd had found the chicken before we did. It wasn’t moving. Its neck was bloodied.
Her reply was simple and understandable: “I can’t do that.”
This was not our first chicken-dog incident. But this was the first time I was not around to help facilitate its necessary death. So my oldest son was tasked with the deed. But he was also unsure of dealing the fatal blow. So they waited and watched.
I texted my wife for an update and she didn’t reply. I assumed they were in the process of dispatching the bird. But Debby (we have named all four of our Delaware chickens “Debby”) appeared to be doing better. The rest of the flock (the Debbys) were no longer pecking her. She was walking around. It looked like she might make it. So my wife and son left the injured bird alone.
The queen of our flock, an Isa Brown chicken who has survived at least four dog attacks, was comforting her. Or at least offering her some advice about recovering from the bite of a 100-pound dog who struggles to turn off her predator instinct. Chickens are surprisingly not as dumb as one might think.
Though the phrase “bird-brained” may have originated with chickens, our flock has learned a thing or two. They know to peck holes through the ice when the water freezes. They have designated a certain part of their coop as the toilet so as not to make a mess in the nesting boxes. They also are pretty good at avoiding the dog (obviously, they are not great at it).
When I got home that evening, Debby looked no worse for the wear. She was eating and walking, like the rest of her crew. Her neck feathers were no longer wet and ruffled.
Debby is still alive today. But if they had followed my advice, she would not be. I was ready to send her to chicken heaven — or maybe hell, Debby is a bit grumpy sometimes.
It made me wonder if I have erred on the side of death too quickly before. We have put down other chickens, and growing up there were cats, dogs, horses and other critters put out of their misery. I wonder if it was premature.
I thought of all of this when trying to finalize a living will recently. Nothing brings you face to face with your mortality quite like a living will. The name of the document sounds innocent enough, but it’s less about living and more about dying.
How long would I want to be kept on a breathing machine? Should I be resuscitated? Who will have power of attorney to make my end of life decisions? There are also considerations about tube feeding, dialysis, palliative care, organ donation and more. It’s a checklist of death. And it’s depressing.
I was advised to keep it simple, to not put my loved ones through the agony of watching me waste away hooked up to a machine for weeks. But after watching Debby the chicken recover, I’m doubting that advice.
Maybe I too would recover if given more time. In the end, I decided I wanted doctors to do everything possible to keep me on this side of the grass. Throw everything you got at whatever is killing me. Tubes? Sign me up. Resuscitate? You bet. Coma? Keep me on the machine.
I may not be as tough as Debby, but if there’s a chicken’s chance I’ll make it, give me more time.
Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at email@example.com.