March 2009 ARCHIVE
The Chicken Who Got a Facelift

“Basically, the chicken had a facelift, she looks like Joan Rivers.” The young lovely woman said, relaying chicken adventures that she and her fiancé, Hugh, have experienced since moving here from New York City. Andie’s surprise at her fondness for chickens, and the extent they went to save a chicken’s life was a proper subject for all pet lovers. Her fiancé, Hugh, was also amused and confused by their folly.

Ricki is a barred Plymouth Rock hen and Lucy is either an Amerucana backyard chicken or a mutt “Easter egger.” Lucy lays green eggs.

Lee and I had been invited to a friend’s house to meet four of her friends. As it happens from time to time when people meet…instant friendships develop between strangers. Like the walrus and the carpenter from “Alice in Wonderland,” we spoke of many things, including poultry as pets.
There were seven of us sitting around the patio table beneath the shadow of an umbrella. Only morsels were left on our lunch plates, we were settled into our seats, into the moment, and the subject was chicken love.

Hugh moved to the Los Angeles area, first, and after finding a home for them in Altadena, Andie joined him. They purchased a beautiful, hand-crafted, century-old home with a wrap around porch, and a foundation built to last lifetimes. It reminded me of Grandfather’s home in North Carolina. I could almost smell the lilies that Grandmother always kept freshly cut in the foyer. The large lots reminded me of Coulwood.

Their beautiful new home came with a community and a chicken-coop in the back yard, and two chickens. Maryanne is a black and white feathered hen, and Ginger is a Rhode Island Red with a pecker problem. Of the many things they planned to do when they were settled…adopting chickens was not on the list.

The previous owners did not want to take Maryanne and Ginger away from the only chicken coop they had ever known; besides, they paid rent in fresh eggs.

“Fresh eggs were a good selling point; we certainly could not condemn them to a frying pan.” Andie continued while suppressing a giggle, “Maryanne and Ginger turned out to be quite charming pets. They certainly have individual personalities. Chickens are easy to care for and not at all expensive to feed and it feels like we are in the country. Then we decided to raise a flock.”
Hugh explained that in their desire to be good guardians, they read extensively about poultry and they knew that a society of hens has a pecking order. With their newly acquired knowledge, and a small chicken coop in their backyard, they purchased Ricki and Lucy. Ricki is a barred Plymouth Rock hen and Lucy is either an Amerucana backyard chicken or a mutt “Easter egger.” Lucy lays green eggs. The purchase price for two chickens was less than four dollars.

The new chicks were separated from the hens, until they were large enough and then, Ricki and Lucy were moved to the outside coop, separated from the older biddies by a heavy duty wire fence. However, one fateful day, while their parents were away, Lucy flew over to greet Maryanne and Ginger. Ricki spent the day pecking away and didn’t notice a thing.

As previously mentioned, Ginger had an undiagnosed pecker problem. Ginger and Maryanne were not at all excited to meet Lucy. They tried to peck her to death. The most enthusiastic pecker was Ginger, who was extracting the last feather from Lucy’s skull when Andie looked into the chicken coop. Lucy was only a bloody mass of feathers, her head was bald and her spine was showing, but Lucy was alive.

Andie spent the next few hours searching for a chicken doctor. Eventually, she found a veterinarian who specialized in chickens; a Dr. Tyson. No, seriously, that is the name of the veterinarian they rushed Lucy to for emergency surgery. Dr. Tyson lifted Lucy’s neck and body feathers up and over Lucy’s baldness. She stitched the two sides together and behold, Lucy received what could possibly have been the world’s first chicken face-lift. This explains why Lucy is a feathered lookalike of Joan Rivers. Today, even though she only has a stubby red comb, Lucy is a contended hen who lays a green egg daily.

While Maryanne eventually welcomed Lucy as part of the “Hendom,” Ginger was another story. Eventually, following extensive research and thousands of phone calls, Ginger was placed in chicken rescue which is a half-way house for violent chickens. When it was determined that Ginger was an incurable pecker, they were able to place her as an “only pet” with a gentle old woman who had just lost her beloved chicken.

Before, you lay this down…consider the lesson in this spunky adventure. Love is never wasted and caring for the smallest and most insignificant of God’s creatures is a gift we give to ourselves…we see our own humanity through their eyes and we learn that God exists in all living creatures.
I discovered long ago that I cannot live without a dog underfoot. Each pet I have adopted has returned the gift with unconditional love. I believe to harm an animal is like striking a toddler.

Also, this bright, fresh youthful couple could be the hope of a kinder, gentler world. Pet owners have to make hard decisions, sometimes, but there is no college education required. Love needs respect, care and feeding. I wish these chickens a long egg-filled life. I sincerely hope that Altadena’s Chickens of Leisure will keep a diary and let us peek at it every now and then just to keep up with all their flocking and pecking.

Beyond our gaze stretched an American quilt of homes and backyards cluttered with living…basketball goal posts, bicycles, patios, and outdoor grills. Delicate vines littered with blossoms and bristling with crisp and fragile leaves of chartreuse climbed about roofs and trellises. Like stitches in a quilt, fences seemed to hold the community together.

The landscape recalled another time when teenagers mowed lawns and there were front porches filled with rocking chairs and swings. Throughout the day, lawn mowers hacked and sputtered to life like old men racked with morning cough. It was Saturday in Altadena. It was all we still are in America. I was thousands of miles away from Shuffletown and Coulwood. 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Oh, Darn!

Up is down and down is up. We wake each day to headlines screaming bad news. Lifetime savings, hopes and dreams disappear in a moment. Where did it go? Everyone is either out of a job or worrying that they will lose their job. I know more people out of work than I ever have in my lifetime. Friends, neighbors and too many young people are idle.

Instead of Hapsburgs and Bourbons, this time the elite are money-changers in the temple of democracy.

Pardon my grumbling, but each day, in some way, I talk with a friend who has been affected by the financial chaos. Each morning, I say a prayer for all those who go out to work and are holding the reins of the tattered economy. It is upon all of us…construction jobs, retail jobs, factory jobs, and professional jobs…all gone to waste. Frustration and misery stalk the land.

A friend sat in my living room yesterday, telling me that his father had lost his retirement and may lose his home. Another friend who worked as a corporate vice president for 27 years was laid off a year ago. He has not found work. His job is searching for a job in a country that lost 651,000 jobs in February. It has become very easy to be poor. I worry.

Before October of last year, how often had you in your lifetime heard someone count to a trillion. According to the “talking heads,” and if you do still receive a paycheck…there will be an extra $13 just for you from the bail-out billions. Grumble. Grumble.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the indicted financier Bernie Madoff, who reportedly stole billions, is not in jail. He waits for justice in his $7 million New York penthouse with his wife by his side. The attorneys for the Madoffs are arguing that the couple should be allowed to keep the penthouse and $62 million, both of which are in his wife’s name.

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