Saturday, August 20, 2011

Close Calls

I am told that in the old days, if a dog got a chicken, said chicken would be tied around the dog's neck for days on smelly end, until the dog never again wanted anything to do with chickens. Thankfully (for all concerned), we've not had to resort to that with either of our dogs (Tybee, a Weimaraner, and Kipper, a Dalmatian). But we did have to spend some time with Kipper making it clear that the chickens were off limits.

When our hens were chicks, we raised them in our clawfoot tub in the downstairs bathroom. Their world was white walls, with the bright orange light from the heat lamp. It was a pretty safe place, except for the Dalmatian. Kipper took an interest in the chicks from the start. If one of us was in the room, he would go in and look at them like he couldn't believe his eyes, then come running out like it was too wonderful to bear. We had gotten him chickens! He could not wait to try one.

That, I told him, was not the right idea. Kipper loves his people, and his chuck-it ball, but Dalmatians were bred to chase small creatures from the paths of carriages, and no one said anything about not eating those creatures. Squirrels, cats, and birds... they crossed his path like feathered and furry temptations. But he listens to his people. Even if it goes against his nature.

Sometimes, though, it's just too much. One afternoon I went in to the bathroom with my younger daughter to clean up the tub and put new newspaper down for the chicks. They were messy birds. I transferred them to a large rubbermaid container on the floor. They had their big wing feathers and the feathers across their shoulders, so they weren't little, but they were probably several weeks from taking up residence in the coop.

I went to change their water in the kitchen sink, just outside the bathroom door. In that moment, chaos ensued. Kipper thought this might be a good time to pick out a chicken of his very own. My daughter screamed. The chickens sent up a cacophony of alarm. Kipper ran back out of the bathroom like his tail was on fire. A quick check, and conversation with L, and I learned that Kipper had picked up Gertie, the biggest, for a second before the hysteria made him drop the chicken and run.

The chicks were all huddled together in one corner of the container. I picked up Gertie and looked her over. She had a bruise on the skin of her wing, but nothing else that I could see. I sat with her for a minute, and apologized. She seemed mostly indignant, and a little scared, but from that day on, seemed to think I was a safety net. She survived, much to everyone's relief.

After that, we were much more careful to close the door, and Kipper has learned that he must not chase the chickens.

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