Monday, March 26, 2012

Chicken Therapy

Holding Gertie, last summer
Move over dogs and dolphins and horses... chickens are the new therapy animal.

I'd heard about people taking chickens into rehab programs and senior living centers. In fact, here's an article about hens visiting a senior center. For many seniors, chickens bring back childhood memories.

Yesterday, I watched my 13-year-old daughter laughing at the chickens and I experienced a revelation: Chickens are great therapy for the teenage years. Not just for the teenager, but for the teenager's parents, too.

Chickens offer respite to parents of teens because chickens are always happy to see you. There's no drama about what their chicken friends will think about their hair or nails. They will eat whatever you give them, happily, and they cannot roll their eyes. And chickens can't wait to get going in the morning. They need no alarm clock.

On the other hand, adolescent girls need chickens because they don't ask if your bed is made, if your clothes are put away, or if your teeth are brushed. They don't care if you left your homework at home. They are always happy to see you no matter what your nails or hair look like. (Although, if your nails are berry colored, they will notice and admire them.) They will make you laugh from your heart.

Watching M watch the chickens yesterday was like peeling back a layer of 13-year-old bravado and ambivalence, and finding beneath it the little girl who first melted my heart like chocolate in August. All day long, she'd been in a bit of a funk (though she'd tell me no one uses that word anymore). No matter what subject I brought up, she pointed out that I was so two decades ago. She grimaced when I suggested something she could do. She complained that she couldn't find anything to wear, but scowled when I suggested she clean her room so that she could find something to wear.

As an alternative to that suggestion, she went outside and began to visit with the hens. They bustled around busily in the garden, dusted themselves and checked to see what she'd brought them.

When she was a toddler, she liked to play the hostess, and would get every visitor water (she once politely asked my mother-in-law and sister-in-law if they wanted a beer at 10 a.m. We still laugh about that). And there she was, echoes of that little girl, getting extra water for the hens, checking on her rabbit, scattering chicken scratch, and laughing. She picked up Thelma and talked to her, set her down gently and scooped up Mabel. She laughed with L, set up an elaborate chicken pen for the chicks to get some outdoor time, and just relaxed.

With chickens, there's no need to be anybody but who you really are.

It was a glimpse of the person I know she is--caring, loving, funny. I don't get to see that glimpse all that often, but when I do, it gives me a moment of reassurance and helps me relax a little about being the parent of a teenager.


  1. I love this post! I blog about the healing power of animals and I'd love to include a link to this in one of my upcoming posts. Would you mind?

    My blog is so you check it out and decide. Thanks!

  2. That would be wonderful -- thanks so much for asking. I enjoyed your blog. I'm just getting started on an article about horses helping people heal, so I'll have to spend a little more time exploring your blog as I gather my research.


  3. Thanks again for letting me link to this post. It's live now so you can read it. I don't know if you know or not, but it's International Respect Chickens Day today (May 4th).

  4. This blog might be a good place for you to find research about horses. She's got a blog about dogs as well. She's really nice if you have any specific questions but she might not answer right away. She lives in Australia so the time difference plays a role sometimes.

  5. Sarah -- thanks for that link. I will definitely check her blog out.