On the morning of the Fourth, instead of attending a parade like the rest of the nation, we said farewell to a beloved chicken.
Sparkle Shiny appeared to have injured her leg on Friday evening. I called around but there were no emergency vets open on a Friday night of a holiday weekend who took chickens. She was eating and drinking and not visibly in pain, and with no other options short of driving an hour south, we had to wait until the emergency bird specialist was in the office the next morning. I made her a little nest of towels to keep her upright in front of the food and water dishes and hoped she would improve overnight.
In the morning her breathing was labored and she refused food and water. Our whole family piled into the car and headed to the emergency clinic. The vet, a kind and knowledgeable soul who declared chickens his favorite animal, took one look at her and said, “oh, this is not good.”
He examined her very thoroughly (getting pooped on in the process, to which he responded with good humor) and was able to determine that her leg issue was neurological in origin rather than an injury. Given the amount of respiratory distress she was under, he didn’t recommend prolonging her agony. Unless we wished to put her on oxygen and run a bunch of tests and X-rays, the results of which were unlikely to be good, it was time to say goodbye.
I cried. Owlet cried. Thor misted up a little. Platypup rampaged noticeably less than normal.
We held a little farewell ceremony, there in the exam room. Owlet snuggled her chicken and we each shared memories from her short life. How scraggly Sparkle Shiny was as a three week old when we first laid eyes on her. How she ducked through the fence holes in those early days. The first time she ate from our hands. The massive coordinated effort required by the kids and I to get her and Scratchel Diggy out from behind the bunny enclosure. The awkward way she would flutter to the top of the coop or the lowest branches of the fig tree. Her quite recent voice change to a mature “bukaw.”
Then we sang her a song; Owlet chose “I Love My Little Rooster,” which she had taken to singing to the chickens when putting them in their coop for the night. She and I were so choked up as to be nearly useless at carrying the tune, but fortunately Thor was there to pull us through.
And then we handed her to a vet who clearly understood how hard this was. He cradled her gently in his arms and left the room.
I asked my Facebook friends to share any kid-appropriate stories of pet loss with Owlet. Several sweet folks shared their or their children’s first experiences with losing a beloved animal and others offered condolences. One recommended this book by Mr. Rogers. We read their words together and talked. Thor and I had glossed over the whole vet-(humanely)-kills-the-pet issue in the moment, but later we talked about it, and I believe she understood.
Her face has a new sober look when she is remembering her sweet chicken. It is so hard to see that expression but this is just one of the many challenges life will throw at her that I will be unable to do a damn thing to stop. What I can do is hold her, grieve with her, and answer every question she asks, even if all I can say is, “I don’t know why, baby. But everything does, sooner or later.”