September 4, 2011

In hot blood


This morning broke in unsettling noise. When I looked out back, a familiar neighborhood dog – a large boxer wearing a collar and tags – looked up at me with blood on his jaws.
He’s been around before, trotting alongside Our Trusty Dog Pete until I chased him off. He belongs to people down the lane. Not enough people keep their dogs on leashes.
While he grinned a gory grin at me, he stood with one heavy paw on the broken back of our rooster, Chaz. I grabbed my rifle and took a shot, but was too late. This dog, which now has a taste for blood – if it didn’t already – tore off into the woods and disappeared.
Chaz was still alive, badly broken and missing most of the beautiful feathers from his back and neck. He couldn’t move his legs but stared up at me and opened his beak without sound.
Last night was unusual. Since Chaz was first cast out of the coop by Larry the boss rooster, he has spent most nights sleeping on top of it while his former flockmates rested snug inside. He has been one of the most elusive chickens since we first brought him home at two weeks old. Though he ate cracked corn from my hand like the other chickens, even the slightest move of my foot or the other hand sent him jumping back or rocketing off. Chaz was a no-touch chicken.
But last night, as he nestled atop the coop, he allowed me to stroke him, scratch his neck and beak, and rub his chest. He cooed and moaned the while.
So this morning, when I quickly put him out of his misery, it was exquisitely bitter. I had carefully and affectionately husbanded this bird and the others. He was stout, hale and the most beautifully feathered of them all, with black and copper, white and indigo and some traces of emerald green.
Because his emergence as Larry’s rival threw things into turmoil, with Larry venting his anger on the hens for trying to submit to Chaz, something was going to have to be done soon.
I had planned to dispatch Chaz simply, humanely, and with the quiet respect that our animals and our food deserve. We would have carefully prepared him and offered thanks for feeding us, as we fed him since early spring.
Instead he died savagely and in terror.
I’m angry about that, and even a little heartbroken, even if he was just a chicken.