Brinkley killed one of our chickens last week.
Here’s how it happened: For those of you who don’t know, Brinkley is our neighbor’s Golden Retriever, but we’ve “adopted” him to the point that our neighbors looped their electric dog fence around our yard. So Brinkley has the run of our yard, and we love him. Since July, when we first put the chickens outside, Brinkley has shown admirable restraint — he’s been interested in them, but until lately he never made any aggressive moves.
We keep the chicken coop inside a fenced yard. Here’s the weakness: because our yard is so rocky, we can’t sink the fence deeply into the earth to keep predators from digging under it. The fence is chicken wire strung between metal posts, but the chicken wire sits level with the ground. So last week, when Brinkley started digging under the fence and pushing up the wire with his 80 pounds of doggy energy, he won. I’d caught him inside the chicken yard several times, but luckily no harm was done.
Then, last Friday, as I pulled into the driveway with Georgia (the other two girls were in preschool), expecting a quiet, uneventful afternoon, our neighbor from across the street came up the driveway. She was watching Brinkley while his owners were away, and had caught him with one of our white Leghorns in his mouth. She saved the chicken — who was a little slobbery and wobbly and traumatized, but otherwise unhurt — and returned her to the chicken coop. I went to check on the chickens — and found only the lucky Leghorn and one of our Rhode Island Reds inside. That left TWO chickens unaccounted for.
My quiet afternoon turned into a frantic chicken hunt. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but it appears that three of the chickens may have escaped their yard by squeezing under part of the fence that Brinkley had warped with his digging. Once they became totally free-range chickens, they were also fair game for Brinkley. Amazingly, the OTHER Rhode Island Red eventually fluttered down from a tree branch above the chicken yard, where she’d taken shelter during the chicken massacre. As for the other Leghorn, all I found of her was a pile of feathers and a dismembered leg.
I wasn’t totally devastated; it’s pretty rare for a chicken to die of old age. Although I’d have liked to have gotten a few eggs out of this hen before she became Brinkley’s chew toy, chickens don’t usually inspire deep affection. They’re not cuddly creatures; even as chicks, our chickens hated to be held, and now it’s almost impossible to catch them. They’re nervous, flighty creatures whose main interest is food.
But I felt worse than I expected. Those chickens were my responsibility. I was prepared for them to die at some point, but it was still my job to keep them alive as long as possible. If you were looking for someone to pin the blame on in this situation, all evidence pointed straight to: ME. It was hard to be mad at Brinkley; he was just a dog being a dog. And the chickens were just being chickens. But I was the one who’d wanted the chickens to begin with, and I was the one who’d invited our neighbors to include our yard in Brinkley’s fenced run. I’d brought a hunting dog and chickens together, and when the inevitable happened, I had only myself to blame.
“You just keep adding and adding and adding,” my mother said to me during her latest visit. She was concerned after we told her that we were thinking of getting a dog of our own. And she’s right: three children in four years, four chickens, our neighbor’s dog, and now possibly our own dog. I DO have a little problem with adding things to my life. But here’s why: I think it’s almost never bad to add something else to love. Don’t most of us add and add? We form new relationships, get married, have children, acquire pets. Isn’t love the motivation behind all of those things?
I have a hard time saying that I love our chickens. I got them because we go through at least a dozen eggs a week, and because I thought it would be nice for the girls to have some animals around to watch and care for. But I raised them from chicks, I feed them and clean their coop, and I guess that’s a form of love.
Here’s the scaly underbelly of love, though, the thing we try to fool ourselves into forgetting: nothing lives forever. My husband, my children, my chickens, Brinkley, myself — we’re all going to die. When we add things to our lives, we’re adding present-tense love, with the promise of future-tense pain and loss.
So why keep adding at all?
I thought about that while I checked on my lonely Leghorn all that afternoon — a chicken who’d just suffered shock and loss herself, and appeared about as depressed as it’s possible for a chicken to be. I thought about that when Brinkley came running up to me proudly, carrying a mouthful of white feathers. I thought about that when I told my two oldest girls that Brinkley had killed one of their chickens.
Guess what the girls wanted to do after I picked them up from preschool? I am absolutely not making this up: they wanted to go play hide & seek in the cemetery. So we did.
And then I thought: we can live with loss. We can feel the pain and learn from it and work through it and heal. But I cannot, I cannot, live without love. So I will keep adding.
Also, I will reinforce that chicken fence.