A Different Light

A guest blog by Chicken Run Rescue, August 2023

Last June I had to tell a friend that a famous CRR hen she had been
looking forward to meeting in person had passed unexpectedly.

“I wanted to let you know before you arrive here that we lost Zelda on May
5th, the day after International Respect for Chickens Day. It was a brief
illness and completely unexpected. I could tell you had developed a special
feeling for her so wanted to soften the blow before your first visit to our

As sanctuary caregivers, we live in a perpetual state of grief. We had lost 5
of our family since April. When multiple animals share a home, that’s how it
goes. There is always someone who will be next to leave us and next to
arrive. Hypervigilance is required to monitor many individuals on a daily
basis; intimate familiarity and knowing their personal habits is key to
recognizing subtle changes that might indicate a problem. Where and when
they sleep, how they move and breathe, posture, what and when they eat,
and social interactions are just a few of the things that can send a caregiver
into sleepless nights of fret. They all come to us from the most dire of
straits, sometimes alone, sometimes en masse. They bear the mental and
physical scars of their past lives. Wounded inside and out. That is the
nature of rescue/sanctuary work.

We make it our job to learn as much as we can of what they endured to
bear witness to the unspeakable things humans do to chickens, and use
that knowledge to nurture empathy and cruelty-free food. As philosopher
Tom Regan taught, they are subjects-of-a-life and what happens to them,
matters to them. Our mission is to make the rest of their lives as happy and
beautiful as their past lives were miserable and hideous, whether it was in a
backyard or battery cage. They are transfigured from anonymous vessels
of suffering to divas with zest, personality and preferences every bit as
unique as ours. The magic of Chicken Run Rescue is to watch them come
to life and inspire others who come to meet them here and see them in a
different light.

Meet five of our family, how they came to us and how they left us and what
you might do in their honor.

COCOA 2017-4/6/2023

First of CRR birds to fall since April was Cocoa. She was a quiet girl,
impounded as a stray at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. Most of our
rescues came from MACC. She was very thin and young, not much more
to her story except that she arrived in the flurry of 12 other new rescues.
Here, she teamed up with 3 other girls known as the Lunatics: Luna,
Sombra and Patel. They were roommates who went everywhere and did
everything together. She was the shyest of the four, content to stay out of
the limelight, always bringing up the rear. She had a happy, healthy and
comfortable life with her sisters but this spring we began to notice her being increasingly pale and slow. A near fainting spell on March 31st took her to the vet. We brought her home to wait for the diagnostic results. She passed
three days later on her own terms, in the late afternoon and in her usual
spot on her roost, surrounded by her closest friends. Her necropsy
revealed a cancerous bleeding tumor on her heart and proventriculus (the
area between the crop and the gizzard). Cancer had spread to all her other
organs. Our vet said she could have had the tumor all along; that would
explain her quiet behavior. In a caring home, Cocoa was able to live a full,
happy, comfortable life.

Our vet reminds us often that there is little to no medical literature about the
conditions and illnesses we see in our rescues because most chickens die
long before they would develop those conditions or are never diagnosed.
Poultry production scientists concern themselves only with the profitability
of the products the birds become. Conversely, veterinarians who treat
companion animals strive to extend life, comfort, and health as an end in
itself. Elevating the quality of vet care available for chickens is a primary
CRR mission to redefine them as worthy beings, so all CRR’s vet care is
provided by companion animal clinics. The hope is they and their staff can
learn and help the next chicken patient they treat. To see the birds in a
different light.

Finding such vet services for chickens is a huge challenge. Avian medicine
is very specialized and not every vet is qualified to provide it. There are
therapies to treat parakeets, cockatiels, parrots, and others who are
routinely denied to sick or injured chickens, and in some cases even illegal
to offer to chickens. Not because they suffer less, but because their worth
is calculated in dollars not emotional investment. Making matters worse,
the recent endemic of Bird Flu caused many clinics just beginning to accept
chickens as patients to close their doors to them once again for fear of
spreading the virus. The lack of care options is compounded by a
veterinary shortage from the COVID pandemic’s effects on practices,
patients, and clients. They are also managing an influx of new patients
stemming from pandemic pet adoptions. Unfortunately, many of those
animals have been abandoned and are now overwhelming municipal
shelters, humane societies, and rescues. We could not do what we do for
the birds without the wonderful vets we work with but there are not enough
of them. Wait times for appointments can be weeks. More sleepless nights.

ZELDA (2016-5/5/2023)

Zelda and her brother, Skokie, were purchased as chicks from a Texas
hatchery, Ideal Poultry, and mailed to Minnesota in October 2016. By the
next month, the first snowstorm had already arrived. Minnesota’s climate is
famously extreme for cold and snow. They were month-old babies kept in
an unheated shelter in a backyard in a very affluent neighborhood. Both
lost limbs to frostbite: Skokie lost both feet and Zelda lost both legs. They
were not brought to CRR until the following April.

As she matured, Zelda taught us what a chicken with no legs needed to
feel safe, comfortable and fulfilled. A warm clean house with caregivers.
Plush cushions instead of roosts. Food and water always at easy reach.
Frequent bathing. The companionship of other birds, of whom Zelda had
many. For 7 years, she mentored all of the special-needs birds who came
after her. A vision in plush cheetah blankets, she held court on our couch
(which we did not sit on for all 7 years). Before the pandemic, the sanctuary
was a-buzz with visitors, volunteers and staff. Zelda was the first stop for
everyone. Hundreds more kept up with her day-to-day on social media.
There even exists a Minimalist Wallet (https://chickenrunrescue.org/Merchandise) marketed with her portrait on the cover and a hand crocheted sculpture was created in her likeness, named Zelda 2.0.

Eight years is a pretty good run for a Buff Orpington like Zelda; they are
bred to lay more eggs than nature intended and many die from
reproductive fatigue. Contraceptives kept Zelda’s ovaries quiet, but a side
effect of selective breeding for unnatural egg production is that they are
prone to accumulate abdominal fat. Being sedentary with no legs didn’t
help. She was first treated for liver problems in 2018 and daily meds
managed that. Occasional bouts of phantom leg pain were managed with pain meds. Summer was best when she could scramble in soft grass.
There is a video of her and Monty doing just that on CRR’s YouTube

On May 5th, her breathing became labored and she refused her breakfast blueberries. That was serious. She was seen that morning at our clinic and
bloodwork was begun. She came home with us to wait for diagnostic results. A few hours later she died peacefully on her couch with her best friend Chiquita, Bert and I at her side. Her liver and kidney failed her and pneumonia quickly set in. Chiquita was lost. After time, she and Gidget, her
second-best friend, have become very bonded and are making new
traditions together. Zelda’s throne on the couch sits empty now.

OMA (2014-5/10/2023)

Five days later, we said good bye to Oma. When Oma (German for
“grandmother”) arrived, she was a mature, matronly figure: serene, quiet,
one-speed, and set in her ways. An email from a humane society said: “We
had a hen surrendered to us today originally for humane euthanasia…
owner stated that the hen has begun crowing in the mornings and the
neighbors have been complaining… no known health issues although she
is around 6 years old.” Thankfully, caring vet staff instead contacted CRR.
The sad fact is that Oma had probably stopped laying eggs; that was the
likely reason her previous keepers thought she should be gone. Hormonal
changes do often express as male traits in aging females. For hens that
means spurs, occasional crowing, and no eggs. In her 3 years with us,
Oma crowed only once, 6 days after she arrived here, on Tuesday, May 26,
2020 at 9am. That’s how close we watch.

Oma settled in and made several close friendships with other mature hens.
We suspect she had little affection and no friends in her previous life. Hers
was now the picture of a comfortable retirement: lazy afternoons napping,
snacks, an occasional stroll to look for bugs or dustbathe. The following
year, she had an event that could only be described as a TIA (transient
ischemic attack) – a brief episode of neurological dysfunction sometimes a
precursor of a stroke. She recovered miraculously; the very next day she
was standing upright, eating, and waiting to be let out. For her safety, she
was moved upstairs into our living quarters with the other birds who needed
close monitoring. She brought her best friend, Domino, for company. She
lost vision in her clouded left eye, otherwise no lasting damage from the

An x-ray revealed a mass in her abdomen, not necessarily related to the
stroke-like event, and her heart rate was rapid, so a heart medicine was
added to her regimen. As time went by, her coordination seemed to flag
and she developed a limp related to pressure on a nerve from the mass.
Meds were added for the leg discomfort. She spent more and more time in
a yurt with deep sand for dustbathing and that is where she received visits
from her friends. Every morning she would emerge from the sleeping yurt
she shared with Domino, and make her way to the sand yurt. Everyone
loved her and nursed her.

Her appetite then started to decline so tube feedings supplemented her nutrition and she tolerated them well. Her prognosis was grave, probably 2 months left at best, but she was in no discomfort. She would tell us when
she was done. My notes read: “May 10. Oma resting very comfortably in
dirt bath in sun with dappled shade and a breeze. She is with her flock and
Domino, Patty and Lacie are taking turns laying with her. She has been
weak but alert up to this morning. Slipping in and out of slumber but head
tucked or up. Eyes now closed. She is getting ready to leave.” We
scheduled her euthanasia, a month later than predicted. This time it was
for her benefit, not someone else’s convenience.

Our clinic has a lovely bereavement room dedicated for this final goodbye.
We have spent a lot of time there and it is comforting and familiar, under
the saddest of circumstances.

PATEL (2016-5/27/2023)

“I live in Minneapolis. There is a chicken wandering our neighborhood, and
her owners don’t want her and also can’t catch her. The old girl is very
sweet and keeps returning to our and our next-door neighbor’s back
yards. We are very concerned about this chicken’s physical and emotional
well-being.” The neighbors were done with backyard chicken keeping. They
dismantled the coop and set it on the curb and their flock vanished, save
for one. Patel.

Patel deftly eluded capture and was left behind to fend for herself. Caring
neighbors watched helplessly, then collaborated to help her. After several
days of trying, this message arrived: “two of your rescue’s wonderful
volunteers found the hen and were able to get her.  I totally cried I was so
relieved for the sweet bird. Thank you so so much!!”

I replied:
“We are overwhelmed with unwanted birds as is every other rescue and
sanctuary in the country. We used to live in Minneapolis but the City
irresponsibly made it even easier for people to have chickens, so we had to
relocate for more room for the inevitably dumped birds. You have witnessed
what happens to them when the fun is over… I would really appreciate if
you and your neighbor would tell your story to your councilperson and tell
them that the city should not allow chickens if it is unwilling to spend funds
to regulate the activity and that you expect the animals of the city to be

Patel’s health had been fragile for over 2 years, with a diagnosed cancer
and a subsequent heart condition. She took pills twice a day for her heart,
for discomfort and inflammation, to keep her digestive tract moving and a
syrup for liver support. She ate with enthusiasm and kept up with her
sisters, choosing the top roost every night and her turn in the dustbath. She
was able to do everything she enjoyed doing; those are the markers we
use to ensure quality of life. She was a gifted strategist who amazed us
with her determination to live and her ability to evade us when she needed
to be picked up for meds – quite spry when she wanted to be. She became
paler and we could see signs of low energy. We call it “packing their bags”.
The decision for euthanasia was a clear one, but she made that choice on
her own and passed in her sleep, right where she always slept with her
dear friends around her.

We were able to allow a visitation for her flockmates. When birds pass at
home and there is no concern of a transmittable condition, it’s very
important for the flock to bid farewell. They do understand what has happened. In a very slow and somber procession, each bird will react
differently according to their past relationship with the deceased: some will
circle at a distance but refuse to make eye contact, some will nudge or tug
feathers to try to rouse them, some will bow their heads close to the head
and gently preen and groom the face. Some birds who lost a very close
companion will grieve for months: become reclusive, depressed, and eat
poorly. Some recover and make new friends, others are never the same.
Patel’s roostmate, Luna, chose to sleep with others rather than on the roost
she had shared with Patel. After a few weeks passed, she accepted
Betelgeuse as a new roostmate.

TAMBIEN (2016-6/13/2023)

“30 chicks and some adults from a cockfighting case. confiscated from a
chicken-fighting situation. They are the Thai Fighting type chickens. Two
adult females and several dozen chicks about 2 weeks old, plus a few more
that hatched here. They are from a legal case and I can’t seem to get an
accurate date when they will be available but it should be within a day or

Tambien and her sister MaiVe were impounded with 30 chicks by MACC
from a cockfighting seizure in 2019; their bald heads and bare backs
testified to a miserably crowded existence of desperation. Their powerful,
intelligent, athletic nature was perverted into aggression towards each
other and subjected to incessant mating with no escape. Cockfighting is as
much about breeding for profit as for gambling and the spectacle of blood.
Drugs and weapons complete the ghastly picture of the life these birds
came from.

When Tambien and MaiVe arrived, they exploded into rage at the very sight
of each other and earned the name “the Kung Fu Sisters” for their
impressive martial arts kicks captured in this video. With calm, gentle, gradual
desensitization they came to accept the sight of each other and eventually
became companions.

They run with the power and grace of horses. They thrived together and
were joined by a little rooster, Whelan. A very content threesome so in tune
with each other their movements seem choreographed like synchronized

Despite her strong, healthy constitution for 6 years, Tambien developed
labored breathing and congestion. She responded well to the prescribed
meds, but symptoms returned a short time later. This time the diagnosis
showed advanced cancer with heart and lung complications. On her last
morning, she spread herself out in the grass and let the sun wash over her.
Her black iridescent feathers sparkled as she sunbathed; legs stretched out
as if to gather as many rays as she could, eyes closed. Whelan and MaiVe
watched, silent and still. We let her be as long as we could before we
headed to the clinic, not wanting it to end, but knowing our work was done
and she was ready.

Friends of the flock know when the CRR memorial lantern is lit at the front
door, someone has passed. A candle for every one who crossed our
threshold. There is always a feeling of relief mixed into the tears and grief
when we lose someone: they were safe, happy and home to the end. We
would never have to worry about them again. The motivation of the
emotional connection with individual birds is the most powerful tool we
have in our arsenal to educate and nurture empathy, and gives us the
strength to carry on in the struggle of justice for animals.

In her essay, “Our Partners, The Animals Reflections from a Farmed
Animal Sanctuary/The Good It Promises, the Harm It Does”, a fellow
sanctuary founder, Kathy Stevens, asks: “Could we please remember the
beings at the center of all of our efforts? The ones who want their lives
every bit as much as you and I want ours? The ones who experience every
emotion we do? The ones who are just like us in the ways that matter? The
ones who are our very best vegan-makers, not because that is their instrumental purpose, but because vegan-making is connected to the recognition of animals as individuals.”

Seen in a different light.

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