The recent winter seemed to go on forever. In March and April, when we hoped that each snowstorm was the last, a new storm arrived. The snowfall was especially heavy at our farm sanctuary, which is on top of a hill.
During these months I was struck by the behavior of the birds. Even when the air was freezing and the ground was covered with snow and ice, the birds pushed forward with their spring behavior. The cardinals, jays, and starlings sang, and the woodpeckers hammered on the trees. The ducks at our pond mated, and the females went up to the hillsides to sit on their eggs. The birds wouldn’t let the weather stop them.
The birds’ determination made me think of one of our farm’s animals, a hen named Chava (pronounced “Hava”). Chava was rescued by a rabbi in Brooklyn. He was walking along a busy street when he saw a small hen being carried to a nearby slaughterhouse. He purchased the hen and announced to everyone in the vicinity that he was saving the hen’s life because all life is sacred. Her name literally means “life” in Hebrew.
A member of the rabbi’s congregation, a young woman who loves animals, called us and we agreed to adopt the hen.
For two years, Chava lived happily with the other chickens on our farm. She enjoyed foraging in the grass and taking dust baths in the dirt. On nice days, she liked to sit and bask in the sunshine.
Then one day Chris, a young man who works on our farm, noticed that Chava was lethargic. Chris took her into the cottage and placed her on our medical examining table, where he detected a foul odor. He called our chief caregiver, Joy, who pulled back Chava’s feathers and saw a large cut on her stomach. Some flesh had died, causing the odor. No one knew how Chava received the wound. All the staff wished they had noticed it earlier.
I rushed Chava to the vet. He told me she was so badly injured that she probably wouldn’t survive. He suggested that she be euthanized. I said our sanctuary was filled with animals who had somehow escaped death, and I wanted to give her the chance. So he gave me instructions for her care, and I took her back to our farm.
For four months, Chava had to live in isolation, in a large cage in our cottage. Every day we soaked her wound, applied antibiotic medication, and changed her dressing. All the while she remained in good spirits, and she recovered.
Chava has had other setbacks. She acquired a sinus problem which, despite months of treatment, still lingers somewhat. But it hasn’t slowed her down. She actively forages for food and runs in the grass.
Chava is now 6 years old (which is pretty old for a domestic chicken), and she also suffers from severe arthritis. It’s so bad that she can’t even put weight on one leg. But she keeps on moving. She energetically hops on her good leg, sometimes flapping a wing for extra speed.
Chava exemplifies a life force that won’t be defeated.
Bill Crain is co-founder of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag. Visit the farm’s website; www.safehavenfarmsanctuary.org You also can meet Chava and the other animals at the farm’s Independence Day picnic, Saturday, June 30, from 12 to 2 pm. Admission is free.