Katie the Hen
Hello, my name is Bill Crain. My wife Ellen and I are the owners of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag, which is just up the road from Pawling. The sanctuary provides a permanent home to farm animals rescued from slaughter and abuse.
Last month I told you a story about one of our animals, Ducky the Turkey. This time I would like to tell you a new story, about Katie the Hen.
Katie was brought to us by a young couple from Brooklyn. They had heard that chickens make good pets and had purchased Katie from a live meat market, where Katie was awaiting slaughter. But when they got Katie back to their apartment, the landlord said, “No chickens allowed.” So the couple looked for a place where Katie would be happy and safe, and they found us.
Katie turned out to be very special–one of the most caring individuals I have ever met.
The first hint of Katie’s protective nature was provided by a little partridge named Cleo. Cleo found her way to us from the hunting club over the hill. She escaped the guns and was wandering about our farm, seeking refuge. She entered the aviary where Katie slept, and she soon looked to Katie for protection. Whenever Cleo became frightened, she ran over and snuggled up under Katie’s wing. Cleo sensed something in Katie that made her feel secure.
Several examples of Katie’s protective and caring behavior were very surprising. I will share a couple examples with you.
Late one afternoon Cleo wandered outside the aviary and eagerly explored the surroundings. I enjoyed watching her, but when it started getting dark I wanted her to go back insider the aviary, where she would be protected for the night. But I couldn’t coax her in. The more I tried, the more she resisted. I became very worried because lots of predators come out at night—owls, foxes, weasels, and coyotes.
I was losing hope when Katie walked out of the aviary and went directly over to Cleo. Katie looked at Cleo a moment; then Katie walked back to the aviary and entered it. Cleo followed her and entered it, too.
Scientists warn about reading too much into nonhuman animals’ behavior, but it appeared that Katie acted like a mother, guiding her little one back to safety for the night.
On another occasion, Ellen and I had to give medicine to Katie and a bantam rooster in the aviary named Burdock. We were able to get hold of Katie and give the medicine to her without much difficulty. But Burdock put up a great fuss. He squawked and flew about. Every time we thought we could get a hold of him, he darted away. Finally, we had him cornered. He had run out of escape routes. Then Katie ran over and put her body next to his, blocking our access to him. It was as if she was trying to protect her friend. We were eventually able to get around Katie and give Burdock the medicine, although I cannot remember how we did it. What will always stick in my mind was how Katie tried to intervene on Burdock’s behalf.
The other chickens felt something special about Katie. One day we couldn’t find Katie anywhere. We were all worried. Finally I started to look in a barn where 20 other chickens lived. A volunteer worker said, “Don’t bother to look in there. Those chickens wouldn’t let Katie in. They attack any newcomer.” But when I went into the barn, there was Katie, mixing with the others, like she had known them all her life. They treated Katie differently—like a gentle friend.
That night I told a class of college students about Katie going into the barn and being accepted. One student said, “I know. It’s as if Mother Theresa walked in. The other chickens just knew somehow that Katie liked them.”
After three years with us, Katie began to weaken. She spent more and more time inside the aviary resting. Then she started slipping away. During the last two hours of her life, all the other birds in the aviary—Burdock, Cleo, and the other chickens and partridges—stayed by her side. It was a moving sight. Burdock remained closest of all. From time to time, he rose high on his legs and flapped his wings, but mostly he stood quietly beside her.
Then Katie died. Seeing this, Burdock rose up and flapped his wings with great vigor. Then, he crouched down very low, rose up higher than ever, and sent out a piercing rooster’s cry.
Someone special was gone.
You can read about Katie, Burdock, and many of our other farm animals in my new book, The Emotional Lives of Animals and Children: Insights from a Farm Sanctuary. It is scheduled to be realeased in October and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com