Back in November, I received an emergency call from Animal People editor Merritt Clifton, in Washington State. His teenage son Wolf had rescued a buff chicken from a coyote attack. Her ear was bloodied and she was limp. That first night, she didn’t even lift her head up from the floor.
The chicken was one of the neighbor’s small backyard flock. Wolf visited them and discussed the situation. They released the bird to Wolf to care for. Wolf’s mother, Merritt’s former wife, Kim Bartlett, president of Animal People, accepted responsibility for the chicken. They named her Klinka.
They put her in a cage to rest. She wasn’t looking very good the next morning, lying on the floor of the cage. She raised her head to look at Merritt when he arrived for work. She flapped and squawked when he picked her up, then settled in the center of the cage. He thought she might not be able to stand. She ignored food and water.
He was concerned that the six dogs that live in the office might have frightened her, given her already terrifying canine experience with the coyote. They were initially interested in their new office mate, but soon resumed their usual routine of naps. The ten cats pretended they didn’t see her.
Klinka didn’t show any improvement, so they took her to the vet. She gave Klinka an injection of dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat ear infections in animals. The vet thought Klinka had inner ear and brain damage. After a week of treatment, Klinka continued to sit quietly with her head down and her eyes closed. So far as Kim could tell, she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since the attack. She and Wolf gave her some food and water by syringe. Kim thought she was dying. She medicated Klinka with buprenorphine, a pain killer, to make her comfortable. Klinka showed no change. Kim determined to bring Klinka to the vet for humane euthanasia the following day if she showed no improvement. Klinka remained quiet, eyes closed, head down.
But the next day she began to show signs of recovery. “She is standing up and her head is only slightly tilted to the right. The head wobbles when she is moving it up or down. The right eye stays shut some of the time but the left eye is wide open. It was on the right side where there was a little blood and where the vet thought the ear might have been injured by the coyote,” Kim reported. Although Kim hadn’t observed her eating anything, Klinka did a big load of poop.
They continued observing her. She began to welcome the syringe of water, although she didn’t appear to eat much. By a week after the attack, she was well enough to go for a walk in the yard, carefully supervised by Wolf.
Within the next week, she began vocalizing to the office in general. She settled on the perch in her cage. Although they offered her several different kinds of food, she appeared not to be eating. One day, Wolf took her outside for a walk and scattered some chicken scratch around. She pecked at it. When she returned to her cage, she began eating from the pie pan of scratch.
“Today there was snow on the ground and it was lovely to see her out pecking in the snow with a few wild birds joining her, even though I was worried that the cats would catch the wild birds and had to keep knocking on the window when I saw cats stealthily crouching forward. The birds were most in danger from the two pure white Egyptian cats. However, no birds were caught, and the scene looked like something from a Beatrix Potter story,” Kim reported three weeks into the recovery.
Klinka’s feet were very cold when she came in, but Kim noted that she didn’t seem to mind. And then: “After she had been in her cage for a while, I heard a klinking noise that turned out to be Klinka eating from her pan. It must seem very silly for me to be thrilled by this. Maybe now she will gain some weight and I won't have to worry about her so much,” she wrote.
Klinka continued to improve steadily. Kim and Wolf observed her closely, watching for possible worm and mite infestations and learning about chicken care and feeding. Klinka continued to live in the cage in the office. Lining the cage with dog training pads made it easy to clean. A blanket draped over three sides at night gave her some cozy privacy.
In January, about seven weeks after the attack, Klinka laid an egg. She followed that with another egg the next day. Kim and Wolf took that as a sign that she was fully recovered. Kim gave her a parakeet mirror, which Klinka curiously pecked. “At first she tried looking around and behind the mirror to see the rest of the chicken,” Kim wrote. “It will be interesting to see if she eventually recognizes that it is herself.”
More than two months after the attack that seemed likely to kill her, Klinka was delighting her new companions. Kim recounted this episode: “This afternoon I looked out the window to the back yard to check on Klinka and saw that she was chasing the cat Osiris, who had a little bird in his mouth. She pursued Osiris until he dropped the bird and it flew through the chain link fence to safety. Then Klinka patrolled that area of the fence for a few minutes. I always heard that chickens would bravely confront predators to defend their chicks, but Klinka chased a cat to save an unrelated bird, not even of the same species. Why do people malign the brave little hen when referring to human cowardice as ‘chicken?’ Perhaps one is lucky to be able to have a chicken for a friend.”