We wanted chickens, not another dog. My husband and I already had two—a rough-coated Collie and an Australian Cattle Dog cross. More than enough canines, or at least so we thought. But chickens, we could use. It now cost over $6 for a carton of pasture-raised, bug-eating chickens’ eggs, so it made economical sense to get us some layers, set them up in a nice coop by the barn, and harvest our own eggs. But what happened when we went to Phoenix Ranch, which runs The Chicken Project, an educational program that introduces suburban kids to the wonders of poultry, was that we spotted Lucky, a black and white Chihuahua-type dog, lurking in the shadows.
Phoenix Ranch also operates an animal rescue program and, on this particular rainy day, the resident and rescue mutts helped us herd chickens around the muddy barnyard for a good half hour. Out of the fifty or so hens flapping about, dodging behind the coop and under the wheels of our car, or fleeing to distant pastures, we finally caught three. While the other dogs enjoyed the activity, Lucky kept her distance. She sat, spine curled, face turned away, her tiny body shivering.
Bob, my husband, kept looking over at her. “I think she’s speaking to me.
“She isn’t even looking at you,” I said.
“She’s saying, I want to go home with you.”
We’d been through this before. Our Cattle Dog, Maggie, had also once spoken to Bob. We were walking past a pet store during an SPCA adoption event on our way to pick up a movie at Blockbuster, and supposedly, Maggie tracked Bob, watching him through the plate-glass window as we scanned the new DVD releases.
“She’s chosen me,” Bob had said. So, we filled out the adoption papers and a week later, Maggie had made herself at home, treeing the 13-year-old cat, barking at anything that moved within a one-mile radius, and tearing the woven-wood shades off the window frame.
I am not oblivious to the charms of a homeless dog. I volunteer as a Collie rescue foster caregiver. My last foster dog, a 10-year-old sweetheart, lived with us for six months, waiting to find a permanent home. I would have adopted her in a heartbeat if we could have afforded to take on the extra expense of caring for an elderly dog.
I would, if I could, adopt a zillion dogs. It breaks my heart to imagine that, on average, five out of every ten dogs in an animal shelter will be euthanized because no one wants them or has the means to care for them. And I would, if I could, wrap my arms around each and every one of them and hold them and let them know everything will be okay.
But it’s not going to be okay. Not while animals are still considered disposable property, whether the excuse is that they bark too much, pee on the carpet, or need an expensive operation or medicine. I did not want to be part of the problem, taking in an animal we couldn’t sustain. I’d lost my job and there was talk of cutbacks in Bob’s office. We have dark moments when we believe we might have to rely on the vegetables from our garden, the eggs from our chickens, and the milk from our Norwegian Dwarf goats to survive. An unlikely scenario, but one we worry about as we approach our mid-fifties and wonder how to go about switching careers. So reason prevailed that day, and we went home without Lucky.
But Bob was haunted by her. He’d wake in the middle of the night.
“She’s waiting for me,” he said. “She’s cold, shivering, alone.”
Although I knew it was inevitable that Lucky would eventually arrive, I told Bob, “Let’s wait. Let’s be sure.”
And when we were, a few weeks later, we drove to Phoenix Ranch to adopt her. It immediately became apparent that Bob’s psychic connection to Lucky was more heartfelt than actual. Lucky was petrified of us. She wouldn’t look us in the eye. When Bob picked her up, she growled and struck at him in terror. Lucky would need lots of love and time.
She would also need to find her place among our other two dogs. Maggie was so jealous that, on the first day, she snarled and ripped Lucky’s red knit sweater off. But as the weeks passed, Lucky and Maggie became best friends. Lucky now licks the inside of our Collie’s mouth and cleans his teeth as he moans in delight. Bob and Lucky sleep together, her small body curled in the crook of his arm. Yes, harmony is achieved. And, we figure, if worse comes to worst financially, we can all share the chickens’ eggs.
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