Accepting my role in life

This may be the most intimate post I will ever share and it’s about a deeply vulnerable issue for me. Death has surrounded me my whole life – a lot of death. Add to that various abandonments and you can understand that I have issues with loss. This is not a competition about who has it worse. This is simply me.

 

How it started

My best connections in life have been with animals. I had a cat growing up whom I loved and as an adult during a dark period of my life it’s a cat that wanted to adopt me that made me realise that life was better for me when animals were around. But instead of a cat, I chose birds and it has brought me a lot of happiness, joy and also pain over the years.

Lola, my partner in crime, was brought home from a shop where she (I know Lola is a he but we’re used to saying “she” from the confusion of the baby years) was very well treated and loved. We learned to love each other over time and have become practically inseparable. 90% of her life we have been together practically all day. This explains our bond.

Then I started saving some wild birds. Sometimes it was a crow (the local crows even learned to recognise me and would let me approach their babies when needed) and sometimes a pigeon. Sometimes it was guiding someone else through the care of the wild bird. Most were released but some stayed. Squeaky, Piggie and Lucy were the three pigeons that stayed with me. There was even Bookie the quail, whom I’d found in the street, featherless, both eyes closed, covered in bruises and blood and with a broken leg and hip. Couldn’t even recognise what it was when I first found him. My time with them was magical and I learned so much. Bookie passed from old age after a life well lived full of adventure and sailing. Squeaky, Piggie and Lucy were taken too early from me for various reasons. All four died in my arms knowing they were loved. Each time I felt a piece of me lost forever. The pain was deeper and more encompassing than anything I’d ever felt. After I lost Lucy, I told myself that despite missing the sweetness of pigeons, my heart could not handle it anymore. I had no intention of adopting another bird. I had every intention of staying away from additional pain from loss. But then life happened.

 

A chance crossing of paths

I met someone over the summer and went to stay on their “farm” for a while. I won’t go into some of the horror stories that I came across while there but simply put – no animal there was living a good life. At best, they were surviving. When they died, their body would be left in place for a few days because the “owners were busy” and when picked up they would be thrown in the trash. A death that had no more dignity than the life they had. 

While I was there, I would regularly give the flock some food and I’d break up fights. They learned quickly that around me was a safe space for all. One day, I had given them some food and one of the geese harassed a small, almost featherless tiny chicken who came to eat. I stopped the goose and went to pick up the chicken. She was so frightful of everything around her that she ran away from me but since she couldn’t run very fast I caught her easily. And I gave her her own bowl of food. She wolfed it down so fast, I gave her more and more. Until her crop was full and she was done. She was skin and bones and had spasms all of the time. Once done, she jumped right off to go hide in one of her places. The next day, I weighed her and gave her food again separate from everyone else. This time she didn’t jump right off once done, she waited a few minutes and then jumped off. We did this for a few more days and each time she learned she could trust me not to hurt her. I then went to find her. She was hiding in tall grass. I went to pick her up but she wouldn’t let me. One of the other chickens who was a gentle giant had come over and was standing near me. The little chicken ran over to her and stood underneath this gentle giant while peeking out at me from underneath. I picked up the big chicken, hugged her for a bit and put her down. I hoped the little one would see there was no danger in letting me pick her up but I did not try again immediately. I just stood there so she would understand I was happy to let her choose when to be near. The next day when I gave her food, she was happy to stay on me. I took a red blanket and covered her in it. She fell asleep on me. I think it was the first time in her life that she felt truly safe and comfortable. I had noticed a large gash on her abdomen and realised it was from one of the roosters trying to mate with her. The day after that, she was standing near me and looking at me taking out my chair. The second I pulled out the red blanket, she ran over at top speed! From that moment on, she would run over to me every morning as soon as she was let out of her coop and stay with me until the evening when she had to go back. The owner told me she was 6 or 7 (a neighbour told me he thinks she was older than that). I figured out very fast that because of her foot deformity and hip issues, she could not sleep higher up roosting so she was forced to sleep on the floor of the coop and everyone above her essentially dropping their droppings on her. When I was there, I would then place her higher up on one of the roosting spots in the evening and bring her down in the mornings. 

 

A new chapter

I decided I would buy her from the guy. I asked him how much a chicken costs. A young, egg laying chicken. He told me I could get one of 10 EUR. I offered him 10 EUR for her. (Due to a mistake on his part in our accounts, she cost me about 10 times that in the end and I am happy with every cent spent on her). He of course accepted. From that point on, she slept with us. It gave her the rest she needed. During the day, she would stay with us too and she could relax and eat well while getting some love. She quickly understood that she was not in competition with Lola for food and snuggles. I had to leave for a few days and could not take her or Lola with me. When I came back, I ran over to find her hunched under a piece of machinery, scared and if truth be told, she was at death’s door. I picked her up, put her in a box with shavings and let her rest with us. She stayed put for a few days. I had to take her out and motivate her to move around a bit. She was so skinny and tired! I made sure she was in sunlight as much as possible. I took her to the vet and we took care of the fleas she had in her feathers. I then dunked her feet in oil to kill whatever bugs were getting under her skin. You could tell that she was finally getting relief. Each time we found something, we took care of it immediately. Her feathers were coming back and they were gorgeous! Her comb and wattles were becoming a bright red, her eyes were clear and she was really enjoying her new adoptive flock (me and Lola). Whenever Lola made kissy noises, Poulepoule would trill in response. She would sometimes trill in the middle of the night. She was happy. She was discovering that life could be good. At first, her muscles were so wasted that I had to motivate her to walk and rebuild her muscles by holding out worms for her a meter a way from her and letting her walk to me. We did this back and forth a few times per day every day. Her weight went up, her muscles came back. We would travel to new places, she would go discover the area and find worms. Not only did she finally enjoy some time out, she wanted to be out exploring the world all day long!  There are many funny stories from this time, including the time I found out she was scared of guitars and she started running away but saw a big blade of grass as she was running, turned her head as she passed it and snatched it up while continuing to run away with the blade of grass in her beak. She was full of life and her heart was full of happiness. There are many other sweet moments, most of which I’ve already shared on my social media.

 

Poulepoule’s crossing

And then one day, her body which had fought so valiantly and struggled for so long previous to her joining of our flock decided it was done. We found out that she probably had lesions in her lungs from an untreated probable pneumonia or bronchitis earlier in her life which caused her breathing to be more laboured. This, coupled with the internal damage from a massive infestation of worms in her digestive tract which caused a lot of damage before we could treat it was too much. When her body started giving out, we were camped in a very isolated area. The nearest vet was not oriented towards chickens as pets but he did try. So I bundled us up and decided to do an overnight drive of 5.5 hours to a great avian vet I know. Her breathing was laboured but in bursts. It would come and go. I knew that there was a distinct possibility she would not make it before we reached our destination and so I decided to keep her under my sweatshirt so that if she did let go, it would be while being hugged rather than alone in her travel cage. It made driving less comfortable but it was the right thing to do. We stopped mid-way so I could rest my eyes for a bit and I took her out and laid her on my belly. She enjoyed looking at me and looking out the window at the cars passing by. I put her back under my sweatshirt and continued driving. After 40 minutes I felt her struggling and then she stopped. I pulled over on the highway, took her out from under my sweatshirt and saw she had let go. She seemed peaceful.

 

A summary of 4 months

When I first adopted her I knew that our time would probably very limited due to her previous mistreatment. I never expected to get so attached to her so fast. I never expected her to go from barely surviving to thriving in such a short amount of time! And it threw me off. I thought that it was a sign she would stay with us for much longer. The four months we had with her seem like an eternity, so full of adventures and happiness with her.

Here’s a recap of the changes of before/ after:

Weight: 800 grams/ 1.3 kg

Feathers: most gone, the ones left greatly damaged, faded colour/ all there, healthy looking, full deep colors

Comb and wattles: pinkish/ bright red

Health: fleas, leg mites, internal worms (all of this is what caused the spasms)/ free of all them

Cleanliness: covered in droppings from the other chickens/ clean all the time

Sleep: bothered/ hugged by her flock

 

Mourning a friend

I showed Lola her body since in those four months they had become friends and she put her head down to me for a kiss. She stayed with the bundled body overnight and when I brought Poulepoule’s body to the crematorium and gave her some last kisses, Lola chirped gently a few times. 

 

Moving forward

With the pain of losing a sweet being that I’d completely fallen in love with, comes also the joy in knowing that I gave her a time of health, happiness and joy she had never previously experienced and would not have experienced without us. From the moment we adopted her until her last breaths as I hugged her, she knew practically only positive things. I also know that the death she had with me was full of love, respect and dignity unlike what would have happened had she stayed at that farm. 

On the one hand, the pain is deep. Very, very deep. But then I think of all those other sweet beings that we will cross paths with at some point and I know that if I shut myself off from them, they may lose the only chance they will ever have to know happiness and health. I know what it’s like to live with pain that won’t go away. And the truth is that no matter what I do in life, this pain inside will never go away, it will only get deeper and deeper with each new loss. But I’ve learned to deal with it, sort of. But if with my pain, which will be there anyway I can bring some good to another being then I have to do it. I have to be there for them. Maybe that will give my pain meaning. Maybe it won’t. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is how their lives will be improved.

 

A celebration of a beautiful life

And so, in memory and in celebration of Poulepoule, the show must go on and whatever other bird we come across that needs our help, we will help.

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