Martha’s incident was one of many that filled our lives as our three daughters grew up and left home to go to college. Soon the childhood dog Poncho died, as tradition would have it, and we found ourselves with a very empty nest.
Our suburb on the canyon is in ponderosa country at 7200
feet. Chicken fanciers can’t keep such gentle trusting birds without some way, like dogs, to protect them from nightly visitors--raccoons, coyotes, bear, and an occasional weasel or skunk. It doesn’t work to have chickens without a dog who understands they are part of the pack. I tried it in the early nineties. When a barred rock chicken wandered into our front yard, I tried to find her owners, but no one answered the ads and posters. Since the Hen House was standing empty, I bought the chicken three companions at a bargain $2.53. They were aging chicks, pullets really, from the most amazing tourist spot in northern New Mexico—a real Country Farm Supply on Riverside Drive in Española, business home of former-mayor Richard Lucero.
The pullets and the barred rock chicken settled in happily in the Hen House-- no pecking-order problems since they were all new to the premises.
Then tragedy after tragedy—the four chickens were the victims of clever raccoons who one night stripped off the railing to the sliding entry door of the Hen House. Another night one came back and broke the little door in two with a vicious blow. Later, some raccoon, maybe the same one, carefully nipped a raccoon-sized hole in the middle of the chicken wire pen to gain entry once again.
The final assault came in 1992, the night of my eldest daughter’s wedding. We were having so much fun opening post-reception “shower” presents that I forgot to close up the surviving black chicken, Dissy.
Dissy had become my “pal,” pecking around the garden wherever I went. She especially appreciated my company when my shovel happened to unearth a juicy worm or two.
The wedding guests had left and the house was quiet. At one a.m. Don was up feeding Pepto Bismol to our new son-in-law--who had a rousing case of diarrhea, apparently a result of using the pre-nuptial family camping trip outhouse the day before—when we remembered to close up the Hen House. It was too late.
Like all the others, the raccoon had slaughtered Dissy with one crushing bite to the head. He didn’t even eat a little, just left her there to strike horror in my chicken-loving spouse, who kindly buried her the next morning in our pet cemetery on the path into the canyon.
In all the animal world of eat and be eaten, there is nothing to compare to the wasteful horror of killing without purpose. Life is precious, to all of us.