Nothing beats a sad animal story like a happy animal story, and I have one!
A couple of weeks ago, roughly mid-way between Moses' last day and about now-ish we had a visitor in our back garden. It was, as is becoming depressingly evident, a pretty typical bloody winter's weekend in the Capital with occasional breaks in interminable rain for truculent blasts of wind. A perfect day to be indoors working on the household budget, then.
Was it on one of those blasts of wind that Penny came into our lives so briefly? Maybe it was. We don't own any chickens, so the appearance of a rather healthy-looking one scratching enthusiastically away at our bale of pea straw (waiting for a fine day to go on the garden…) was a bit of a surprise. We watched her for a while, making her way around the garden, dodging the plentiful weeds and seeking out the likely plentiful worms and woodlice among them - both of us were probably hoping the same thing, that she'd move on and we wouldn't have to worry further. But she didn't - we'd made too good a foraging site, I think.
In the absence of any neighbours we were aware of with chickens we decided we needed to collect her before a car, cat, dog or one of the recently-acquired and party-hard neighbours down the cul de sac did. I went outside and gave a half-hearted "chook chook chook" and was surprised when it was pointed out to me that the hen I was looking for in the front yard was already at my feet quietly clucking. I scooped her up with no resistance and in the garage she went; we got on the phone to the SPCA, hoping that a Sunday mid-afternoon wouldn't be too late for them to pick her up.
It was, or rather, it became so after we had a return call around 4:30 to say they had a dog-versus-car to attend to, so could we look after the hen overnight? We guessed so, so I went out to the garage to find the newly-named Penny and tidy the clutter up to make things a little more homely. When I found her she was in a cupboard under the workbench. I wandered around clearing things up while she followed, pecking away at the spaces I uncovered in moving things. Moses' old cat cage was vacant, so I tipped it on one side and lined it with newspaper and a towel over the top for a hutch, left enough bread and water for her to make the Sensible Sentencing Trust proud of me and left her to it.
That night was miserably cold - two degrees with sleet and wind, so I checked in on Penny a couple of times before bed and once in the wee small hours. The first peer through the garage window saw her still moving around and regarding me and my torch through the glass. Later she was in the same place she kept through the night - she'd spurned the coop and was tucked up against an old wardrobe on the concrete floor with her head buried under a wing.
The SPCA collected her by the Monday afternoon and a later inspection and (necessary) tidy-up of the garage floor around her adopted spot revealed a wee parting present - a small brown egg which I should probably finish this story with by saying we ate and found delicious. Penny it turns out is a Red Shaver and therefore a good and constant layer with a quiet temperament, a great addition to any flock. She was also apparently an ex-battery hen which surprised us because her condition was so good, but one of her wings hadn't been clipped, which may have been the catalyst for her escape and arrival in our yard. Talk about your lifestyle changes!
And that's the story! The happy bit at least. Read on if you want to hear some grumbling...
A country-living free-range keeping friend had offered to take Penny if no one claimed her and we encouraged her to leave her details with the SPCA immediately. Which she did, but those details weren't carried through to the vet section and when I called a week later to check on Penny I was told that as nobody had called in (and Penny wasn't advertised on their adopt-a-pet website - we checked), a staff member had taken her home for her own. If we were really wanting to give her to our friend could she call them and they'd bring her in pending an inspection of our friend's property and she was a pretty feisty bird too et cetera… they seemed pretty reluctant to undo what had been done, and somewhat aware that this was not good procedure. In the end we decided we didn't want to be go-betweens and left the parties to sort it out, and Penny's stayed put. We're both big supporters of the work the SPCA do, but this strikes us as being a bit poor, added to the fact that we'd had to call them on the Monday morning to remind them they still had a bird to pick up (a call which turned out to be quite necessary as our details hadn't been carried over...) A communication error or two isn't the worst thing that can happen in an animal's life, Penny the hen was never ours, and in the big picture she has exactly what we hoped she'd have in lieu of her previous (good!) owner collecting her. With our friend she'd have been the first of a new brood and queen of the coop; with her new owner apparently she'll be the first layer in a non-laying flock, so either way she'll be special. But there's a teeny tiny self-righteous part of me that's still saying "bah!" at the wishes of Penny's rescuers being sort of admin-ed out of contention so easily. But a good result for Penny, and whatever her new address, we think good karma after the loss of another animal friend.