If it weren’t for the fact that he had two rather large bird legs dangling from his jaws, the mysterious disappearance of our three baby chicks might have remained a mystery. That, and the sheepish, guilty puppy eyes he gave me when I confronted him. Our three newly hatched baby chicks had been murdered in cold blood. The culprit: all evidence pointed to the one and only Howard, our 95 pound, one-year-old English Shephard.
Let me take you back about a year. The story begins with seven adorable, fuzzy chicks. As we drove home from the local ranch store with seven Rhode Island Reds the boys chattered away at what they should name all of them. The coop was decked out with incandescent light, hay, feeder and all. A puppy, seven chickens… yessiree, we were well on our way to a real rootin’ tootin’ miniature farm fit for none other than Old MacDonald himself.
It was amazing how fast those darling little chicks grew up. Within a few short weeks and a couple distinct cock-a-doodle-doos we were sure Henrietta and Birdita were in fact Henry and Bert. Two roosters. And they were not about to compete for those Hens. Sadly, we found our two roosters could not peacefully coexist, and Henry landed himself, well, you can take a look for yourself…
Bert was now the king of the roost, and he let all who came near know. Living where many predictors would gladly have a chicken dinner, we decided it was wise to keep mean old Bert around. And even better, with a rooster, we could hatch our own eggs! A year after bringing our first chickens home we decided to give it a try.
13 eggs, 21 days, and a steady 99.5 degrees later, we found ourselves awestruck at seven adorable chicks. Watching their little heads pop out of the shells was amazing and so exciting! After giving four of our chicks to Great Grandpa E, we kept the remaining three and had just begun to integrate them into our little flock when disaster struck.
I had just walked into our kitchen to make dinner and happened to glance outside as Howard rounded the corner with two rather large bird feet dangling from his K9 teeth, slobber dripping from his lips. I knew right away this wasn’t just any bird, and this wasn’t just any accident. I slipped on my shoes and raced around the house as Howard dropped the limp body into a hole. His two-syllable name typically used in an exasperated tone (“How-ard! You dumb dog! Why did you have to go and swallow M’s sock??” Or “How-ard! Did you really have to find that dead, stinky, rotted squirl and drag it to our porch during our barbecue??”) Was now being screamed in a hysterical, maniac sort of way. A string of kindergarten-worthy explicatives flew from my mouth. “How-ard! Oh, you rotten, lousy, stinky, heartless, Turkey-dog jerk! You ate them!” I was furious. He’d brutally murdered our three helpless chicks.
As I played Sherlock Holmes around the coop I pieced together the tragedy. The coop had one tiny, obscure spot that had a bit larger gap than the rest of the fence. The chicks had apparently weaselled their way through the fence and served themselves to our eager dog. Sad? YES. A tragedy? Certainly. Completely Howard’s fault? Debatable. If only the chicks had known that the fence was their safety! They hadn’t realized that just beyond what they may have viewed as their prison waited snakes, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, skunks, rats, and… Howard. All eager to devour them.
My boys are still young. The moral dilemmas they face every day typically involve cookie jars, brother’s new toys from the dentist, and whether or not to repeat the potty talk they hear from friends at school. Every day I try to help them build fences, protect them from the dangers outside. But what happens when they are older? When the world, for good or for bad, can be found right at their fingertips? When the words and stories they hear in the boys’ locker room and even in the hall at school are far worse than the mean names their mother shouts at the dog? When friends go to parties, make unwise decisions, and the pressure to do likewise is so strong? If my children can learn anything from their mother, I hope it’s this: Dare to stand alone. When the world seems to be outside the fence, when the grass appears greener, I hope that they can have the bravery and moral strength to keep their fence strong. To not give in to the temptation to wander out. To not view their standards, their boundaries as a cage. Being a teenager can be rough. I know because I’ve been there. We all have. We all know what it’s like to desperately want to be cool, accepted, and have fun. But if it comes at the expense of our freedom, our immediate or latter happiness, our health, or (heaven forbid) our lives, then it’s not worth wandering beyond the fence. What I hope my boys can learn is that by staying inside the fence, by keeping to their standards and values, they will be far more free, more happy, and more able to do what they like than if they don’t.
Three baby chicks decided to wander beyond the boundaries. Maybe it was the green grass. Maybe it was curiosity of the unknown. Maybe it was just plain old stupidity. Regardless the reason, it cost them their lives. If only…what sad words. Peep, Mo, and Winger, we will miss you. We’re sorry we didn’t protect you better. And my sons, I hope you can learn from the sad story of our wandering chicks and remember to stand alone when others explore beyond the fence.