In Which a Chicken Makes a Big Mistake

It’s all fun and games until a chicken dies.

I have a sad confession to make. My sweet dog is a cold-blooded killer. Or maybe he’s just an over-enthusiastic playmate. Honestly, I’m still not sure, even after the feathers have settled.

But the fact is that my neighbor’s chicken is dead and it was most definitely my dog that caused its untimely demise. It didn’t hold up well to be shaken, no matter the intent of the shaker.

Buddy had long been fascinated by the neighborhood chickens, who clucked and crowed and fluffed about in the backyard next to ours. He would bark at them, whine at them, tug in their direction when walking. I’ve never owned a dog with a strong prey instinct before, however, and so I was not fully prepared.

It happened so fast. The kids and I were getting ready to go grocery shopping last weekend and were transferring Buddy the Dog from the house to his outdoor kennel. My son had the leash – even though I know he’s not strong enough to walk our burly fellow – because it was just for a moment as we were all getting ourselves out the door.

All of a sudden, I saw my son lurch forward and simultaneously yell “CHICKENS” as the dog dragged him out the door of the garage and across the yard. And when I say “dragged him across the yard,” I mean just that. It was like something from a movie. First he ran, trying to gain traction, then he stumbled, hit the ground, and bumped along on his stomach behind the manic dog.

Buddy is not huge but he is freakishly strong. It’s all I can do to keep a grip on the leash when he sees something he wants. My poor nine-year-old didn’t stand a chance. He eventually dropped the leash and, although the chickens had scattered before the four-legged grim reaper, they weren’t fast enough.

Prying a dead chicken out of my dog’s jaws was not the highlight of my weekend.

I’ll admit that my first instinct was to blame the victim. The chicken had escaped its coop and was strolling along the edge of my driveway in the final moments of its life. If the bird had had half the sense God gave an acorn it would have steered well clear of the yard with the big dog that barks at it with such energy. Right?!?

But no. The responsibility lies squarely with the canine and his owners. My son was guilt-stricken. My dog was utterly unremorseful. He seemed to think the entire episode had been a truly fantastic game. Like playing fetch with the world’s best squeaky toy.

After the adrenaline faded, I found I was mad at Buddy. How could he do that? Which isn’t fair at all. He’s a dog. Dogs are predators. Chickens are prey. I think it’s easy to overly anthropomorphize dogs. They’re so intelligent and so expressive and they play such an important role in your life that it’s easy to start to see them as family – to see them as almost human.

We ascribe human emotions to dogs, make (lots) of movies in which they speak in human language and regard the world with human thoughts. We talk to them – and sometimes help them ‘talk’ back. (Come on. Don’t pretend you’ve never voiced your dog’s thoughts in a funny voice. You know you have.)

At the end of the day, however, dogs are animals and they behave accordingly. It’s up to me to guard against the instincts that accompany that truth. The remaining chickens’ wings have been clipped and their coop reinforced. New rules have been laid down in our house about who is allowed to hold the leash. And now we cross our fingers and a hope that there will be no further feathered “playdates.”

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