This afternoon I left work early so that I could take one of my chooks, Susan, to the vet.
By ‘chooks’ I mean ‘chickens’, for the benefit of non-Australians.
Susan had been behaving strangely for some time; it began with her developing a little hop which was evident when she was running. It was a quaint and funny sight because, being a Light Sussex, she was quite portly, so in addition to her flesh wobbling when she ran, she then had this humourous skip in the mix. We thought it was just a peccadillo or maybe at worse she had a minor injury to her foot.
In any event, the oddity passed very quickly from being a skip to being something that was preventing her from moving unless it was slowly hobbling. Aside from that though, she seemed fine, did not seem distressed or in pain – although how can you tell, I suppose – the eternal dilemma with animals!
Then the hobbling became tortuous dragging along the ground. That was just this week. I texted the mobile vet, asking him if he treated chooks. Unfortunately, his response was “not really, but give me a call”. I did call him but he didn’t pick up, so I then called one of the vets in town. Once again I asked if they treated chooks. I could hear the humour in the voice of the woman I was speaking to when she said “I’m sure Jeff can give it a go” (Jeff being the vet, I guess). I said “Good” rather tersely and made the appointment.
Long story short – Jeff the vet was wonderful, I have to say. Very thorough in his examination and I just sensed his humanity when he told me that he expected Susan had a “neurological condition” as it was clear she virtually had no sensation from the chest downwards. The condition was either a tumour or as a result of a spinal injury. There was no hope for her, so I requested she be humanely euthanised.
The first point I feel like making – why is it assumed, in some quarters at least, that chooks don’t require or deserve veterinary assistance? Or even the same level of care as say a dog or a cat? Anyone who has had chooks will know what intelligent, interesting creatures they are. They are community-conscious and caring of each other, and the hens have phenomenal maternal instincts. They feel pain and happiness and curiosity, just as dogs and cats and other ‘regular’ domestic animals do. I love letting the chooks out of their house in the morning and watching them running free down to the paddock in apparent joy. Susan herself was probably the friendliest chook I personally have ever had, always running up to me if I happened to be in the paddock and would follow me around. Not so long ago, before Susan developed her hop, a friend asked me how many eggs Susan lays in a week. I said “None”, which was true – I think she was beyond laying, not that I had ever given it much thought. This friend looked at me and said “Why don’t you knock it on the head then?”
Would I knock Yogi on the head, or Ghost, or Pumba or Charlie, on the grounds that I obtain no utility from them? Of course not! I don’t see why a different standard should be applied to Susan or any chook or any creature. In short, I don’t see why any animal should be given less respect, care and consideration than a person. That’s a topic for another time, I guess!
After Susan’s death my thoughts and emotions sunk to a more morbid level. I felt quite a loss. And what drifted into my thoughts was that quote from John Donne’s poem: “No man is an island”. I always interpreted that poem as suggesting that we are all connected – not just humans to each other, but every living thing. And when one death happens, we are all diminished in some way. That’s why, as Donne put it, never ask “for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”.
I like the theory that everything is connected. To me it means every living thing has a single purpose. It’s just a question of finding that purpose – the meaning of life, I guess. In my opinion, human beings are the least accomplished of all living things at figuring out that purpose, that meaning. Too many voices and noise drowning out the intuition. And that’s exactly why we need to pay due respect to other living things, because I can guarantee they have figured it out long before any of us.