Folks who believe that animals and birds don’t have feelings and emotions are just not paying attention. Witness Rhoda and Millie, my Rhode Island Red hens, on whom Rosie the chicken is partly based. (The other part is based on Kirby, a hen of no particular family or breeding, and JoJo, who is the Queen of Everything.)
Rhoda was a rescue from a lady who was becoming debilitated and could no longer look after her birds. Millie was a rescue, too, found by my husband on the freeway onramp. I had heard that the Rhode Island Red breed was aggressive, but what I didn’t know was that it would carry over into how fiercely they love. I watched a toddler once try to get her mother’s attention first thing in the morning. And when she didn’t get it, she acted out for the rest of the day—a terrible, crying, stressful day that could have been completely alleviated by a five-minute cuddle at eight in the morning. And since chickens have the mental and emotional capacity of an 18-month-old human, you can see why Rhoda and Millie are like this.
I write out in the garden. And when I let the hens out to join me, Rhoda leads the pack. She heads straight for me, her neck stretched out, and she stands looking up, calling, until I pick her up and hold her. And not just for a few seconds, either. If Rhoda doesn’t get her full complement of cuddle time, or if I have something else to do and don’t pick her up at all … well, the racket that ensues! She will call and call from all over the garden until I finally put down my keyboard, go and find her, sit with her in my lap, and give her the affection she craves.
Millie will circle around my chair, waiting until the more senior birds have had their cuddle time. Rhoda, Copper, JoJo … once they’ve gotten what they need and jump down, there’s Millie, all eight pounds of her, jumping up and tucking herself hard under my left arm. She’ll push under as deep as she can go, because as everyone knows, if you’re wedged in there tight, another bird can’t get a beak in to push you out of the way. Millie claims her time with her body just as fiercely as Rhoda claims hers with her voice.
Fierce love. Shouldn’t we be as unafraid as chickens to claim ours?