THE LIFE AND DEATH STORY OF CUDDLES

cuddles2

Where I come in my back door there’s a small dresser with a few things on top of it. It’s just a little shoe closet from Ikea but it’s handy for putting things down on.  On top of it  there’s always a small lamp, a pair of mittens or gardening gloves, depending on the season, and a bowl filled with black oil sunflower seeds for the chickens. Every time I go out the back door, I grab a handful and throw them into the chicken run.

The last week of December, just before Christmas I knew something wasn’t right with Cuddles when she refused to eat them.  I didn’t get too upset because I’d nursed this little chicken back from the brink more than once.  More than twice.  So many times in fact that I’d stopped getting frantic when I saw she was sick because I knew with some antibiotics and syringe feeding for a few days she’d get better .

The last week in December, Cuddles didn’t get better.

I got her 5 years ago from a long gone boyfriend who decided to surprise me with a box full of day old chicks on Easter morning. Obviously he isn’t gone because of his inferior present buying skills. He was astonishingly good in that department. He even had the foresight to supply me with the one thing that would get me through his walking out the door one day. Cuddles.

She was the second smallest chicken in the box of 6 chicks, and even when she was fully grown she was still a lot smaller than the other chickens. I don’t know how much experience you have with chicks but they’re about as cute a thing as God ever made if you believe in that sort of thing.  If not, … she was as cute a thing as Disney could ever make.   Well this one chicken, the second smallest one as I said, took it upon herself to love me like her mama.  She followed me around, clucked to be picked up and sat quietly and contentedly on my lap for as long as I could stand to sit there knowing there were about a billion things to be done around the house.

So when the fella left, she’s what saved me.  Not a therapist, not pills, not crying.  Cuddles. A little brown chicken.  I sat for hours with her relaxed in my lap, her wing stretched down so I could rub the feathers under there.  She’d settle in letting her eyes close, perfectly happy to keep me company until I decided it was time to tackle the world again.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m special.  Because I have some sort of other worldly chicken intuition but the truth is, it was her.  That little chicken liked everyone.  She settled into the tiny laps of kids from around the neighbourhood happily letting them inspect every inch of her, usually the first real livestock they’d ever been close to.  She sat in the lap of a neighbour whose husband had just died and made her laugh.

She wasn’t named Cuddles for nothin’.

Closing the door to the cold behind us, I laid Cuddles down in the makeshift coop I’d created for her in my mudroom.  She wasn’t well.    She’d been living in the mudroom for 3 days so I could constantly check on her and keep her body temperature up.  I wondered if she wouldn’t be happier inside the regular coop with her friends, so that afternoon I had placed her back outside with them.  It was cold that night and she didn’t have the energy to even jump up on her roost so I brought her back in.

I put a small heater in the mudroom, covered the floor with towels to warm it up a bit and made a little nesting box out of some straw and an old wood butter box.  I got her all fed and warmed up then gave her another syringe of antibiotics.  I tucked a bit more straw into her nesting box, put Cuddles inside, gave her a little kiss on the head and told her it was O.K.  She could go.

I knew when I woke up she’d be gone.

I didn’t sleep most of the night and when I finally gave up and came padding downstairs at around 6 in the morning she lifted her head up and looked right at me.

I’ll take this moment to confess that I hoped all night long that Cuddles would die.  That I’d wake up and it would be over.  My stress, her misery … all of it.  You can judge me if you want but I could not, under any circumstances kill her myself.  I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t have chopped her head off any more than I could have chopped my own mother’s head off.

I picked Cuddles up, gave her a bit of food and some water which she ate on her own, and brought her into the living room with me where I sat with her for the morning.

At 12:30 that afternoon I called a local vet.  I may not have been able to do it, but it had to be done.  I scheduled an appointment to have her euthanized.

I was to bring her in at 6:00 p.m. that Friday night just as the vet’s office was closing.

These had been really tiring, stressful days filled with trying to keep her alive, Christmas planning and the general freak show that is the holiday season.    When I called the vet’s office at 5 o’clock to make sure the vet who was putting Cuddles down was back from his house calls the receptionist (who I’d had really unfortunate dealings with earlier in the day) said, Oh No.  He’s not here.   I don’t think he’s coming back.  I explained that I had an appointment to have my pet put down.  He was coming back to the office especially for me.  She sympathetically said “I dunno.  I don’t think he’s coming back though.  Maybe he can see you on Monday.“.  I very unpolitely asked if maybe she could CALL THE MAN AND FIND OUT????  This particular receptionist didn’t seem all that concerned that I had a dying animal in my lap and  I’m not sure what her true vocation in life is but I can tell you right now it isn’t being a receptionist at an animal hospital.  I seriously doubt if she has the common sense to plant peanuts for a living.

At 10 minutes to 6 o’clock I finally called back when I never heard from the receptionist again. “Yeah, no he’s not coming back, she said.  You’ll have to reschedule for Monday.”  I asked once again if she’d actually spoken to him and got some sort of non answer from her at which point I told her she was an idiot and hung up on her.  I also swore. And I’d do it all over again.  She was an idiot who made an already horrible situation almost unbearably worse.

It was Friday night at 6 o’clock.  No other vet would even be open.  And even if they were, finding a vet who would be willing to put a chicken down was never going to happen.  Putting anything avian down is very different than a dog or cat.  It’s harder.

Cuddles was going to have to struggle on her own until Monday, looking up at me like I could do something about it, and me knowing I could  … but just didn’t have it in me to do it.

Then it hit me.  That vet that gave me a bit of advice about Cuddles before.  He was actually a cat vet but he’s a poultry judge who has chickens himself, and he worked part time at a Cat Clinic not far from where I live.

I looked up the number and called right away.  The receptionist answered and told me yes, Dr. Camilleri was working that day but they were closed.  I explained the situation to her.  I blurted out everything about Cuddles and how I knew it seemed stupid because she was a chicken but she was a pet an she was suffering and another vet had just cancelled on me and I’d been trying to help her for days and she just needed help otherwise she’d be like this all wekeend.  Then she said, You know what? Let me call you back in a minute.

And she did.

Dr. Camilleri told me to come up right away.  He understood and he wouldn’t go anywhere until I got there with Cuddles.  I picked Cuddles up in her butter box and walked her out to the car.  It was dark by now and everything is worse in the dark but I felt more relieved than I had in days.

With one act of selflessness, one act of kindness this man who I’d never met, turned my day completely around.

It took about 12 minutes to get to the clinic.  I carried Cuddles inside, and walked her up to the reception desk, apologizing for looking like such a mess and for making them stay late.  The receptionist couldn’t have been nicer or more sympathetic.

Dr. Camilleri came out and said what a beautiful bird Cuddles was and examined her a bit.  He felt here and there, looking for fluid build up and feeling her breastbone to see how thin she was.  After looking at her he let me know I was doing the best thing for her.

We took her into the examination room and he looked at her a bit more while I held her. He explained what he was going to do and how putting a chicken to sleep is a bit trickier but he’d make sure it wasn’t stressful for her.  The Dr. took her out of the room to give her a sedative to keep her calm and get rid of any anxiety she would be feeling.

When he came back with her, Cuddle’s eyelids were starting to close, the way they did when she relaxed into my lap.

Once she was close to being asleep Dr. Camilleri took a tiny needle and pierced her skin.

Not long after that Cuddles was gone.

I had Cuddles cremated and had the ashes returned to me in an urn.  She’s the first pet I’ve ever done that with.

The day I brought her ashes home I was cleaning up the mudroom a little bit. A good cleaning because it had snowed and there was mud in the mudroom of all things.

As I bent down to wipe under that little dresser with the bowl of sunflower seeds on it I found a single brown feather.  A tiny, little downy feather from Cuddles’ last night with me.

I picked it up, walked into the next room and tucked the feather into the ribbon that wraps around her urn.  It sticks out just behind a miniscule little wood plaque that reads “Cuddles”.

My little chicken.

 

It doesn’t make up for what he did, but … Dr. Camilleri publishes a magazine for poultry lovers, showers and breeders.

If you’d like to look at a sample of it click the picture below.

To subscribe to the magazine, email Dr. Camilleri directly.

TheExhibitor

289 Comments

  1. Kip says:

    That was a beautiful tribute to an amazing and loving hen/pet/therapist/family member. Dr. Camilleri sounds like a very kind and compassionate veterinarian, just like our very beloved vet friend Alexa.

  2. Tanya H. says:

    Very sorry to read about Cuddles’s death. I’ve enjoyed reading about her, and I’m glad she had you as her chicken mama.

  3. Cuddles was clearly an extraordinary chicken, and you and Dr. Camilleri knew it. And now we know it too. I could hug you all right now. xo.

  4. Beth W. says:

    Heartbreaking – having to make that decision even though you know it’s the right one. I’m so sorry to hear about Cuddles….birds can be fragile and hard to care for, but so rewarding…..

  5. Christy says:

    That was so sad.
    You and your Cuddles are beautiful and I am sorry she is gone. I am so glad she left you a feather keepsake.

  6. charlotte tataryn says:

    Karen, I don’t know you and wouldn’t if I literally bumped into you BUT I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Life suck sometimes and sometimes it involves those beings that aren’t of our makeup and regardless if they have hair or feathers, love is love.
    Consider yourself privileged that you and your vet had the right to give Cuddles a death with grace. If we could only do that for our own.
    I’m sad for, and proud of you.
    C

  7. Andrea says:

    Prayers for your peace, and that you relish all your memories of Cuddles. Being a feline inclined female, I always pictured Cuddles as a kitten in a bird’s body. ( a very un-high strung kitten, of course.)

  8. Lesley says:

    Man. Sitting on the couch weeping. So sorry you had to go through this. Cuddles was a lucky girl and you did the right thing for her.

    And that other vet, and that insensitive cow that works for him? I hope they read your blog.

  9. Auntie Dot says:

    Karen, I’m so sorry. I know how much you cared for Cuddles. I feel your pain and I know I’m going to cry myself to sleep tonight. The memory of your pets is always with you. I’ll be thinking of you. Auntie Dot

  10. Kim says:

    The biggest hugs to you, Karen, for what you went through in losing poor Cuddles and for being able to put it into words so eloquently and share it, very moving as I type through my own tears.

  11. Jean says:

    She was one of a kind. God bless you.

  12. Jane S says:

    What a lovely tribute to a lovely pet.

  13. Beth says:

    Well done Karen.
    A wonderful time in your life that you have shared with us.
    Tears that I have streaming down my face at this time are for you Karen.
    I love that you found the little, brown, downy, feather that your Cuddles left there just for YOU!!!
    My thoughts are with you Karen.
    xox

  14. Jodi says:

    RIP Cuddles, a true friend to you, Karen and through your writing, a favourite of us all. We’re sorry you lost such a beloved pet.

  15. Judy D. says:

    This post had me crying like a baby. I’m really lost for words (rare for me), but please know I understand the situation and you did the best thing for Cuddles. God Bless Dr. Camilleri and his kind receptionist.

  16. Sarah says:

    I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss, Karen. Thank you for sharing this story (and all of your stories about Cuddles) with us.

  17. Tina B says:

    I know the loss of Cuddles must have been gut-wrenching…the loss of a dear pet always is.

    Do you know the significance of the feather you found while cleaning? I know sweet Cuddles was in the house, but you finding the feather while cleaning wasn’t just a coincidence. It was Cuddles way of telling you she was ok and doing just fine.

    Some attribute the finding of a feather, normally a white feather, to Native American lore. These feathers sent from loved ones are usually in odd places…inside the house or car. I know Cuddles was inside the house that night…but don’t be surprised if you find another one…soon, in the same place where she loved and cared for you and where you returned that favor.

    Blessings to you for loving Cuddles so deeply…

  18. Debbie from Illinois says:

    So sorry. Thanks for sharing with us. Big hugs to you Karen.

  19. Lisa says:

    Oh honey I’m so sorry… Remembering the love and good time will get easier, I promise… Beautifully beautifully written.. Sending blessings to your heart..

  20. Brandy Ballard says:

    I am sitting here right before bed crying my eyes out for you because I know how much that hurt and that evil person who doesn’t belong in a vet’s office (who karma will get…just you wait) just made it so much harder. All I can do is send long distance e-hugs and a little bit of strength. We are all here for you. She wasn’t “just” a chicken any more than my fur legs are “just” dogs and cats, heck when my finhead goldfish Cannibal went I was just as upset (even though his name was Cannibal because he ate his tank buddy). All you know is how they make you feel and if anybody can’t recognize that Cuddles gave you love and made you feel love…then you seriously don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!! 🙂 Major major hugs!

  21. Carla says:

    Cuddles was truly one of a kind! And so are you, thank you for sharing her with us.

  22. Lin N says:

    Thank you for sharing your loving Cuddles story. It is never easy to make that final decision…I have had to do it a few times. I once encountered a vet clinic receptionist who was like the one you describe…guess I wasn’t the only one to complain, the clinic let her go. Cuddles is across that ‘Rainbow Bridge’ with all our beloved pets.

  23. Noelle says:

    ;( I clearly recall the first pet I had cremated to bring home… I used to think it was so silly when I heard about other people who did it. Pip was my cancer kitty who held me together as I healed from that crazy year. She died young and her ashes are here on my dresser.

  24. Karen says:

    Hi Tina B. When I read your comment I got goosebumps all over my legs and arms. Just before I read the comments I cleaned up the stack of wood beside my fireplace. Some of it had tipped over and it needed some sweeping. When I moved the logs to sweep under them … there was a feather. The complete opposite of her little downy feather, it’s a full sized wing feather. ~ karen!

  25. Karen says:

    Thanks Lisa. I’m O.K. 🙂 I miss poor little Cuddles every day but I’m happy I gave her a good life. ~ karen!

  26. Gayle says:

    Oh, I am in tears with you. Knowing you did the best you could for her doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell. Cuddles was blessed to have you as her friend, just as you were blessed to have her. Take care.

  27. Aileen Henner says:

    Such a wonderful experience to have known Cuddles. It is such a shame that their time on this earth is so short. Bless you for having the compassion and love to have cared for her. I truly believe we will all meet again. I know all my four legged children are waiting for me. Keep telling your stories.

  28. Karen says:

    Thanks Brandy. 🙂 I’m O.K. And don’t cry! You’ll get puffy eyes and then people will ask you if you were crying and then you’ll either have to make something up or tell the you’re crying over an Internet chicken. And we both know a lot of people just wouldn’t get that, lol. ~ karen!

  29. Mary says:

    Oh Karen. How could anyone judge you? I could never kill one of my pets with my own hand – but the ability to take them to be gently and lovingly released from pain and suffering – that’s a relief – to them and to us. Who could fault you for hoping she’d die quietly in her sleep? Don’t we all with that for our pets – our families – ourselves? Who could fault you for feeling the relief of having a plan. And the panic of having the plan thwarted – and on a Friday night. I hope the “receptionist” finds a better career. Far from animals and their people. And God bless Dr. Camilleri for understanding the situation you were in and helping you both thru it so kindly. Vets like him are gold. Thank you for sharing your story.

  30. Elsie says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about Cuddles. A Winnipeg artist, Morgan Di Martino, and her company North Faun offers cremation beads and pearls. Perhaps this would comfort by keeping Cuddles close? http://northfaun.ca
    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/Artist-immortalizes-motherhood-with-jewellery-made-of-breast-milk-364181901.html

  31. Karen says:

    Thanks Auntie Dot! It’s the dark side of having pets as you know very well. If you want to feel sorry for someone though feel bad for poor little Cheez Whiz. She was Cuddles’ best friend and she’s completely distraught. She barely even walks around anymore. ~ karen!

  32. Karen says:

    Thanks Lesley. I know it was the right thing. I don’t think the vet was really to blame, I think he just got mixed signals. The receptionist on the other hand? Yeah. Different story. ~ karen!

  33. Lora says:

    I am sorry for your loss of Cuddles. I have been following you since I started to think of getting Chickens, mine are now almost 2. I went through your difficult breakup and I think that and this is the only time I have commented. You are an inspiration and a wonder to listen to your writing. You speak from the heart and give everything you do 100 and 10%. I remember the 1st time Cuddles got sick, you were very scared, I thought she would be gone but your resilience has rubbed off on your girls.

    I am sorry for your loss of Cuddles no words can console the loss of a loved one, humane or pet.

  34. Karen says:

    My mother thinks it’s completely insane, lol. Cuddles is on the bookcase but I might have to more her because I have a hunch she makes people uncomfortable. ~ karen!

  35. Karen says:

    Thanks Carla. Really we’re all one of a kind … and that’s the fun of it all. Usually. 😉 ~ karen!

  36. Tears are just streaming down my face. That was so beautifully written. How lucky you and Cuddles are to have had that relationship together.

    Thank you for sharing this story

    Lise-Lotte

  37. MissChris SA says:

    You are very brave to have written this story so soon!
    It is such a horrid decision to have to make and I had a similar situation with a cat I loved like a child.
    I also kept hoping he would just pass away but it did not happen – I had to do the vet route too and still tear up when I think about it – almost two years later.

    Love the feather you found – and angel chicken called Cuddles left you a message – I honestly believe that.

    As for the vets assistant – this is a family blog so I won’t use the expletives I would like to about her!!!!!

    Have a lovely weekend Karen – and I love that painting of the chook!!

  38. Karen says:

    Thanks MissChris SA. I keep trying to tell myself maybe she was having a bad day. A very, very bad day. And that chicken painting is Cuddles done from a photograph I took of her. 🙂 ~ karen!

  39. Auntiepatch says:

    Putting down a cherished pet is the last loving act you can do for them. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  40. Karen says:

    Thanks Lora. You weren’t the only one who thought Cuddles would be gone that first time she got sick. Everyone did. Every vet, every chicken owner, every chicken expert. There were two people who thought she could get through it if I was diligent. Both of them were local vets. And one of them was Dr. Camilleri. ~ karen!

  41. Lynn says:

    Karen my deepest sympathy goes out to you for the loss of your Cuddles. Some might think of her as just a chicken but you made her very real to us as a beloved pet . She gave you joy an you gave her love there is no better feeling in this world.

  42. Cynthia Jones says:

    You can take a little Cuddledust out at the beginning of her favourite season and spead it where she liked best of all. Maybe put a little in your pocket when you wear your overalls. It helps with the grief and to think they are coming along on an adventure with you.

    Nah, dont move her from the bookcase, make ’em get used to it and put a little offering there occasionally, that’ll freak emout.

    I really love the idea of her on your bookcase. She will be so happy now inside in the special hen house with mummy. Blessings on your fluffy dear little head Cuddles and you too Karen.

  43. Lisa Bakos says:

    What a beautifully written love story about you and your darling hen. You gave her a lovely life and dignity in death. Thank you for sharing.

  44. holly says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Karen. As I sit here crying, I’m so glad you wrote this. I knew Cuddles was special, and now I know why. There’s nothing like having an animal that is totally devoted to you. That look on their sweet faces. I am so thankful for that kind vet. I would have contacted the other vet and suggest the receptionist be fired.

    I’m also crying because my sweet, devoted best friend – a Chocolate lab – has pancreatic cancer and I am facing the same thing. He’s doing good for now, but I know what’s coming.

    I agree the feathers are a sign from sweet Cuddles letting you know she’s happy and healthy. She knew how much you loved and cared for her.

  45. Paula says:

    Heartbreaking, yes, I am crying. So sorry for your gut wrenching loss. Your story is beautifully written and Cuddles had a beautiful life, thanks to you.

  46. Dee says:

    You and Cuddles were so lucky to be in each other’s lives. You’ve so touched my heart and I hope the pain of her lose soon moves on to a smile with the memory of her.

  47. Karen Too says:

    That was lovely. I’m so sorry.

  48. Marna says:

    Oh Karen, I feel so sorry for you! Having been through something similar over the past two years, having to put down my beloved cat almost a year ago and the year before my dog. I have had a lot of pets, different types of animals and it doesn’t matter what they are, they are your babies. I too think you were meant to find that little feather, what a treasure. I wish I had all my pets cremated, never thought of it before the last two. I might do that with the next ones, and have them put in my casket when I die. I believe that all creatures, us too, have energy that continues on and someday you will meet Cuddles again. This made me cry, but thank you for sharing the tribute to your beloved pet. Hugs.

  49. tracie says:

    I don’t usually respond to posts like this…I don’t own any chickens or such…but I was so touched by this post…I’m weeping as we speak. Some people are born to allow anothers rest, and some are born to rest…I really feel like I know Cuddles. Thank you for this, Karen…xo

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