The Life and Death Story of Cuddles

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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 weekend.  

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 minuscule little wood plaque that reads “Cuddles”.

My little chicken.

295 Comments

  1. Ann Visco says:

    I have 13 hens and 5 new chicks. I haven’t had to put any of them to sleep yet and I hope I never have to. I know just what you felt her last night because I’ve gone through that with other animals and I cried off and on for about an hour after reading this.
    It is amazing how any animal can sense what you need. You are so lucky to have a surprise feather when you needed it.

    As for the receptionist from hell, I hope for other pet owners sakes she is not at that practice. I used to work for a large specialty vet practice and anyone who worked there would have been tossed out for speaking to a client like that, for any reason no matter how difficult (crazy) a client was.

  2. June Fraser says:

    I finished with tears in my heart for the loss of love. I have four chickens (started with 5) who are now 2yrs and were purchased for organic eggs ($5 a dozen is crazy) and I would do the chores to keep them. How would I know that Gracie an Andalusian would be such a joy? Reference to cremating a pet: I have urns with the ashes of 4 dogs who lived long lives and were pieces of my heart. We also have a couple of horses and my boyfriend is wondering what size urn we will need for them and where on earth we could put them.

  3. Bonnie Goodrich-Wilcoxson says:

    I’ve read Cuddles’ stories two or three times over the last year. I have an older hen, Sweetheart. I don’t know what old is in chicken years but, from what I’ve read, the condition of her legs is an indicator of her age. Hers are rough compared to the younger birds and she rarely lays anymore. When she does, her eggs are perfectly formed but have no shell.

    I got her her when a friend moved and had to get rid of her flock. I’d been helping this friend for a month as she was cleaning, clearing and packing and Sweetheart would follow me around, cooing and muttering, checking into what I might be doing. I’d never had chickens but wanted to get them eventually. When my friend ask if I’d like her 14 hens, I said no but I’d take three of them if Sweetheart could be one of them. That’s been nearly a couple of years ago and she wasn’t a spring chick then. She still follows me around, cooing and muttering, comes into the house and checks things out whenever it suits her, marching right past three dogs and three cats who ignore her. She’s very independent. I love her. And I wonder what it will be like when it’s time for her to go and whether I will respond the right way, the way she’ll need me to, whether I will do the right things. And I think of Cuddles and your stories about her life with you. Then I stick my hand into the bag of treats and let her have first dibs before I call, “Here, chick, chick, chick, chick, chick” and the others come running.

    Thank you for sharing your stories.

  4. Snow says:

    I came across your blog in a desperate and frantic attempt to learn more about flystrike after the horrifying discovery I made on one of my chickens, Gwen. After I treated Gwen’s flystrike, I had to come back to read the rest of Cuddles’ story. I thought maybe Gwen would pull through- her wound was scabbed over, the antibiotics seemed to be working and although her poop still told the truth, she almost seemed back to her plucky self. She’d hadn’t laid an egg in months since she laid a couple lash eggs in late winter, so I’d known she had other problems for a while now. Flash forward to this morning when I woke to find her dead in her crate and this evening with your blog post still open. I loved Gwen, but she is not my Cuddles- she is an ex-factory farm chicken that has never quite warmed up to human contact more than eating out of a hand. Still, I gave her a proper burial and am feeling her loss. I do have a chicken who Cuddles reminded me of instantly, though- Swift, who has been my constant companion for 8 years- my first chicken and the last of my original flock raised from chicks. She has been with me through some very rough times and has provided me many cuddles and much comfort throughout the years in many of the ways Cuddles did for you. She’s still in good health now, but as she’s getting older I often wonder how much time she has left. I know I will be heartbroken when she does pass. Reading Cuddles’ story had me in tears. I went back to the first story of her beating the odds, and then came to these posts about her final days. Thank you for sharing your sad but touching story about your bond with Cuddles and of the graceful end to her great chicken life. I hope you continue to remember her fondly and I thank you and Cuddles for providing me some comfort through this hard week of chicken ownership. I hope it’s nice to know Cuddles can still bring comfort years later, and to a stranger! I look forward to reading more of your blogs in the future- hopefully on more positive topics :)

    • Karen says:

      Aw, I’m so sorry about Gwen. But I’m glad you have a Cuddles-like chicken. I haven’t yet found another Cuddles; maybe one day. And yes, I am glad, so glad that we could help with your healing a tiny bit. ~ karen!

  5. Therese says:

    omg. I am crying too. That bastard first vet/office. As an animal lover, and someone who has taken their own chicken to the vet’s, I get it. Thank you for sharing that wonderful story. Animals are amazing. Your “Cuddles” was a sweetie, for sure. I had “Dottie”, and she lived to be NINE!! I get it all.

    I look forward to your posts. I am enjoying past posts and often read them out loud to my husband. :)

    Thank you for entertaining and sharing. :)

    • Therese says:

      And, what a wonderful vet in Dr. Camilleri ….you are so lucky to have a compassionate vet who also understands the commitment of caring owners!

  6. Kimberly Stocker says:

    I’m a year and nine months late to this party, but if you’re still reading your comments, I thought I’d write and tell you JUST how much I love the way YOU write.

    You write so wonderfully, in fact, that I just LIVED a couple of stories about the adventures of Cuddles.

    And now that I’ve finished the story of her death, I’m sitting here sobbing. Chest heaving, sniff-sniff-sniffing sobbing.

    My little Cleopatra is now permanently an indoor chicken. She swallowed a screw and was impacted with that and a bunch of pea gravel (which she also swallowed) and some kind of permanent damage was done and she can’t use one leg.

    I LOVE this chicken so am able to identify with how you felt about your sweet Cuddles.

    Time to try out a new Diaper pattern. I’m not a girly girl, but I want the one with all the big, pretty ruffles for my Cleopatra.

    Wish me luck.

    PLEASE keep on writing!

    Kimberly S.

    • Karen says:

      Oh I’ll keep writing Kimberly. It’s my job. :) How else am I going to pay for chicken scratch? I’m probably not a girly girl either but I would totally go for the ruffled diaper! Good luck. ~ karen!

  7. Monica says:

    Hi. I just wanted to leave some love and respect for you, and Cuddles. I just came across your story on Pinterest, and I’m crying. I’m a first time chicken mama of a year and a half. I never thought that I’d have chickens, let alone love them so much. Chicken therapg is a very real thing, as i have learned from first hand experience as well. Reading about Cuddles made me smile, and cry, as I think about my own ladies, and their inevitable demise. I, also, will be unable to end their lives should they become deathly ill. I pray that I, too, have an angel vet to help me. May Cuddles R.I.P, and I thank you for sharing your beautiful memories.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks so much Monica. :) I’ve had a few new chickens since Cuddles but none of them come close to her. She was a real pet. Your chickens are absolutely beautiful! I mayyyyy need to get a Buff Orpington. ;) ~ karen!

  8. Bill McK says:

    Such a bitter sweet story!
    I know you did the ONLY thing that was right for Cuddles, and I know of the VERY difficult decision you had to make for the bird and NOT your own (I’m looking for the word), “selfish” feelings.
    I had to go through this with my African Grey parrot of 22 years, and after all the testing I did (blood work, xrays, etc.), I took her to the vet on a Friday, and the following Monday, got a call from my vet saying she had passed.
    I know she was in pain, but birds hide their illness so as to not look weak, so since she was at the vets, and not with Daddy, she could go on her own.
    She had kidney failure and her urates were sky high, so I can only imagine how bad she was feeling. She was also regurgitating and not really eating, very weak, but still loved to be held by me.
    Keeping an animal alive for our own selfishness is NOT FAIR and is cruel for them.
    We try and do all we can for them, but there is a point that nothing will really work, and the best thing to do is to just let them go, and maybe even help them to pass quicker to end their pain and agony.
    I feel for your panic and anxiousness that you must have gone through, but you did the ONLY thing that was right for Cuddles!!!
    BOY, she lead a life of luxury with you though!!! REALLY spoiled her, and she loved it!

  9. Eduardo Jiménez says:

    After four days taking care of my chicken she’s died this morning in my arms. It’s been incredibly sad and I don’t really feel to write a lot about it, but your beautiful post has been very cathartic and I thank you for it. My little friend won’t be forgotten and I will keep one of her feathers with me.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Eduardo. I’m so sorry about your chicken. I know how awful it is and I know most people don’t understand that a chicken can be a pet. But I’m sure she had a much better life than you than she ever would have had anywhere else. ~ karen!

  10. Sherri Stockfleth says:

    I should not have read that at work, bawling at your desk gets you funny looks from your co-workers. I have a small 2 year old Production Red (same breed as Cuddles) that is just getting over her 3rd bout of peritonitis so I completely understand your perfectly understandable wish that it was over in the middle of the night for them. I am sorry you had to go through that but I am happy for you that she is not sick or suffering anymore. My husband tells me that I need to do the same for Ali each time I break out the antibiotic for her…..but she is back to eating regular food and working her way up the pecking order today so not this time Man!

  11. Kimberly Castleberry says:

    You’d think by now I’d learn not to slice onions while trying to read online stories… So sweet <3

  12. Ellie says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I just came on here looking at your limping chicken article and was looking at your chicken stuff when I found this. I got 6 little chicks a year ago tomorrow from Tractor Supply. The first night they were out in the coop our 2 little Rhode Island Reds were pressed up against the chicken wire in the run because we didn’t know they had to go inside the hen house. They ended up being killed by a raccoon or fox that night while the others suffered minor injuries. I felt awful because they were growing in feathers and didn’t look to good so we never held them and played with them like the others. I spent the day wandering around, and crying. Now we have one more Rhode Island Red that we hope to keep alive for a long time. Her name is Maple. I just wanted to let you know that I feel the love you have for that chicken. I know Cuddles is in a happier place with all the sunflower seeds she wants. :)

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Ellie. If I know Cuddles she’s stuffing her face with bananas and cherry tomatoes, lol. :) Good luck with Maple! ~ karen!

  13. Karen says:

    Karen, I am a pediatric nurse (for 30 years). I also help raise collies.

    Some babies (of any species) are born small and frail. They require much more from us just to stay alive. We bring them back from the brink of death over and over.

    And in the process, they manage to make their way into our hearts. We love them. And when they die, our heart breaks.

    But after the tears and the grieving ease, we realize that they taught us so much that we did not know before we met them. We learned things that we will apply to other babies that will follow them. In an odd way we sort of grew up with them. They leave us better than we were before we met them.

    That’s not such a bad legacy to leave behind. Even for a chicken.

    Keep going the extra mile Karen. The weak and fragile need people like us. They have a purpose in life and a story to tell. We are the ones blessed to be able to tell it.

  14. Kathy Hartzell says:

    As you know, Karen, I am catching up. And the first archive I sought was your Cuddles post. I think what you wrote is a lovely piece of prose. I cried – for the “internet chicken” as I cried for my cancer kitty, the one who kept me cozy and happy during a dreadful year. I didn’t ever cry about my cancer. But the loss of a dearly beloved creature that accepts and cherishes you….that is something to let yourself cry about. I’m so glad I woke up and realized there was something important missing in my life.

    KH

  15. WendyKate says:

    I remember when you got the chickens (I later had significant coop envy). And I remember reading about Cuddles several times over the years. It’s been a while since I’ve stopped in to the blog to check on you, but I’m sad to hear about Cuddles. But I love that you are who you are. And she was who she was. RIP Cuddles. xoxo, WendyKate

  16. Loralee Johnson says:

    This was beautiful and I cried so hard reading it. I think many of us reading your blog had an attachment to cuddles ourselves, even though we didn’t know her, we felt like we did. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but it was so nice that you had extra time to spend with her and say goodbye. It was probably a blessing that the other vet couldn’t see you, he probably would have left you and cuddles with a terrible experience, and you were meant to think of Dr.Camilleri last minute and be able to have a beautiful, peaceful good bye.

    Love and hugs.
    Loralee

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