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. Noreen says:

    Thanks. You made me cry at 8:02 am.
    Sorry for your loss.

    • Karen says:

      LOL. What a way to start a Friday, right? The good news is Monday’s post is hilarious. I think. I haven’t written it yet but I’ll try. 😉 ~ karen!

  2. allyn says:

    Please know we love you and are with you in spirit and mind more often than you know.

  3. Tiffany G says:

    You’re such a talented writer Karen. The vulnerable way you shared your story with us tugged at all of our hearts. I cried too, but it was a shared cry for all of us that have gone through something similar with our own pets. I got goosebumps myself when you talked about finding the second feather. Thanks for sharing Cuddles with us.

  4. Liz Marley says:

    Hi Karen

    I just read your blog (at work) and you brought tears to my eyes. I have nursed and cuddled dying chickens quite a few times and even though they are simple little souls, it breaks my heart every time. I have blinked away my tears now so I won’t have to explain chicken related grief to my workmates – they may not get it!

    Liz

    • Karen says:

      No, they probably won’t get it, lol. Unless you’ve had chickens or … well, read about Cuddles apparently … it’s hard to understand. Most people think it’d be like grieving for a potted plant. ~ karen!

      • Tracey says:

        I think a true blue animal lover would cry over the death of a chicken. If a person could read your beautiful tribute to your darling Cuddles, and not cry,,well then I personally could not be friends with that person.
        I’m a veterinarian’s daughter. I remember many many nights my father going out to deliver puppies, or to help a dying pet move onto a pain free afterlife. The one thing that my father told me when I was a fairly young girl, and that has stayed with me all of my life, is that we as humans we have the ability to decide when our pets (chickens, hamster, cats, dogs, horses etc etc) should be released from their pain or suffering. I witnessed Euthanasia so many times alongside my dad at the hospital. Many people would say they just couldn’t witness the passing of their pet. (I don’t understand that personally). It can and should be done in such a manner that your pet is not stressed and it’s a painful passing in a mere matter of seconds. So we would cuddle and comfort their pet during their last moments.
        I’ve lost many pets over my life, and it always helped when my father reminded me that sometimes, no amount of money or expensive treatments are worth putting a pet through. Sometimes we need to let them go…for them…when the time right.
        Karen, you made a big personal sacrifice to do what was best for Cuddles. I loved your tribute. I remeber my first rescue dog, at first I tought I was rescuing her,but I came to realize wothin a few months that it was really her that rescued me!
        Cuddles was a blessing. It was a treat to get to know and love Cuddles through your writings. Thank you fo sharing your heart with us.
        Godspeed sweet Cuddles, you were a one in a million chicken!!

  5. Wendy says:

    I am very sorry for your loss…

  6. Judith says:

    Oh goodness, Karen. What beautiful words about the sweetest chicken I’ve ever come to know! And thank goodness for angels like Dr. Camilleri and his secretary. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

  7. Vanessa says:

    What a beautiful story. Sometimes we are lucky and we meet a soulmate, and sometimes it is an awesome chicken, a big silly dog, or a calm and wise old cat. I am sorry you lost your friend, but so happy you found her in the first place.

  8. GrammyK says:

    You write so beautifully; you and your respondents always perk up my day. Thank you for giving us all closure for Cuddles. What an amazing comfort it is to think of that soft little feather! I feel badly for Cheez Whiz — I hope she finds another companion soon. Thank you for always bringing a smile and a chuckle (at least one) to my day, even though this one has cleaned out my eyes exceptionally well. ^_^

  9. Gillian says:

    Beautiful.

    Excellent restraint in not mentioning names in relation to the first vet.

    The world needs more people like Dr. Camilleri and his staff….and Cuddles.

  10. Amanda says:

    so so sorry for your loss. 🙁 When my first cat died (I had her for 17 years) my mom had her cremated for me. It gives me great comfort to know she’s still with me. <3 I know I can't say anything that will actually help, but thank you for sharing so much of her life with us. She seemed a wonderful soul.

  11. gabrielle says:

    Karen, I feel your pain – right through the baloney with at first vet office to the little wooden plaque. So sorry.
    It will become easier, and you have shared so much of Cuddles with all of us. We are all here with you now – and always -with Cuddles’ legacy on the internet.

  12. Jenny W says:

    Oh my, I have tears 🙁
    You bestowed Cuddles one of the greatest, albeit hardest, act of love there is.
    Beautifully written Karen – hugs

    • Mary W says:

      Your comment is beautiful and I completely agree. Love can be very hard and always it hurts so much at its’ loss, but indicates the warm, loving memories that will follow and bring comfort later.

  13. Miriam Mc Nally says:

    Beautiful! Xx

  14. Eileen says:

    I’m sitting here, weeping for you and Cuddles and all the sweet pets I’ve had in my life that have given me joy and passed on. Making that decision is so difficult and heartbreaking. So very sorry for your loss.

  15. Sabina says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story Karen.

  16. You were lucky to have Cuddles and she was so very lucky to have you. Thanks for sharing that tribute to her …

  17. Lindsay says:

    This is the worst part of loving a pet. Their life is too short. Tears are streaming down my face as I imagine how awful and upsetting the whole experience must have been. Big hugs and lots of love! I’m truly sorry your girl is gone.

  18. Nan Tee says:

    Huge hugs, Karen. Sorry for the loss of your dear, fine feathered friend. Lovely tribute to her.

  19. Nan Tee says:

    Huge hugs and many boxes of tissues, Karen. Sorry for the loss of your dear, fine feathered friend. Lovely tribute to her.

  20. Thera says:

    Made me cry, again my deepest condolances.

  21. Birgit says:

    You made me cry, and I am sorry for you. I have been there too. And let me tell you, no matter what people will say, some wounds do never heal. Sad but true. Take care Karen.

  22. Kate says:

    Such a beautiful story. You are a wonderful person to care so much. I’m not sure who was luckier – you or Cuddles … perhaps both of you were lucky to have each other. Hugs.

  23. cary says:

    oh Karen, I am so sorry. such a heartbreaking story. I’m so glad you were her mama because i can only imagine what Cuddles’ life would have been like if she wasn’t hatched just for you 🙂

  24. Marilyn says:

    Ok Karen you are a bitch, I just did my makeup! I loved cuddles xo

  25. Mary says:

    Perhaps a carefully worded email to Dr. Camilleri is in order.

    • Karen says:

      I’m sure he’d appreciate that. I emailed him a week or so after he put Cuddles down to make sure he knew what a big impact he had. I’m guessing he’d like it if the rest of the world did the same, lol. ~ karen!

  26. Maureen Locke says:

    Thanks for sharing Karen. A pet is a pet is a pet….. doesn’t matter if it’s a cat, dog, chicken or mongoose. Love just happens and nobody needs to understand it but you. Cuddles was special to us all and will be missed. You were the best Momma to her. I got goosebumps over the feathers too. She’s there, you can count on it. Hugs

  27. Chris White says:

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you for sharing this. I think you would enjoy Susan Juby’s hilarious novel “The Woefield Poultry Collective”. A strange collection of people run a derelict farm and central to the story is a little girl and her show poultry (one of which is known as Alec Baldwin because of his commanding presence). The hens bring the characters together as only hens can. Have a read – it might be just the tonic you need!

  28. Kim C says:

    Your writing has me crying this morning. Such a touching, heartbreaking story of love. You and Cuddles were so fortunate to have formed a unique bond, both nurturing one and other along your jouney together. Who could think that a sweet quiet little chicken could touch one so deeply, let alone your readers. She was special and I thank you for sharing all your Cuddles stories with us.

  29. Diane R says:

    So very sorry for your loss Karen. Sweet dreams Cuddles.

  30. Mary Lou says:

    This is the dark side of loving a pet. I recently saw on Instagram artist “erinswindow” offers custom ceramic pet urns. Had I known last year, I would have ordered one with the image of my 14-year-old pug, Buster. I’m glad you have two special feathers from your girl. Thank you for sharing this private moment with us.

  31. Leah says:

    Awww. Sweet Cuddles! So thankful her presence changed your life. God created animals for many reasons – leaving permanent prints on human hearts was just an added bonus. Thank you for the sweet story.

  32. Angela says:

    Oh Karen – so sorry for your loss. Reading at work this am and having a good (silent) cry. I always wondered why they take the pet out of the room for the sedative – do you know? They did the same when I had to have my 17 year old cat put down several years ago. I assumed the sedative was a little painful and they didn’t want me to see that part. Thinking of you and Cuddles!

    • Karen says:

      I think they put them in a chamber, like a fish tank, which is in the back rooms. ~ karen!

    • Stephbo says:

      I never thought of it as the reason some vet’s take them out for that bit, but yes, it can sometimes sting and cause the pet a little bit of distress, which of course, causes their person distress.

  33. Well, if I am sitting here sobbing over a chicken I’ve never met before I can only imagine your grief. Hang in there. Soon enough your memories of happier times will replace the grief.

    I also think you have found an amazing new vet. I wouldn’t darken the door of the other place ever again.

  34. Deb says:

    Karen, I have been waiting eagerly to hear your telling of Cuddles’ last hours, knowing you would tell the story with your usual humor and your great love for that little hen. My heart ached reading it, but also celebrated that you and Cuddles had each other at the times that mattered most. What an unselfish act of love, however heartbreaking, to help Cuddles end her earthly journey. And how providential that she would leave you a lovely reminder to comfort you in the days after. Beautiful love story, you two. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  35. Monique says:

    The way you wrote about Cuddles brought tears to my eyes..
    I am sorry ..

    never pleasant losing a pet we love..one of my son -in-laws calls his chickens his “girls”and they all have Star Wars names..I could swear Chewbacca is a male..oh well..

    What a doll Dr.Camilleri..here’s to all drs..vets..being like he is ..and here is to every rude..receptionist..getting fired.Honestly.
    And to every pet owner having your kindness.
    There are some in every town..

  36. Mary Kay says:

    Oh Karen,
    She was a wonderful little hen, I am glad you gave her such a wonderful life. It is because of Cuddles and your other hens that I began to read your blog and I read it every day. We are facing a similar situation with our beloved Yorkie. Damn I will miss that little dog.
    MK

  37. Kimberly M says:

    I know there are already a bunch of comments, I just wanted to express my condolences for your loss. Some people think it’s crazy to behave in such a way over a pet, I am not one of those people. I have 3 pets buried in my parents yard from when I was a child, with handmade headstones made from the prettiest rocks and I could find and sharpie marker writing. Every time I go to visit (about 3 times a year if I’m lucky) I go and check to make sure everything is still good and they’re stones are still legible. My husband teases me, but I know he really doesn’t mind my flavor of crazy, he married me didn’t he? I actually used to really irritate my mom when I was little because if I was riding my bike around and saw roadkill, or a dead animal lying in the park or wherever, I would grab one of my dad’s empty cigar boxes and bury it in our yard. Our dogs would find them and dig them up 90% of the time but I still would do it. Now as an adult I get why she would get so mad. I’m lucky I didn’t get rabies or something hahaha..
    I have read your blog since 2011 I believe, and I always loved reading about your chickens. I was rooting for you and Cuddles every time you told us she was ill, and was relieved for you both when you nursed her back to health. I’m so sad to hear of her passing but I know, just from what I have read here that she was well loved. Sorry for the novel btw… 🙂

  38. Cheryl says:

    A terribly sad but beautifully written story about your little love. I am so sorry for your loss.

  39. cbblue says:

    Oh Karen, I have been both dreading and looking forward to your Cuddles story. I was going to say last story but I’m sure it will not be the last. She was such a gift to you; but not as much as you were a gift to her. You certainly did not disappoint. This was the most heart-wrenching post I have read. You have such a beautiful gift Karen. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Jeanne

  40. Karen, I don’t even have words right now, other than to tell you I understand. I really do. In 1999, I contracted bacterial meningitis and was literally at death’s door. By some miracle, I emerged from a coma and survived, mostly intact and eventually became healthy again. My cat, Mimi, mourned my absence, I’m told, crying throughout the house, wondering where I’d gone. When I returned home from the hospital, she never left my side, all day and all night, for weeks as I recuperated.

    Four years later, when she was 16 years old, we had to do what NO pet owner wants to do. No, it wasn’t “we,” it was “I” that had to do it, with such great sorrow in my heart, and tears streaming down my face, as I sobbed into her fur, telling her what a good kitty she was.

    So I know, Karen, and my heart hurts with yours. But we both know as badly as it hurts, we’d do it all again for the honor of having them in our lives. They made the world a much better place, didn’t they?

    Okay, I guess I did have words after all. *hugs*

    • Karen says:

      LOL. You did. I can’t believe you came out of a coma! You’ve got some strength in you lady. And I said the very same thing, and I make a BET we all do. Told Cuddles what a good little chicken she was. And I bet anyone who has had a dog told them what a good dog they were. I wonder why we say that? Comforting the pet? Us? You’ll notice we say they were good. Not pretty or smart. Good. ~ karen!

  41. Leanne says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Karen. Cuddles was special. I’m sorry you had to say goodbye. <3

  42. Erika says:

    Karen, this a beautiful tribute you have written. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Not that there’s a bright side, but perhaps the cosmic forces were in play on Cuddles’ last night. She ended up being cared for by a vet that obviously truly cared and understood the situation (both avian and human), and so you both got the care you needed in a difficult time. I’m glad her last moments were peaceful.

  43. SuzyMcQ says:

    I’m so sorry, Karen. I’ve thought much about you and about Cuddles since you wrote of her passing. It is the hardest decision, as pet owners, we have to make. It’s truly gut-wrenching and something I’ve never gotten over when faced with the prospect.

    Each loved pet takes a piece of our hearts and replaces it with warm memories and unwavering love and devotion. What an amazing gift they are…..

    At some point I would speak to your vet about the issues you had with his staffer. Clearly she is ill-suited for the job she holds. He sounds like a compassionate and caring person. I doubt he would want someone like her dealing with people during such stressful and heartbreaking times.

    Love and hugs. Godspeed Cuddles.

  44. Mike says:

    Wow.

    Never expected my Friday morning to begin like this.

    Tears. Running down my so-called manly face. And into my bowl of corn flakes.

    Thank goodness for the literary rainbow part of your story: the feather Cuddle’s left for you. The perfect, precious, forever gift.

    Picturing it tucked behind the ribbon on the urn made me smile.

    I know Cuddles is smiling, too. She knows how much you loved her.

  45. Karin in NC says:

    At work. Crying.
    That was a lovely tribute to a lovely animal who stole your heart. I’m glad you had her cremated and keep her urn on a shelf. I now have about 12 of those in my house for all manner of dogs and cats who have graced my life. We who have loved and been loved by animals are so lucky.

  46. Shelly M. says:

    As I sit here with tears running down my cheeks, I am heartbroken for your loss. I could feel your pain in your words. I am so sorry for the difficulties you had to face with the other vet’s office when you already facing such a heartbreaking situation. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  47. Melissa Leach says:

    I don’t know what to say…I am so sorry for you, for Cheese Wiz and the rest of your girls. You and Cuddles had a very special relationship full of love and trust. I know that tiny feather tucked in that ribbon will make you smile in due time. Hugs to you. Thanks for sharing this very touching story. I am so sorry.

  48. Becky says:

    You’ve written such a lovely tribute to your Cuddles. You did right by her and she thanks you. She’s left a hole in your heart but you have lovely memories. And that feather…..

  49. mickey says:

    Thank you for sharing with us, Karen.

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