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

291 Comments

  1. Elaine says:

    Oh dear. I was doing not too bad reading this, Karen, until I got to the “feather” part and now, I’m afraid, I have tears in my eyes and a runny nose!! It hurts SO bad, doesn’t it? Reading your experience just brought back having my cat put down and years earlier, my dog. It took me years to get over both (do you ever???) and reading about Cuddles has brought it all vividly back. I am so upset and angry to read what you went through with that vet’s receptionist; the added stress she brought to an already-stressful experience!! She is definitely in the wrong profession, is utterly heartless and I pray she doesn’t have animals because when their “end” comes, I shudder to think of how she might let them suffer! After reading your previous post telling us Cuddles was gone, I knew that it hadn’t been an easy passing; never dreaming you had to go through what you did. I am so sorry; we ALL feel for you, Karen!

  2. Kmarie says:

    this was beautiful and touching…Im sorry for your loss. I love that you still have a fluffy feather.

  3. Barb says:

    You are brave beyond belief. To know the best thing for a pet is to put it out of its misery is one thing. To actually get in the car and drive to the place to have it taken care of is quite another. I’ve done it…I know. If you believe in this sort of thing, God Bless you, Karen. You did the right thing and you ARE brave! Hugs to you.

  4. Marissa says:

    She was a very special li’l lady and so blessed to have you. My tears & heartfelt condolences.

  5. Donna says:

    dr camilleri is a vet because he was called not because he wanted a higher than average income. He is to be cherished. I have to stop crying like everyone else and get some work done. Several years ago I changed to a wonderful vet when my regular vet refused to keep my St Bernard overnight after a major stroke. Try getting. 150 lb St Bernard down six steps to potty with a sad pug nipping at your heels wanting to know what’s the matter with his girlfriend and your husband is out of town for a week. So I found a vet willing to take on a seriously ill patient. I ended up creating her instead of burying her. Then when the pug had a brain tumor my wonderful dear vet told me when it was time and he took care of my Otis, who he called his pugbaby. I cremated him as well and he stayed at my office til I retired because he was always afraid of being alone. Of course fertile came to but her box was somewhat larger. I knew I would be moving someday and did not want to leave them behind. They were so funny together. They’d go outside and he’d wait for her to pick a spot to lie down and then he’d crawl on top and go to sleep. Now I have a geriatric arthritic diva of a female pug and her decision will probably come before the year is out. Pets are so important. They do more for our physical and mental health than any foods or exercise or medicines can do and are so missed. I am so sorry about Cuddles. I am so glad she left you a feather. A beloved pet is so selfless in their love. So much more than humans.

  6. Darla says:

    Tears falling for your loss. A heart wrenching story, but I am glad you shared it with us Cuddles lovers.

  7. Gail says:

    So sorry. I too sat with a failing 21 year old cat on New Years Eve at the vets. Still missing my Cindy. Hugss…

  8. Lauren from Winnipeg says:

    So very sorry. Cuddles was a member of your family as all pets should be. If they are treated and thought of as “just pets” then people shouldn’t have them. We have put down so many and it’s so horrific every time. It doesn’t matter how necessary it is, it still sucks big time. Each time I think that maybe the next one will die peacefully in their sleep. So far that hasn’t happened. People without pets don’t realize how agonizing it is to make this decision.

    Take care.

  9. Brenda says:

    … so I’m sitting in a cafe crying … and that’s ok …

  10. Linda in Illinois says:

    Very lovely tribute.. I wept for you and Cuddles. I know that loss of a pet that is treasured and my heart breaks for you. Thank you for sharing.

  11. jainegayer says:

    Karen, you and Cuddles were meant for each other. Thank you for sharing her life with us.

  12. Jebber Jay says:

    I’ve followed your chicken adventures from the start. I read every story about how you took her under your wing and nursed her back to life(s). She had the best possible 5 years that a chicken could have. I’m sorry you lost your Cuddles.

  13. Karin Sorensen says:

    what a great tribute, it had me balling all over the place first thing when i came to work. nevermind the funny looks i’ve received from my co-sufferers i’m mean workers.

    my heart goes out to you and the loss of your beaked companion as well as the broken heart caused be the two legged one. life is strange sometimes, but never wrong.

    have a great weekend.

    Karin

  14. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Ok, I knew the story of Cuddles was coming and it wouldn’t be easy to read. I know it wasn’t easy to write. What came across very strongly was how much she gave to you in her short life and how much you gave back to her. That speaks volumes about our capacity for love. Thank you so much for sharing her with us.

    While my heart goes out to you, I can’t help but also think of the first receptionist and her lack of empathy. I hope she gets to experience some love in her life and learns to share it. Or get a job with no human contact! Very sad (and bad) situation there!

  15. Mary W says:

    Everything has already been said as I read through the comments. Jenny W said exactly what I would have if I had been earlier. What is clearly evident to me is how many people you have made friends with through words on a website. Powerful words and powerful friends. You were able to see and relish the beautiful attributes of this animal that may have gone unnoticed to another. You are special and I’m sure that is why Cuddles came into your life. Cesar Milan the Dog Whisperer always says we get the dog we need not the dog we want. Our actions fall into the dog and clearly from your description of Cuddles, you are actively the person we think you are. Thank you for sharing parts of your life that aren’t “made for commercial TV” but real and beautiful and help us know we have shared and common human problems that friends can relate to and help, just by a comment or a quiet cuddle on our lap. I thank your Mom for helping with your spirit!

  16. Jodi T. says:

    This made me cry. Losing a pet is so horrible. I am sorry for your loss, Karen. Cuddles was special to all of us who didn’t know her personally, because we could see how sweet she was and how happy she made you. Lots of love being sent your way ♡…. And I hope chickens go to Rainbow Bridge too.

  17. Linda says:

    Well, Karen, some people don’t get it about our babies but I do. I had pet chickens growing up. They are wonderful as you are for sharing this story. I like to believe Cuddles is somewhere–sitting in someone’s lap–making them happy she’s there.

  18. Ellen says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s the saddest part of our life with pets but we owe it to them. It’s part of the bargain we make when we love an animal. She was lucky to be yours.

  19. Wendy W says:

    SO sorry for your loss, Karen.

  20. Karen Cunningham says:

    Wiping the tears and clearing the lump on my throat, I want to thank you for sharing this difficult experience with us. Cuddles will be deeply missed. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  21. charlotte tataryn says:

    Karen, I posted last night and said I didn’t know you (truly, I feel as if I do) and I wouldn’t recognize you if you were staring me in the face, but that isn’t because you have an unmemorable face. I am really bad at putting names to faces, and in this aging process have periodically renamed some of my closest friends who just laugh. I am not at the doddering stage but there are days my brain finds its way into that near-dead end closet. That said dear Karen, you have a lovely and very memorable face, you feel very much like a friend and you are loving, kind and brave.
    Ciao Cuddles; happy trails are ahead.
    Charlotte T

  22. Karen R says:

    Thank you for writing such a fantastic piece. You wrote it exactly as I would’ve if I could’ve. You made me cry. I know how much animals mean to their people. One of our dogs has been diagnosed with cancer and although surgery is a possibility for her I don’t know whether it will work. I don’t know if I could be the one to take her to the vet and have her put to sleep. Just wanted to say again thank you and I think Cuddles was a wonderful chicken and you really embodied that in your writing. It was a wonderful tribute!

  23. Wisconsin Gal says:

    I was just thinking about Cuddles last night and wondering if you were ready to write about her passing. You brought back all the memories of the pets I had to have put to sleep, especially my baby Max the rescued maltese. He is in a cremation box too, the only one I’ve done that with. My Cuddles. I’m crying for both of us.

  24. Aurora Clarke says:

    I’m so very sorry for your tragic loss… I too have had pet chickens and feel your pain.

  25. Tigersmom says:

    I had to wait to read this until I could do so knowing I wouldn’t be interrupted or needed.

    Your story of Cuddles is a beautiful one beautifully written. I always had a feeling Cuddles was what saved you when the fella left.

    I had to put down a cat that was more devoted to me than any pet I ever had and I know how hard and heartbreaking it is. You are doing a wonderful job of honoring Cuddles’ memory and how much she meant to you.

  26. Kristin D. says:

    Karen, I am so sorry. What a blessing she was to you, in the time she was here. So thankful and impressed by humans like Dr. Camilleri, who show true compassion and selflessness to pets and their humans. Thank you for sharing the story of Cuddles, a truly unique chicken!

  27. Joules says:

    I’m so sorry about Cuddles. I’ve loved reading about her ever since you first got her. Reading her story made me cry and I can only thank you for sharing with us.

  28. Lupe says:

    My heart goes out to you and my condolences. I had to put my kitty (Gato Loco) down on December 22, 2015.

    Such a precious baby you had and the stories….I love em all! I would like to share an animal prayer….

    Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends, the animals especially for those who are suffering; for any that are lost or deserted or frightened or hungry.

    We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity, and for those who deal with them, we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.

    Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful……AMEN

  29. Teri says:

    Karen, I am sitting here crying for you as my heart breaks for your loss. Chickens are surprisingly good pets and can touch your hear in ways that others who’ve never raised them will not understand. Having nursed my girls through illnesses and those who lost the battle, I understand how difficult this was for you. Thank you for sharing your story. Cuddles clearly had a purpose on this earth, rest easy in knowing that purpose was you and how good her life was because of you. My deepest condolences.

  30. Skylor says:

    a fantastic vet and staff make all the difference when a pet needs medical help. my vet office is staffed with amazing people so I was getting far more aggravated reading about the idiot receptionist than one should but I’m sorry you had to go through that. They need to go work at an IT call center where idiocy is a requirement.

  31. Thank you for writing this post. It certainly could not have been easy, but hopefully therapeutic. I had tears in my eyes reading it as I too have chickens, and ducks, the latter of which one has imprinted on me and is particularly special. They make such wonderful companions, and their antics can make you laugh out loud. It’s lovely to read that someone else feels that way.

    Wishing you well
    from Pumpjack & Piddlewick

  32. Gingersnappo says:

    Beautiful picture, beautiful story. Yes, thank you for sharing, Karen. It sounds like Cuddles was very special.

  33. Lori Hall says:

    Well, I just bawled like a baby. That was a very beautifully written tribute. All animals should be so loved. You’re a great mama Karen!

  34. Erica says:

    That was just SO sad to read, brought me to tears. Karen – thanks for sharing your life with us. We all loved Cuddles because of your awesome writing, great stories, and tenderness towards her. How heartbreaking.

  35. Lise Cameron says:

    Hi Karen . I was sobbing like a baby. What you and Cuddles had was precious, as I am certain that not too many hens have that kindness and love for a human. Something very special brought the two of you as close as you were. Your love for her probably kept her with you as long as she did . Being the smallest one gave her a harder life but you were always there to help he get back on her feet. Bless you for sharing her last moments with us…That picture of the two of you in the kitchen says it all..

  36. Jillian says:

    Karen,

    I am so sorry for your loss. This was your best written post yet, under a most difficult and heartbreaking situation. The love you have for Cuddles was felt in every single word.

    Cuddles loved you in life and even in death, left you a gift of her feather for remembrance and closure.

    Lots of healing light being sent your way, Jillian

  37. Sandy says:

    Stupid balls of feathers or fur or whatever. They find a way of getting into our hearts and you were fortunate to have Cuddles with you, if only for 5 years.
    And a big thumbs up to Dr. Camilleri and his staff, always makes things a little easier when you find people who care about what they do.

  38. kkish says:

    You made me cry. Also, I wish I lived in your town because right this minute it would feel so good to slap a certain veterinary receptionist. So good.

    I’m so sorry about Cuddles.

  39. Brooke says:

    Oh, great. Bawling at work. This was lovely and reminds me of something from my childhood. I lived for several years on a non-working farm in then-rural Maryland. My dad commuted to the city each day, my mom stayed home and kept a wonderful house, and I had free rein through the fields and woods, exploring, building forts, fished for crawdads, bringing home wayward dogs, extra kittens, and, one day, a rooster. A friend who lived down the road gave him to me one day, and I walked home with him in my arms, stroking his downy white neck, relaxing myself as he started to doze, just like Cuddles. We had him for some months. Granted, he wasn’t the most “pet-like” animal I ever had, but he never bothered anyone, so he lived on contentedly. Until one fateful day.
    My grandmother, born and bred in the countryside of western Ireland, was living with us at the time, and was sitting on the front porch in the sun one day. The rooster decided that “up there” was a better place to be than “down there” on the ground scrabbling for bugs. So he flew up and tried to perch on her skinny forearm. It was not a smooth landing, and, in her panic, she must have flailed a bit and he, reacting, gouged a large chunk out of her already-meager flesh.
    I never saw him again. But I still suspect, to this day, that Gran’s chicken stew had a special secret dash of spite in it.

  40. BamaCarol says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the life of Cuddles and now her death story. I am tearing up but angry at the first receptionist. She does not belong at that job! Cuddles was a special girl and she belonged with you Karen. You were able to appreciate her gifts and love like no one else. I love the idea of her leaving you feathers to let you know she is OK.

  41. Gretchen Sexton says:

    I have read many tributes, yours is up there with the best. I’m sad all over again. And then a spark of joy appears in feathers. I had tears running down my face at the end of your story, then (like a crazy person), after I pulled myself together, I went ahead and read all the comments. More tears. Which normally would not bother me, except I read your post first thing when I get to work! Seriously, thank you for sharing such a tender part of your heart.

  42. Linda says:

    So sorry for your great loss. My daughter has chickens and today she got her first egg! She loves those babies and would do just what you did for them. You are a good chicken mama.

    • Karen says:

      The first EGG! That’s such an exciting day. Honestly I can remember my first egg. In fact, I blew it out, painted it a bronze colour and keep it in an egg cup on my bookshelf! ~ karen

  43. NinaMargoJune says:

    As soon as I saw the title I grabbed a box of Kleenex. Such a touching post. Such an ordeal. Sniff.

  44. MelissaM says:

    Oh, Karen! What a lovely tribute. And what a magnificent vet and office. Now I go back to chopping onions this Friday morning. [sniff, sniff]

  45. Ev Wilcox says:

    Years ago I had a pet rat that I loved very much. Her name was “Minnie” and she had a great and loving personality. She spent a lot of time on my shoulders as I did chores, etc. My kids were used to unusual pets and they loved her too. I have asthma, so when a large tumor began growing on the side of her neck i freaked at the possibility that it would impinge on her ability to breathe. So one day on my lunch hour I took her to a local vet and had her put down. Truly, I know how you felt, and still feel. In 2008 we took the best dog ever to be put down, and we are still in mourning. Know that you did the right thing. I hope sharing this was cathartic for you. And, we can all celebrate a nice vet with a heart. Good for him and his staff, and good for you.

  46. Barb says:

    Karen, Thank you for writing this difficult, yet touching, tribute to Cuddles and letting us know what happened. Your previous blogs and adventures about her were so vivid that she also made her way into our hearts. Having to put to sleep a pet who is a member of the family is such a difficult thing, but it’s also a final act of love for them. You treasured her from the time you two met until you parted ways and both of your lives were enriched forever.

  47. Have you written a book? Because you should. You had me in tears over my morning tea. You can bring the reader right into the situation, and now I feel that I knew Cuddles. I’m glad you have her still with you. Love is so hard, isn’t it?

    Madeleine

  48. Marion says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Karen. It’s always hard to make the decision to let a beloved pet go, but in the end it’s always nice to know they are at peace. Cuddles lived a great life and I’ve enjoyed reading stories about her over the years. Thank you for sharing this one.

  49. Barbara S. says:

    Thanks for sharing your life with us Karen. Like others, I read about Cuddles with tears streaming down my face. Much love and healing to you and Cheez Whiz. I hope she is as strong as you are. Time heals many things but you’ll always have Cuddles in your heart.

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