The first week passed with the newest addition to the farm (Barkley, the Ex-Stray Dog) without major incident, other than several minor events, such as when Barkley chewed holes in a water pipe under the trailer, causing a high pressure, hissing leak. No problem. All I had to do was keep the water shut off completely until I needed to use it. Usually I was reminded to do this when turning on the shower, already late for work, having no results coming from the faucet, remembering the water is shut off, having to then run outside, cursing and stark naked, to throw the lever while Barkley is overjoyed that I’ve come out to play with him, to then assume the manipulatively droopy, forlorn, emotionally injured look perfected by all dogs as I immediately disappear back in the house. My own spirited attempts to repair the leak failed, and I had to call in the plumbers to replace the pipe section. No big deal….
Barkley also demonstrated his savant-like skills in overcoming obstacles in order to get at what he wanted, the object of his desire usually first registering with his nose, until he got close enough to make a visual. This one event was significant also in that he confirmed once and for all that he was not interested in the chickens. I was in the chicken pen making repairs after shutting the door behind me and securing the door with a plastic-coated copper electrical wire. I heard the door rustle behind me, and I turned to see Barkley pulling the door wide open with the end of the wire, the end of the wire clenched in his front teeth! Somehow he unwrapped it, and did so almost immediately after I “secured” it. So I allowed him to let himself in, where he ignored the chickens completely and went straight to their feeding station and began wolfing down layer pellets and scratch grain. I was stunned at his “lock-picking” skills, but also pleased that my gut feeling was correct in that he would be leaving the chickens alone.
But in the following days, something changed. One day when I opened the door to the chicken pen, the birds filed out in a line as is the normal routine, the only difference was now there was a dog watching them. By this time the birds had accepted this new presence, their initial nervousness and displeasure replaced by cautious indifference. But on this one day the rooster pictured above had his gaze locked on Barkley’s and began clucking with a higher level of agitation, and I felt the rooster felt the dog was singling him out. Nothing became of it. But the next day the scene repeated itself, with the rooster’s clucking and jerking movements indicated an even higher stress level. Barkley was locked on him. I told the rooster to stop fussing so much, that he’s attracting the dog’s attention. But I also wondered if the rooster was right – – that Barkley had him zeroed in. The Ex-Stray Dog again did not attack, but he also kept his eyes on that paranoid (?) rooster, who continued to carry on clucking and fretting with such agitation that even I was getting the urge to chase him. I told the rooster that if he’d stop carrying on the dog wouldn’t be staring at him.
The next day the scene repeated, except this time the rooster was beside himself – – that dog is staring at ME!
Rooster – stop it! You’re making him want to chase you!
And to my horror, that’s exactly was happened. Barkley bolted for him. The rooster took off into the woods, clucking in panic the whole way, quickly disappearing in the thickets with the white dog right behind him, and the human chasing after the dog, yelling, “Barkley! No!” Both animals quickly left me in the dust, and the sounds of clucking and rustling of brush faded into the distance. I saw that an imposing wall of needle-sharp pricker bushes lay straight in my path. So I suspended my chase, thinking to myself, Barkley – no! No! You are not really chasing one of the chickens, are you?
Screw it, I just don’t want to deal with this right now. I immediately went into denial and went about my daily business, and whatever happens happens.
Shortly, Barkley returned, panting and seeming to be filled with the thrill of the chase, alert, ears perked, but panting hard and in need of a rest. No sign of the rooster for over an hour, when he reappeared, clucking, scolding, and ill-at-ease. He scooted into the pen, where I shut the door safely behind him.
By early evening the rooster wanted out, so I obliged. After opening the door I went right to Barkley’s side, ready to grab him if he went for the rooster again. Suddenly, with abject horror the rooster noticed the dog, panicked, and took off into the woods, clucking like crazy! By the time I grabbed for Barkley he was already on his way, and he slipped out of my grasp like a greased lightning bolt. Once again the rooster plunged into the dense undergrowth, the dog again on the rooster’ heels, and the human was quickly falling behind while yelling impotently, “Barkley, no! No!” Both animals streaked through the prickers and disappeared into the foliage. I stopped, furious with myself, my dog, and the rooster as I listened to the sounds of the chase fade into the wilderness. I barely made out a splash, followed immediately by another splash. – – the rooster had stricken out into the river that boarders my property in a desperate, final attempt to save himself, but the dog had gained the upper hand. The human was seething, hurt, dismayed, and felt betrayed by his dog, who assured him that he would not be chasing the chickens. Were the cats next on his hit list?
Within minutes the rustling of a fast-approaching dog filled the air. I held my breath, and my worst fears were realized. High-stepping into view was a very wet, proud, all-business hunting dog with his prey clutched in his mouth, soaked to the skin and as limp as a rag doll, eyes shut, the bird’s head swaying lifelessly back and forth to the rhythm of the dog’s prancing gait on an obviously broken neck. I could tell immediately my rooster, hatched and raised all by myself, from a frail, precious little cheeping bitty to a full-grown, handsome rooster, was dead. And Barkley killed him. And I was as responsible for this tragedy as the dog, if not more. And it was supposed to be my day off and I just wanted to rest and relax with no drama to have to deal with. But there I found myself trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my”new dog” not only chases chickens, but he KILLS chickens, and this rooster is dead because I WANTED to believe Barkley would not chase the chickens. How naive could I have been? Guilt trip. Major guilt trip.
I wished I never owned any animals at all.
Butthead pranced right up to me, then tried to pass me by with his prize, but I grabbed him by his new, bright orange collar and began prying the rooster from his mouth. Barkley’s toothy grasp was beyond firm, and I was amazed not to see any blood and that his sharp teeth had not penetrated the skin. With two hands I worked his jaws open enough to carefully extract the cold, wet, lifeless rooster. I felt the soaked, feathered body for broken bones and inspected it for gashes and blood, and found none. I guess Barkley’s hunting instincts gave him the control to deliver the prey “unscathed”. I set the feathery form on the ground, then fell upon the Very Bad Dog like a linebacker on a quarterback after the whistle.
The chickens had priority over the dog. This I told him very clearly when I took him in one week ago. I had been raising chickens for over ten years. I’m not going to allow an ex-stray dog to inflict his instincts upon them! They were my pets! So as the chicken lay in a soft lump on the ground next to us, Barkley was on his back and going through the motions of being submissive (because it was his job, not because he actually felt submissive), and he and I shared a “woodshed moment”. Perhaps any pacifist reader will be horrified that my disciplinary response was severe, but what I was realizing was that I’ll have to give him away if he doesn’t learn not to chase, let alone kill, my precious little birdies.
Was Barkley cringing and whimpering submissively? Hardly. In fact his jaw was was dead set and his eyes were firm. If anything, he was being patient and professional. Yes, he understood I would react this way, but I needed to understand that this was his instinct, he was doing his job, and he will continue to do his job because what he did was NOT wrong and he did NOT feel badly about it. And wow did that tick me off even more! So I let him know, and he let it roll off. “I’m gonna’ keep doing it, and you need to get used to the idea. I am training you,” was what his body language told me. I couldn’t believe it!
At this point we both glanced over to the rooster. The rooster lay in a heap, with one eye open, watching us.
I stared at him as he stared at me. I looked at Barkley, who was taking his medicine like a man, then back at the bird.
“I don’t believe this!” I said aloud.
I left the dog and scooped up the rooster. Again his head hung down limply, his entire body as limp as limp as a water balloon filled with little bones while keeping that one eye on me as his other eye remained shut. Again I inspected him by touch, this time more thoroughly, especially his neck. I found nothing. No broken skin, no abnormalities in the skeletal structure other than complete, “lifeless” relaxation. His legs were fine, feet were fine. Confirmed no blood anywhere. I realized that through the cold wetness from the river, the dampness closest to his skin was warming up quite quickly. I gently jiggled the rooster, and his head and legs swayed, the unsupported parts of his body drooping over my fingers. So he’s been playing the part of a dead chicken this whole time! I started deeply into its one open eye, and it looked black and shiny and alive, and perhaps even a bit curious. He might have even been telling me not to let the dog know he was still alive…Shhh! I whispered to him collaboratively, “Okay. Shhh!”
I took the warm, wet pile of feathers into the chicken pen and lay him on the ground, but in a sitting position, even though his head still hung limply, it rested like a lump on the pile of feathers that was his body, that one eye following me as I backed out and shut the door. We watched each other. He was motionless. Still “dead”.
Barkley was back on his feet, focused on me. His expression seemed to tell me he didn’t want me to be mad at him and hoped I was over it. I approached him, went down to one knee and looked him in the eye. His tail swished. I pet him as I shook my head back and forth like someone realizing not without admiration he had been taken for a sucker, realizing Barkley had successfully, skillfully changed the terms of the deal. Barkley never clearly explained to me that the “No Chasing the Animals” agreement was a probationary condition with a one-week expiration date. But that was now our problem – – as in, my problem and the cats’ and the chickens’ problem. The daily routine of the animals on the farm has just been turned upside down.
By nightfall, the rooster was back up in his roost with his fellow chickens, showing no signs of injury, and having one heck of a tale to tell. My tales to tell from this day? My new dog is successfully training me how to be his human, and I witnessed a rooster return from the dead.