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Profiles in Plumage: A Tale of Chicken Rescue, Told in Six Parts

The Humane Society of the United States

by Marilee Geyer and The HSUS

Part 1: Ever Wonder What It's Like to Live with Chickens?

Marilee Geyer knows. She has a flock of more than fifty rescued chickens in California.

Marilee sees birds as charismatic individuals who each have their own personalities—and she welcomes them as part of the family.

"My mom was a kind, compassionate woman who taught me to care for and respect animals. She brought home every stray she came across, and so my family included a large number of companion animals."

Marilee came to view chickens differently after working in an animal shelter and doing rescue work.

"Working at an animal shelter gave me an opportunity to get to know an even wider variety of animals (sadly, just about every kind of animal you can think of ends up in a shelter sooner or later) and that's when I really got to find out what chickens were all about. I was charmed: chickens are highly social, friendly, smart," Marilee says.

But what really made an impact, in Marilee's case, was one particular little white hen named Willy.

Part 2: Wilhelmina's Story
by Marilee Geyer

Several years ago, a battery cage egg factory in my area closed.

The new property owner allowed animal advocates to rescue as many animals as they could. Nearly 1,500 hens were taken to safety and a new life; Willy came home with me.

In the beginning, she was understandably shy and uncertain.

Everything was strange and unfamiliar to her: the space, the quiet, the sun, even the ground under her feet.

She had no reason to trust me because, after all, her only limited experience with human beings had been one of either indifference or pain.

Yet incredibly, as she healed physically and emotionally from her ordeal, she began to seek me out.

First, she would come running when she saw me, looking for treats. Then she began following me around the backyard, watching for bugs as I worked in the garden.

Eventually she would sit next to me, and then she started hopping up on my lap.

Now, four years later, Willy and I share a bond that is as close, meaningful and special as the ones I have with my companion dogs and cats. She is as affectionate and social as the dogs in my family. She endured so much suffering and misery in the egg factory as a youngster—it makes me happy to see her so full of joyful life now.

Part 3: The Great Chicken Rescue
by Marilee Geyer

About a year after working with the shelter, I participated in a rescue at an egg factory that was closing.

I had seen photos of these types of facilities, but I had never actually been in one.

It’s a day I will never forget, though even now, the images are painful to recall. Row after row of metal cages stuffed with hens stacked three high as far as the eye could see was a hellish vision I will always remember.

After the rescue, I became caregiver to 56 chickens (including Wilhelmina).

Hens who had never been outside, never walked on the ground, now scratched the earth looking for insects, reveled in the pleasure of dust baths, and napped in the warm sun. They discovered the joy of fresh greens, watermelons and tomatoes.

They slowly began to trust and became more confident each day. They experienced, for the first time, peace and comfort.

Part 4: Elsa and Betty
by Marilee Geyer

One day last winter I received a call from my local shelter asking if I would rescue two chickens who has been impounded: someone had recently moved and simply left the hens behind in the backyard. Fortunately, a neighbor took the hungry and bewildered animals to the shelter.

Elsa and Betty, only two months old when they came home with me, are now nearly two years old and full of curiosity and vigor.

Elsa in particular is a talker: in the same way that I can tell by the sounds, intensity and cadence of my dog Huckleberry’s bark, I’m able to tell what Elsa is trying to communicate to me.
These two girls are as playful and silly as kittens. They investigate anything new and, just like kittens, love to jump into empty boxes.

Last year, Elsa decided that the perfect place to make a nest was under my two-foot-tall plastic holiday tree.

Naturally, as she was trying to make herself comfortable, she knocked the whole thing over. There was little left of the decorations after the tree was set upright again, but it was worth it!

Part 5: Ninety-Five Animals
by Marilee Geyer

One day, as I was cleaning the hen house, my friend Diane remarked that if only everyone could know these birds as the amazing, happy and charming beings they are, then perhaps people would be less inclined to eat them or support industries that treat animals with callousness and cruelty.

At that moment, the idea for a book was born.

It’s called Ninety-Five: Meeting America’s Farmed Animals in Stories and Photographs. Ninety-five is the average number of animals spared annually by one person’s vegan diet.

It will be released next spring and will speak powerfully to the beauty, dignity and worth of farmed animals.

Part 6: Pinky and Maggie
by Marilee Geyer

Pinky and Maggie are best friends and survivors. They spend almost all of their time together.

An animal control officer confiscated them from a woman who was keeping several dozen hens in a space that could only comfortably accommodate one dozen. Many of their flock mates were seriously ill or injured.

After breakfast, they meander off to their favorite place under the redwood tree to enjoy the rest of the morning. Later, they mosey over to the garden where the dirt is soft and warm—the perfect place for a mid-afternoon dust bath.

In the early evening they graze on green grass, scratch, and peck at the ground looking for tasty treats. When the sun starts to set, they head off together to their cozy hen house, ready to settle in for the night.

Anyone who has ever rescued an animal from abuse or neglect knows that the reward is bringing comfort and peace to an animal who needed both. To watch these hens not only heal from their neglectful past, but to thrive in their new home and become the contented hens they were meant to be, is an absolute privilege and delight.

Do you have a chicken rescue story to share? Submit it to our slideshow» 


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