‘Elua, our beloved chicken with a big personality and an adventurous spirit, died last night.
We took her in a couple of days ago after finding her standing out in the rain, soaked and frail. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t move. We knew it was bad.
It was the second time we had taken ‘Elua to Feathers and Fur Animal Hospital in Kailua this year for being egg bound. (That means she had an egg inside her that she couldn’t expel. Read my blog on that.) The first time we left her there — incidentally during Hurricane Iselle; she was back at the vet this time around during Hurricane Ana — for about a week. The vet drained the fluid in her belly, put her in an incubator, and fed her antibiotics daily.
We brought her home and gave her calcium supplements and antibiotics every day for about a week, slowly reintroducing her back with the other two hens when she was strong enough to hold her own. (Chickens notoriously pick on the weaker in the flock.) And for a while there, she looked fine. She was healthy enough to jump into the hutch and was eating with the others. I had no idea she was suffering.
I’m not sure how long she had been sick. I noticed she was acting a bit strange on Friday when she didn’t jump into the hutch to eat. She stood outside in the mud, her red crown flopped over, just looking at me. I poured some chicken feed into my hand and let her eat out of my outstretched palm.
It wasn’t until the next morning that we found her, standing near the banana trees, confused and disoriented, that we knew she was really sick. We rushed her to the vet.
‘Elua tried to pull through. She just wasn’t strong enough. The infection ran rampant through her belly, making it difficult for her to stand, breath or digest anything, including the medication she desperately needed.
She was suffering — and we had to make a choice.
My husband called me in the morning and told me the prognosis. It wasn’t good. We could keep ‘Elua at the hospital indefinitely, but she likely would never get better.
I have never put down an animal before. All of our pets — guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, fish, parakeet — have all died naturally, as far as I can remember. I never had to make a choice about whether they lived or not.
There was really no option: to euthanize ‘Elua was the most compassionate decision. She was in a lot of pain and there was little hope she would ever recover.
We drove to Kailua yesterday to say goodbye to our feisty chicken, the one who would escape the pen so often my husband had to double the height of the fence. She wasn’t the biggest or the bravest, but she was the smartest and the most adventurous, ready for anything and fiercely independent. If she could, she would have lived in the house with us.
The vet invited us to stay with ‘Elua as she injected her with the euthanizing drug. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, watching her emaciated body twist and jerk as the drug circulated throughout her body and stopped her heart. I watched her chest fill and contract, fill and contract, until it stopped. And it was quiet.
My husband stood there, stoic and strong. But even he couldn’t hold back the tears. That’s what I love and admire about this man. He has the kindest, biggest, most compassionate heart for any creature. Even when he fishes, he’s respectful, taking only what he needs — which is usually just one fish — kills it quickly and humanely, and thanks it for giving up its life to feed us. It’s a special thing to be in the presence of someone who respects and values life so much, and he has inspired me to view the world in much the same way.
I cried. I cried hours later. Even in bed, watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Even as I blog. It’s strange for me, someone who has never had chickens before, to feel such an emotional connection to them. I felt badly that we didn’t see how much she was suffering earlier, that she was pretending to be strong and healthy. I know this was the best choice, to end her pain and let her sleep forever, but it’s still hard to watch her life leave her.
What I’ve learned is life, no matter how small or short or seemingly trivial, is valuable and worth our respect. That’s what ‘Elua and my husband taught me.
Farewell, my sweet bird. You’ll be missed but not forgotten.