Cheerful chickens, the best medicine

 

Today is Day #6 for the incubation of my button quail. On Day #13 I’ll remove the eggs from the auto-rotator and put them on the flat, wire mesh bottom of the incubator. On Day #16, they could start hatching!! Yipppeee!

 

In the meantime, I keep checking the humidity level, which should be 40-60%, and the temperature, which should be around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Because my incubator is pretty basic, the climate control is not super reliable and the temp. has gone a few degrees above and below 100. Hopefully I have not cooked the little guys.

 

While we’re waiting, I’ll share a story with you.

 

When I was working as the Coordinator of Volunteer Programs at the zoo, I met a lot of people who believed in the healing power of animals. I worked mostly with docents and volunteers, who devoted themselves to educating zoo visitors out of the kindness of the hearts, and they shared great stories about animals helping people heal.

 

Our department had a wonderful outreach program that travelled to people who couldn’t come to the zoo. Specially trained docents took small, live animals and other touchable items such as pelts and replicas of animal skulls to a variety of facilities: schools for children with disabilities, hospitals, daycare centers (adult and children), and nursing homes. The docents used a van that was uniquely equipped to transport animals off zoo grounds.

 

Typically, three female docent, who had the wisdom and soft edges of grandmothers, put on their sunny yellow outreach T-shirts, collected the animals that would be going on the excursion—which included a non-venomous snake, a lizard, a guinea pig, a hedgehog and/or a chicken—loaded up the Zoo Mobile van and hit the road. Once they got to the facility they gave thirty-minute presentations, always tailored to the understanding abilities of their audience that day. They introduced different species and explained how the animals adapted and thrived within their natural habitat. They also explained what made the animal special, incorporating information about their native habitat, behavior, and diet. The listeners were encouraged to touch the animals and to ask questions.

 

One afternoon these compassionate docents came back from a retirement home and shared that they had taken along our chicken, Lucy, a favorite among them and their audience members, and that one elderly resident had taken quite a shine to her. The elderly woman got very excited, smiled and told the docents how much she liked Lucy. The docents were pleased, but didn’t think it was out of the ordinary until a little later when one of the nurses reported that prior to Lucy’s visit; this older female resident had not uttered a word in six months. The nurses didn’t really know why she had stopped talking, but because the woman was also very depressed, they were concerned. It turned out that she had owned chickens when she was younger, and Lucy brought back happy memories, giving her the courage and willingness to speak after a long silence.

 

When I heard this story, I was reminded of a time when I was unable to communicate. In my late twenties, I experienced a crippling depression, but I couldn’t talk about it, so I couldn’t ask for help. As I spiraled deeper into sadness, it was the presence of Gus, my German Shepherd, with his unconditional love and total dependence on me, that opened my heart and mind. When I looked into his root beer-colored eyes, I saw that he loved me no matter what, and that he needed me. I couldn’t abandon him. In that moment, I became willing to try therapy for the first time. Since then my healthiest decisions have been inspired by the love I get from my animals, and I make a point of keeping a full house.