Readers of my column may remember my recent tale of the star-crossed romance between my house cat Miss Kitty Carlisle and a visiting sunflower-eating fox I named Beau.
That romance, by the way, is still blooming, and I now offer Part 2 in what has gone from a love story to a tragi-comedy.
It would seem Beau has some rather unsavory friends who find my egg-laying hens rather, well, savory.
This more recent fox visitor has been named Poacher Pat after a legendary northern Maine woodsman who at times ran afoul of the game laws and had been described to me by a friend.
I met up with Poacher Pat — the fox — a week or so ago as I was making my Saturday morning breakfast and after I had let my flock of hens out to free range on ground newly exposed from the melting snow.
Looking out my kitchen window in mid-banana slice, I saw a small fox running across my door yard with one of my largest chickens clutched in its jaws. Dropping what I was doing, I rushed outside and began chasing down the four-legged thief, which was still carrying the chicken even as he jumped on the snowbank and began running into the woods.
I honestly don’t know what I would have done had I actually caught up with the thief and his hapless prey, but that was not stopping me.
What was stopping me, however, was the — at that time – still thigh-high and waist-deep snow I was trying to wade through to catch up with them. Luckily the fox was either so shocked or so amused I was even making the attempt, he actually opened his mouth and spit the hen out.
He then turned and ran off deeper into the woods, leaving me to deal with what I could only imagine to be a severely wounded — or worse — Plymouth Rock hen that was still in her egg-laying prime.
But this was one tough bird.
As my rescue attempt turned into a recovery effort on the snow, and before I could even get close to her, the hen stood up, shook herself and began walking toward me on very wobbly legs.
Toward me, past me — she had picked up some remarkable speed at this point — and down the snowbank until she was under my deck.
At that point I think the shock really hit her, because she came to a halt up against the foundation of my house and did not seem inclined to go anywhere else.
This left me to crawl under the deck, gently grab her and crawl back out with her in my arms.
Did I mention it had started to rain? Pouring rain, actually.
I was drenched and shaking from my clumsy run in the deep snow and from the rain. The chicken was drenched from the rain, snow and probably fox slobber. We were both breathing hard and neither one of us was happy to be out in the rain.
I carried her into my heated shop, which in recent years has turned into a chicken infirmary, where I could do a closer inspection of the hen and her wounds.
But other than some lost feathers, she appeared remarkably unscathed.
All I can think is her very thick plumage saved her from real harm, and that the pressure of Poacher Pat’s jaws was not enough to break any of her fragile bones. Though I suspect she may have been a bit sore.
Lord knows I was after all the chasing and slogging.
I keep a large, plastic dog kennel in the shop stocked with fresh straw bedding for occasions just like this one, and placed the hen inside the crate with some water infused with electrolytes and antibiotics so she could recover physically and emotionally from the trauma.
I also plugged in a lamp so she would have a soft light versus the harsh glare of the shop’s giant flourescent overhead bulbs and turned the heat up from the normal 45 degrees to 70 degrees, lest she catch a chill.
It all looked so cozy, I was tempted to crawl into that kennel with her.
Then it was time to herd the rest of the flock back into the coop in case Poacher Pat came back.
Forget the old adage about herding cats. Herding chickens solo is the real exercise in futility.
Luckily, by this time my tenant Pete had noticed all the excitement and came to help and between the two of us we got everyone back inside and the door securely shut against Poacher Pat or any of this fellow thuggish gang members.
That evening I went to check on the hen and take her some treats left over from my supper. A supper, mind you, in which I deliberately included things I knew the chicken would enjoy.
She seemed perkier but still not 100 percent as she accepted my offering of pasta and chopped apples.
By the next morning she looked much better, other than having lost some more feathers during the night. By Monday she was recovered enough to rejoin the flock.
The flock which, by the way, has not been allowed back outside since the incident.
Nor will they be allowed back out until I have had the chance to talk to Beau about the company he is keeping and his choice of friends. Or until I have successfully trapped Poacher Pat in the live trap I now have.
Stay tuned, because I’m pretty sure there will be a Part 3 at some point.