In the cock-a-doodle-do-do

Generally speaking, animals haven't treated me kindly through the years.

When I was three, my parents took me to a travelling carnival of sorts that had stopped over in our little town. Fascinated by a pair of monkeys in a steel cage, I was attempting to offer one of them a peanut when the surly simian seized me by the hair, smashed my head into the bars of his prison, and then bit my hand for good measure.


My mother took me to the local hospital for a tetanus shot. My father stayed behind to explain to a police officer exactly why he’d belted the carnival proprietor in the mouth and left him lying in a heap among the thorns and dandelions.


Two years later when I was five and our town was still minus the luxuries of sewer and water, I went out late one night to use the outhouse. I was just finishing up and preparing to return to my bed when something obviously large and heavy threw itself against the outside of the flimsy wooden door and commenced grunting and growling and scratching furiously.


Much to my mother’s disgust, my father had convinced me that there was a creature named The Boogeyman, which preyed upon misbehaving children, including those who wouldn’t remain in their beds during the night. Obviously, he’d found me and was doing his level best to get at me.


I spent one of the longest, loneliest nights of my young life in that reeking “honey house,” alone and terrified and praying that the door would hold. My parents found me there the following morning, huddled and shaking in a corner in my Superman pajamas.


My father quickly ascertained that a black bear had been the culprit. They were common in our area, often coming into town at night to raid garbage bins. This one had apparently simply gotten sidetracked by something more interesting: me.


My parents placed a chamber pot in my room after that and then paid to have a septic tank installed shortly thereafter.


In the years that followed, I was clawed and bitten by cats, bitten by several dogs, attacked by a pig, pecked by a parrot, knocked down three times in succession by a belligerent billy goat, and bitten, kicked, and mauled by several dozen horses.


One old mare I once owned landed a shot for the ages when she caught me flush with both hind feet in a straight back mule kick. I came out of that deal with two cracked ribs, a ruined left thumb that required surgery to put back together, and two perfect hoofprint impressions on my chest that turned red, purple, black, and green and lasted nearly three weeks before fading. Happily, that old mare and I eventually came to a truce and she became a constant companion whenever I roamed through the fields checking fences and shrubbery. She’d nuzzle into my jacket pockets looking for the apples and sugar she knew would be there for her. I loved that old crone with all my heart.


By far the meanest creature I ever encountered was a rooster. That’s right. A hateful, evil, loathsome, vendetta-driven bloody rooster. He was Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Killer Karl Krupp, and Attila The Hun all rolled into one despicable malevolent six-pound package. And I hated him. And kind of admired him, too.


My second wife and I had purchased a 30-acre farm property in the Musquodoboit Valley. It featured a big, sprawling, four-level house, an attached garage, and two barns, all perched atop a hillside overlooking the valley.


We’d bought it to breed and raise horses, but it quickly became an all-species menagerie, with three dogs, a half dozen cats, four goats, and a flock of chickens. Not to mention the wild denizens who called the place home including deer, porcupines, raccoons, bobcats, weasels, and coyotes.


The chickens arrived on the scene due to my wife’s penchant for baking. When the local Co-Op store offered day old chicks for a dollar apiece, she picked up two dozen of them figuring they’d eventually provide a regular and cheaper source of eggs than the store itself.


We were told the chicks generally had a mortality rate of anywhere from 25-50%. Meaning that if we were lucky, we could expect to get a dozen or so survivors out of the original 24. We must have done something right, because all 24 survived and prospered.


It became apparent in short order that we’d acquired 21 hens and three roosters.


One of those young roosters quickly asserted himself as the leader of our new flock. He terrorized and dominated the other chicks from day one, particularly the other two males, constantly attacking them, pecking at them, pulling tufts of down from their wee hides. The others quickly and meekly submitted to his relentless aggression.


We named our new alpha Butkus, after the old Chicago Bears linebacker of the same name.


As Butkus grew, so did his spurs, extensions of his leg bones coated in rock hard keratin. Most poultry owners will clip their roosters’ spurs on a regular basis. We didn’t with Butkus, and so his spurs eventually grew to some four inches. Which meant that whenever he chose to get into it with one of the other roosters or with one of us, he was not only nasty and aggressive but also armed and dangerous.


When my wife went out to collect the eggs one day, she wasn’t long in returning to the house, tears streaming down her cheeks and wearing a nasty gash on her lower leg that was bleeding freely.


Turns out that when she’d attempted to shoo Butkus out of her way in the henhouse, he’d attacked her in typical rooster fashion. Which is to say that after launching himself into the air with considerable flapping and squawking, he’d deftly manoeuvred his feet forward and begun a series of lightning quick slashing motions while still airborne.


His spurs had obviously connected, but that wasn’t why she was crying. She’d defended herself by grabbing a nearby shovel and belting the rooster with it at least five or six times. She’d killed him, she wailed ruefully, and now wanted me to go out with a garbage bag and dispose of the body.


When I arrived at the henhouse, there was the shovel just where she’d said it would be. But no carcass. I was still trying to put it together when a shrieking bundle of hell landed on the back of my neck.


I knew instantly what had hit me, and I also knew he’d opened me up with those damn spurs as I felt the blood trickling down my back.


Thrashing furiously, I finally managed to dislodge the maniac and toss him to the ground. He was preparing to come at me yet again, but I’d already grabbed the shovel and nailed him with a dandy right in mid-air. I gave him another half dozen for good measure and finished the job my wife had started.


I staggered back to the house where my wife, who’d already stopped up her own wound, now went to work on mine.


Gavin,” I wheezed to my younger stepson, “Go out and throw that sonofabitch in the garbage bag. He’s dead now. I guarantee it.”


My wife was still working on me with gauze and iodine several minutes later when Gavin arrived back in the kitchen, bleeding from the arm, and wailing, “What a dirty trick to play on me! He wasn’t dead! He was in the rafters!”


My wife and I were speechless. All these years later, it still boggles my mind, that pint-sized fiend taking the two beatings he did, surviving them, and still having the gumption to wade right back in and attack a third adversary who’d dared to enter his realm.


My wife insisted I go out with my old bolt action .22 rifle and finish him for good. I refused. I was of the opinion that any creature that tough, that resilient, that relentless, deserved to live. And so he did.


Butkus was with us another six years or so, always patrolling and protecting his turf, ever at the ready to sail into anybody or anything that crossed his path. It was a bald eagle that eventually did him in, a silent assassin that dropped from the sky one morning and carried the old brawler off to its nest along the river below our property.


Before that day ended, nature intervened. One of the other two roosters from the original brood, one that Butkus had tormented and terrorized relentlessly, had quickly and surprisingly morphed into the second coming of Butkus: mean, aggressive, uncompromising, and clearly in control of the rest of the flock.


I was delighted to observe the transfer of power. I also suspected it meant more battles ahead. Along with more bloodshed and more scars. I was right on all counts.


doug@frankmagazine.ca

#791

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