Pet Tales: Massachusetts pet lover intrigued by chickens


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People who own multiple pets love them all, but often a favorite emerges. For Lauren Scheuer, Lucy is The One. She's beautiful and sweet with people and animals, and when she developed an incurable neurological disease, Ms. Scheuer loved her all the more. When the veterinarian could do little to help, Ms. Scheuer figured out ways to accommodate Lucy's handicaps so that she could live a happy and productive life.

"I really wrote my book because I was blown away by the personalities," says the author of "Once Upon a Flock: Life With My Soulful Chickens" ($24, Atria Books). It hits stores on Tuesday.

Lucy is part of the original flock of four. Her black and white plumage marks her as a Barred Plymouth Rock.

Ms. Scheuer works as an artist and illustrator in the rural Massachusetts home she shares with her husband, Danny, their teenage daughter, Sarah, and Marky, a scruffy white terrier-mix dog. In 2008, she added chickens to the mix.

"This is the story of my first year with the girls," Ms. Scheuer said in a telephone interview. "Their behavior is fascinating. Their intricate social life includes close friendships."

Her timing is im-peck-able (pardon the chicken pun), for backyard and urban chickens are growing in popularity, especially among people who want to know their eggs came from chickens that are humanely cared for.

I wouldn't say this book is a "must-read" because it doesn't have everything you need to know to raise your own chickens. I'd say it's more of a "should-read," written by an animal lover for people who love animals, including those who have never known or loved a chicken.

Interspersed amid the chicken anecdotes are many startup tips, including information about coops. The crafty Ms. Scheuer, a fine-arts graduate of UCLA, built her own. Other tips include protecting your chicken from predators (including hawks and foxes) and teaching the family dog, a predator by nature, to peacefully coexist with chickens, prey animals by nature.

Each of the book's 241 pages is illustrated with Ms. Scheuer's charming drawings and photographs (like the one on Page C-1), and they're worth the price of the book.

The cast of characters includes Lucy's best friend Hatsy, an orange hen whose breed was initially a mystery; Lil' White, a Buff Orpington described as "perfectly gorgeous" and a "passive-aggressive sociopath"; Pigeon, a Barred Plymouth Rock rescued as a sickly, scraggly hen; and two roosters.

Yes, that adds up to more than a flock of four. Let's just say there is happiness as well as heartbreak in this book, and I don't want to give away the story line here other than to say that Lucy is alive and thriving.

Now back to more chick advice, gleaned from the phone interview. Ms. Scheuer thinks three or four chickens is the perfect number.

"Two is not a flock and chickens are flock animals," she said, and "one is a lonely chicken." Acquire more than four chickens, and you may get more eggs than your family and friends can eat.

Her family usually gets five eggs a week from three hens. Hens don't lay eggs in the winter because they need 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs. Commercial farmers keep lights on in their barns to trick the hens into laying more eggs. Ms. Scheuer would never do that, nor would she slaughter and eat hens when their egg production drops off.

In fact, she no longer eats the meat of chickens, though she admits she craves chicken salad. Two years ago she became a vegetarian, eschewing the flesh of all animals

You won't find nutritional chicken feed and chicken scratch in regular pet stores or grocery stores. Agway and other feed stores sell it in rural and semi-rural areas, but there is a source here in the city. Animal Nature in Regent Square sells chicken feed from Countryside Organics. A 50-pound bag is $35 and should feed a small flock for a couple of months.

About 40-50 chicken owners regularly buy feed at the store owned by Rachel Lamory and Nina Wolf. Cinder and Ella, both small, fancy-breed chickens known as Silkies. live in the store window. The friendly birds seem to enjoy the attention of customers.

Greyhound photo show

In their early years, greyhounds race. When they retire, some are adopted as pets. The stately beauty of these dogs will be celebrated in a photography exhibition and fundraiser called "Release the Hounds" from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at 3G Gallery in the Westin Convention Center hotel, 1001 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

Pittsburgh artist Harry Giglio is exhibiting and selling fine art photographs of greyhounds rescued through Steel City Greyhounds. A percentage of sales will benefit the local nonprofit, which has found homes for 600 retired racers since 2002.

Some greyhounds will attend the event, which includes wine, light refreshments and entertainment by singer-songwriter Nancy Deckant. If you're going, RSVP 3G owner Colleen Rush at 3ggallery@gmail.com or 412-288-4320.

Dog license campaign

March is Dog License Awareness month, and state officials hope to celebrate it by selling 100,000 dog licenses. If that goal is met, PetSmart will donate $10,000 to Susquehanna Service Dogs. The Pennsylvania organization trains dogs for children and adults with special needs.

Although the mandatory tags are state licenses, they are sold by county treasurers, who will generally mail them to you. Go to www.licenseyourdogPA.com to get the phone number for your county. Or go to www.padoglicense.com to order online.

Bunny breakfast

Children and adults can have breakfast with the Animal Friends rabbits on March 30, the day before Easter, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Adoptable rabbits will be "free roaming" at the Ohio Township shelter during the breakfast, which is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Registration is required at www.ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org or by calling 412-847-7055.



mobilehome - pets

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to petpoints@post-gazette.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.


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