Pedro is eating our neighbour’s pets. It’s happened twice now. The first time he scooted through our legs at the front door, sprinting past five minutes later with a glossy black fowl in his jaws. And he kept running. We had no idea where he’d caught the chook, or what he did with it. And we weren’t inclined to start knocking on doors.
We returned home to Melbourne and dined out on the story. We salved our consciences by concluding the chicken had it coming – it must have been out of its pen after all. Many people were shocked. But Pedro is a Labrador, they pondered, he is so friendly - how could he? Some children refused to pat him despite his waggly tail. Everyone nodded soberly when urged to shut the front door.
Months later we were back at the beach house. I returned from a massage to a flutter of brown and white feathers by the front door. My bloke broke the news. He told how the distressed owner and her pre-school child had followed Pedro home. How Pedro had crunched on his prey as they talked. The chooks were more than a source of eggs, she said, they were the kid’s pets. How the child had looked at our dog. Our dog, eating her pet.
We were ashamed. Our vegetarian son was mortified. Our offer to pay for new chooks was declined. Pedro was banished to the back yard, and what was left of the unfortunate bird deposited in our wheelie bin. My massage, negated.
Veterinarians are increasingly offering yearly checkups to chooks as suburban ownership increases. After initially getting chooks for their laying power, many people develop an attachment, keeping their brood for years after they have stopped laying.
Live poultry sales to suburban and inner-city households have been doubling in past years, and local council laws typically allow 5-10 backyard hens without registration fees.
Backyard poultry advocates Aussies Living Simply say, “a chook is a pet who pays board”. They say the benefits of keeping hens can’t be measured by egg production alone, as hens eat food scraps and garden bugs, fertilise the garden, and provide companionship and entertainment like other household pets.
“The costs of having your own backyard chooks or other poultry is negligible when you know that the egg they have given you is from a known and trusted friend, for simply giving them a good life and home,” says one member.
But any inclination I had to keep a few hens is now thwarted. Our accidentally free-range dog has developed a taste for free-range poultry. He is canis lupus, a descendent of wolves, an instinct we’ll never override. When he runs free again, and it’s only a matter of time, we’ve promised to run and shut our neighbour’s gate.
We have no right to be mortified, we omnivores. This very moment people all over this globe are hunting their own food. Food they will kill by their own hand, then skin, gut, and cook or eat raw. So while we tut-tut about my dog Pedro, we need to face the fact that our lunch today is what someone else has killed on our behalf. Bon appétit!
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