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Frostbite Victim, Sweetie

From Melanie Moonstone, Rooster Redemption
February 2023

It is common sense to not allow domesticated animals to be kept in freezing temperatures, ever. The root of the problem is hatcheries, feed stores, and backyard chicken keepers sharing the myth that chickens are “cold hearty” and do just fine in cold. The reality is that chickens are descendants of jungle fowl, not penguins.

frostbitten Sweetie

As humans, we have all experienced being cold at some point in our lives. It’s miserable and we just want to get warm as soon as possible. Many of us are lucky enough to have access to warm homes, whereas many humans don’t have adequate shelter due to homelessness, poverty, or economic hardship and they struggle to stay warm. I have always tried to imagine being in their shoes, unable to see warmth at the end of the tunnel. Afterall, we moved to Washington from Minnesota in 2022 and we are no strangers to sub-zero temperatures. Of course, we all know that non-human animals experience being cold, and I am here to tell you about Sweetie the hen.

On January 7th, 2023 we received a message from Adopt-A-Bird Network about a hen in Montana with severe frostbite on her legs and feet. We attempted to find a sanctuary in Montana who could take her in as a special needs bird. Sweetie was undoubtedly going to lose her feet and legs just below her knees. Frostbite kills tissue and once the damage is done, there is no reversal. We did not find a sanctuary and our hearts had no choice but to drive to Montana as soon as possible because we knew time was of the essence for her to access proper care. We left at 10pm that night with 4 dogs in tow, driving 10 hours through the night, switching off for naps.

frostbitten chicken foot

frostbitten chicken foot

Sweetie was part of a flock of other hens and roosters. The person who obtained these chickens had never cared for them before. There was a drop in temperatures in December and January, Sweetie was being picked on by the flock, so she was not welcomed to roost with them. When the person noticed the frostbite, they brought her inside. They tried their best and asked for advice in some backyard poultry groups and were greatly misguided. For three weeks Sweetie dealt with pain and was treated with ibuprofen and Tylenol (this is not adequate treatment and can kill birds). She was not eating on her own and was being force fed, at the recommendation of a backyard poultry group. This is another reason we needed to act urgently because we knew she wasn’t eating because she was in so much pain.

When we picked her up, the person cried and was very sad that Sweetie was leaving, but they knew they were doing the right thing by surrendering her to sanctuary who can meet her needs. We administered proper pain mediation immediately and within an hour Sweetie was eating on her own. We drove the 10 hours back to Washington and hit the ER clinic on the way back. They prescribed antibiotics as well as medication for nerves and pain. There was an option for surgery, but we were not set on that route yet. We knew there were two options: surgically remove her feet or allow her body to naturally amputate them.

We contacted over 13 veterinarian clinics in Washington, with her situation and photos of the damage to her feet. At least 7 clinics refused to see her, and recommended euthanasia because “she will not have a good quality of life without feet.” We 100% disagreed and knew that Sweetie would live an amazing life and thrive, she just needed the right doctor and the right caregivers. Two weeks later, we were able to get her in with a doctor who was willing to give her a chance. He even saw her for a free consult on a Saturday, after his regular appointments. He said her feet could “snap off” at any time and that he can do any repair to her “stumps” that may be needed, versus doing surgery where it may be quite difficult to suture her “stumps” and heal properly.

Over the next week we went through the trauma with Sweetie, while she lost her feet. We were relaxing one evening and all of a sudden she started screaming. We ran to her and there was her foot, detached from her body. The next day her other foot detached. It was an experience I will never forget, something a bird should never have to go through. We have her feet in the freezer because they are not garbage, and will eventually lay them to rest.

Fast forward to now, and she is doing incredible with her new “feet” which consists of cushioned wraps to keep them clean and dry. She preens all day long, she can stand, she can hop around, and she even has her own wheelchair her vet tech made for her! She will be on antibiotics for quite awhile and continues to be on pain and nerve medication as she continues to heal.

Sweetie's hammock

Let’s go back to the beginning of the story, where we talked about humans desiring something so basic: warmth. Animals do too, and they deserve it. And I can’t help but picture how many humans sit in their homes warm, while their chickens suffer greatly in the cold. Frostbite is preventable and unacceptable. We have been met with statements such as “shit happens” and “they don’t come with an instruction manual.” Unfortunately, the root of the problem is hatcheries, feed stores, and backyard chicken keepers sharing the myth that chickens are “cold hearty” and do just fine in cold. In our opinion, it is common sense to not allow domesticated animals to be kept in freezing temperatures, ever. Chickens are descendants of jungle fowl, not penguins.

We want to take a moment to thank all of the supporters, donors, and cheerleaders in Sweetie’s resilient journey. We couldn’t do this without you.

Sweetie's hammock

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