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Abandoned chickens find a rescuer

By Curt Brown

Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Mary Britton Clouse tosses cracked corn, oats and sunflower seeds into a carrying case. The drive is short from her north Minneapolis home to the city’s Animal Care and Control Shelter.

Snapshots on the shelter lobby’s wall serve as a roster of the day’s impounded animals: eight pit bulls, 18 cats, two chickens. "Let’s do it," says Clouse, the rescuer of chickens.

Last year, 249 birds wound up with animal control in Minneapolis, up from 119 birds in 2005. More than 115 have come in so far this year.

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Three-quarters of the birds are chickens. Many are strays, found in alleys. Others are over-the-hill chicks that parents purchased to show their kids the miracle of life. Some were fighters, others were destined for ethnic ritual slaughters. Some are seized from people who lack permits or whose neighbors complained.

To keep a chicken in Minneapolis, you need approval signatures from 80 percent of close neighbors and a $30 small-animal permit.

Clouse has come for the red hen with the busted upper beak found wandering around northeast Minneapolis. She suspects a hatchery chopped the beak, common practice to prevent hens from pecking each other in cramped quarters.

"Your life is about to turn around," she tells the chicken, who burbles nervously and skittishly glances around. The length of the spurs on her feet and the comb on her head tell Clouse the chicken’s about 2 years old. She names her Juli, after a veterinarian friend.

"She’s very skinny and presumably hasn’t had a very pleasant life," Clouse says of the bird. "But in a few days, she’ll look like a million bucks."

‘They needed a friend…’

Until 2001, Clouse had never held a chicken. A former president of the Animal Rights Coalition, Clouse says chickens are the "most abused and exploited" animal on the planet.

"Of all the animals out there, they were the ones that needed a friend the most," she said.

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So she founded Chicken Run Rescue in 2001, believed to be the only chicken adoption organization in the nation. The red hen Juli is the 222nd chicken Clouse has liberated. After a five-day quarantine in a shower stall at Clouse’s house, softened with straw and sprinkled with seeds and Romaine lettuce hearts, Juli will be ready for adoption.

Adopt a chicken

Clouse, 54, places the chickens as companion animals in homes.

"If you’re expecting a dog, you’ll be disappointed, but they definitely have individual personalities, likes and dislikes and can be affectionate and follow you around," said Jodi Hesse, 35, an adopter from western Wisconsin.

Said Lori Kyle of Chaska, the proud mother of three adopted roosters: "They follow when you call, jump for grapes, and they’re cute as can be."

Terms of Chicken Run Rescue’s adoption policy are strict: New owners must agree to treat the birds like dogs or cats during their normal 14-year life expectancy. No fighting, no commercial egg production or breeding — and no chicken pot pies.

A vegan herself, Clouse hopes her work helps people make informed decisions "about the flesh on the end of their forks."

A velvety red-necked hen found on Minneapolis’ north side, Olive stepped out of her carrier a few days ago and hopped on Clouse’s scale.

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"She was going to be ritually slaughtered the day animal control found her," Clouse said. "She’s keenly aware of her environment and is absolutely engaged, whether it’s through eye contact or pecking at my buttons and earrings."

No problem with neighbors

Olive is among a dozen hens and roosters at the century-old house that Clouse and her husband, Bert, have lived in for 23 years on Lowry Ave. N. They restore books at home, spending $3,000 a year of their own money to bankroll Chicken Run Rescue.

Their neighborhood has problems, but serving as the haven for chickens hasn’t ruffled any feathers.

"We call Mary the Mother Hen because it takes a special kind of person to rescue chickens," said Jaqueline Hamilton, who runs a wig store next door. "Some of our customers say, ‘Did I just hear a rooster or am I losing my mind?’ We love the sound right here in the city."

The Clouse backyard includes coops, runs, amaranth plants and intriguing stories. Take Gody, for example. The hen was plucked from the jaws of a cat by an elementary school teacher in St. Paul and raised by a science class until she grew too large.

Every night, the birds line up to go into the basement coop, where their cock-a-doodle-doos will be muffled.

"It’s a beautiful, joyous sound," Clouse said. "But we keep them inside until 9 a.m. on weekdays and 10 or 11 on weekends so everyone can sleep. We’ve had no complaints. People love the idea that something happy and hopeful is happening in the neighborhood."

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