Farm Sanctuary Part Five: Dean-O

This post is part of a series of stories about my internship at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen shelter. You can find the previous instalments here (1,2,3,4).

Another resident of the Watkins Glen shelter who had a huge impact on me was a rooster named Dean-O. Fun fact, I dedicated my book, Myths and Music, to him, because of the truly unique insights he gave me into his species. I can still hear his sweet, cheery voice inside my head, and it inspired the chicken in my book, who never would have come to be without my having known Dean-O.

I am far from the only person who was affected by this remarkable bird. I think he was probably a favorite of everyone who worked or interned at the Sanctuary. He was a big, kind of fluffy-looking, white rooster, who lived in the kitchen, and spent his days watching and talking to everyone who came through. I’m not sure exactly how Dean-O came to live in the kitchen, for some reason he didn’t do well living with the other chickens, but I’m glad that he did, and I imagine that everyone else at the shelter was as well.

He was totally different from any other chicken I had ever met. My family had some chickens when I was growing up, so I thought I had a pretty good understanding of their behavior, and knew what to expect from them. Dean-O proved me wrong. There were plenty of other chickens at the shelter but, for the most part, I didn’t have a lot of personal connections to any of them. Most of them were fairly friendly, but they just weren’t particularly interested in interacting with humans. I would feed them, and change their water, and clean out their barns, but I never got to know them as individuals. Dean-O was a different story.

It was basically impossible for anyone to avoid getting to know Dean-O. The kitchen was sort of the hub of all the activity at the shelter. People were in and out of there all day, gathering supplies, washing dishes, or just coming in to get a break from the cold. And he was always there, waiting for someone to pay attention to him or, better yet, give him snacks.

It was a bit messy, having a rooster just wandering loose on the floor, and it was a constant battle to keep his droppings cleaned up. It was understood that whoever happened through the kitchen would wipe up anything that was on the floor, before moving on. No one minded this though; it was worth the extra work to have him around. Even on the most frigid days, when everyone was shivering and covered in snow, Dean-O made that kitchen warm and inviting.

The one thing that stands out the most about him, to me, was the way he seemed to speak. Despite all the chickens I had met in my life, I had never heard one make the types of sounds that Dean-O did. The diversity of emotions that he was able to convey were remarkable to me. I mean, obviously, nonhuman animals have their own languages, and their own ways of expressing themselves, but I had never, and still have not, heard any animal use vocalizations in the way that he did.

He had different sounds for every occasion; there was one for people coming into his area, one for when said people paid attention to him, one for when he was given food. This was not just something that those of us who interacted with him often managed to learn; you could hear the emotion in the sound. I’m certain that someone meeting him for the very first time would be equally aware of exactly what he was feeling. The one sound that I remember most clearly was when he was disappointed. It was this sort of rolling sigh that made you want to do whatever he wanted, just to make him happy again.

There was just nothing in the world like walking into that kitchen and seeing that cheery, friendly face, on that fluffy strutting body, and hearing him greet me with his oddly human voice. It has been many years since I met Dean-O, and he has since passed on, but I will never forget him, and I know that no one else who knew him will either. He was truly a great ambassador for his species, because I’m certain that no one who knew him could ever doubt the intelligence, or desire for connection hidden inside these creatures that, even those of us who had interacted with them before, can so easily overlook.


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