Thursday, August 2, 2012

City Chickens

City Chickens by Christine Heppermann tells the tale of Chicken Run Rescue – the only urban chicken rescue in the United States – just across the river from me in Minneapolis, MN.

Chicken Run Rescue is run by Mary Britton Clouse and Burt Clouse. The book tells the stories of how Mary and Burt came to care deeply about other-than-human animals as children, and eventually how they came to be the founders and caregivers of Chicken Run Rescue. Their stories are a short section of the book, but one that matters so, so much. This world cannot have enough examples of people handing their lives over to care for other animals. Everyone—young and old, vegan and non-vegan—can learn something profound from the dedication and care Mary and Burt unleash upon the world.

City Chickens also does a fantastic job of telling the unique stories of several chickens who have come through the gates of Chicken Run Rescue. From Billiam, a rooster who was dumped on the side of the road with 105 other chicks; to Miss Manor, the hen who Burt rescued from the grounds of an apartment complex (for an uplifting and heartbreaking photo tour of Miss Manor’s rescue and care, see this photo album on the Chicken Run Rescue Facebook page). 

"Now she would have a warm place to sleep, fresh food and water, plenty of space to explore. Now Bert would hold her and hum softly while Mary attended to her wounds."

There’s a ton of information and images packed into this book. In my opinion, the design suffers as a result. In order to break up large chunks of text, certain sentences are given a different and larger font. As a former newspaper reader (sorry, newspaper industry!), I’ve been trained to assume that larger text within smaller text is a pull-quote and is not meant to be read in sequential order (or read at all, if you’re already reading the whole story). It’s safe to say that the design took some getting used to on my part.

What the book may lack in design, though, it more than makes up for in photos. The layout might not be perfect, but since, according to the publisher, this is a book for kids ages 6-9 (I think that top age range should go all the way to 13 31 103, especially given the importance of the subject matter), more photos equals more connections. These birds are beautiful beings and the multitude of photos does a great job of capturing that beauty.

A note of warning to parents: There are three of what I would consider disturbing photos. One of a rooster who was rescued after police shut down a cockfighting operation, and two others of hens in battery cages. Probably not nightmare inducing images, but it depends on the kid (and adult). 

This is unavoidably a book about the refugees and casualties of humanity’s war of indifference on other animals. As such, you can expect to read about some of the horrible things that are done to chickens. The words are not graphic, but they’re there. One cannot talk about a sanctuary without talking about what it’s a sanctuary from. And Chicken Run Rescue is a sanctuary, even if only a temporary one for most guests. Thankfully, the homes these chickens end up in after adoption are also places that treat them as someones, not somethings – as an end unto themselves, not a means to another’s end – as beings with intrinsic worth above and beyond any extrinsic worth afforded to them.  

The few graphic images and depictions of cruelty are certainly not necessary in order to educate our kids about animal rights, but they do portray the awful reality of countless chickens. Personally, I let my kids see the images and explain them with the tact and love they require. And then we move on again to the happy parts of the book.

This is a long book and it's full of heavy ideas and situations. I suggest reading it with your kid(s) in shifts, explaining things along the way. Even with older kids, I think reading it together, at least for the first time, is a good idea. It's definitely a conversation starter. Don't be surprised if your kids ask if you can adopt a chicken. Don't be surprised if you seriously consider it. 


Here are two videos taken at Chicken Run Rescue. The first is from Minnesota Public Radio and the second is shot by a Minneapolis based animal advocate. 

And apparently I'm just not that good at the internet, because I cannot for the life of me embed a Vimeo video on this blog. Yes, I tried the embed code. Anyway, click on this link here and it'll take you to the video. 

Coming soon: Photos and a re-cap of the VegKins tour of Chicken Run Rescue on July 21st. SPOILER ALERT: It will contain photos of adorable chickens and humans.