Captain Jones and me
This is a story about a girl and her rooster.
Captain Jones came to us last spring as a cockerel, just two weeks old, from a friend. We wanted a protector for our flock and to keep the girls from pecking each other. He was a Dominique, or Pilgrim Fowl, which is believed to be the oldest American breed of chicken. We named him after Christopher Jones, the master of the Mayflower. We are mariners, after all.
We spoiled the good Captain, hoping to raise a rooster who would save his aggression for others. He hung out in our kitchen, on our shoulders, on our heads. As he grew he looked like the hens for so long that we became convinced he was a she. Then, one day, he crowed. I learned, in that moment, what a euphoric sound that is.
Captain Jones injured his neck, face and eye in November pretty badly and we were convinced he was a goner, or at least had lost an eye. But a few days later he was back at it, eyes opened, and I marveled at the resilience of chickens. Captain Jones, the one-eyed chicken, back from the brink! Yet ten days later the eye showed signs of infection. A week of chicken first aid and he looked like a cyclops, so I broke down and called around for a vet. I found my way to Connecticut’s “chicken guru,” who agreed to help us via our new sheep vet, who we were meeting the next day.
Dr. Cara is a woman who wears Carhartts, nonchalantly scoops sheep poop off the barn floor with her bare hands, and asks me questions like “What came out of the wound? Was it an eye?” I hope to be her in my next life. But I digress. She let us capture the good Captain, who decided to give us a good run around the barn, and it’s only when I cradled him in my arms, and he cooed, that she examined him. That’s when I realized how nasty roosters can be. “He’s a nice little guy,” she said after a time, and gave us antibiotics.
Two weeks of treatment later and his eye was still as big as a golf ball. Dr. Cara asked me to drive him an hour north to her clinic, an outbuilding on her farm filled with skulls and specimens and tools. She took one look at him and said, “Oh. No. This is beyond us.” I saw in that moment that she, like me, is a scientist who hates not knowing. She sighed, turned to me, and said “So - how are the sheep?”
Dr. Cara and her partner began calling and texting their vet friends to find me an avian specialist who could do something without breaking the bank. They marveled over his eye and his cooing. Dr. Cara said to one, “…and he’s not an a**hole. He’s a nice rooster!” To me she added, “If he was a jerk I would’ve told you to put him down two weeks ago!” It turns out Captain Jones was a charmer.
I was ready to give up when Dr. Cara called that night with a name. “Ask for Dr. T and tell the front desk ‘he’s seen the eye,’” she said. I drove an hour north to a new clinic. The doc recommended lancing the infection. At that point I was committed, so I drove two hours to have my rooster admitted to surgery, and two hours again to pick him up. Dr. T found that it was not an abscess but a fungal infection or cancer. So we had a compound pharmacy make a treatment for the fungus. Again – I was committed.
Why was I doing this? Those who know me know I have no spare time - certainly none for rooster surgery. And I leave my flock of laying hens every night and go straight to my kitchen to make chicken for dinner. Why try to save this chicken? I wondered about this on all those hour-long drives. I told myself he was valuable to our farm business. He was a protector. He would father chicks. And we wanted to learn - what would we gain by just putting a bullet in his head?
But it was more than that. It was the week before Christmas. I faced a lonely holiday. I can’t cure my mom’s cancer - I can’t even give her a hug, right now. I can’t stop COVID. I can’t even make people wear masks. And I certainly can’t heal the partisan divide that has fractured our nation. But – perhaps I could solve this one, cooing, 3-pound problem. I could show kindness and respect to those in my care. After all, they - we – are all God’s creatures.
We later learned that Captain Jones was reaching the end of his road. So we fed the good roo meal worms and cracked corn and gave him cuddles and listened to his cooing. I made my last (the sixth) hour-long drive today, this time to the UConn Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab, where Captain Jones makes his last stand. Perhaps we can all finally learn what ailed him.
Tonight, please join me in raising a glass to Captain Jones, the one-eyed rooster! – and to the chances we have to show kindness and respect to all creatures great and small, even the most unlikely among them. Oh Captain, my Captain.
With sincere gratitude and respect for all who have helped us on this adventure, including the Gaines family who gave him to us, three different CT/RI veterinary practices, and the avian necropsy folks at UConn.