A rooster in a wheelchair shows us that a little love and kindness goes a long way.
You remember the nursery rhymes: The cow goes moo, the pig goes oink and the rooster goes cock-a-doodle-doo. The rooster at the Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. (SALI) farm sanctuary in Surrey, British Columbia, does crow in the morning. But that’s the only ordinary thing about this extraordinary bird.
One day in June 2015, a call came in to SALI from a local farm about two female chicks with severely deformed legs who were scheduled to be euthanized. They would be of no use to the farmer, like male chicks, who are immediately killed because they can’t produce eggs. Fortunately for the disabled chicks, the farmer’s children pleaded that he find them a good home.
The folks at SALI named the plucky pair Thelma and Louise, after the heroines in the 1991 movie of the same name. Thelma unfortunately succumbed to severe health problems, but Louise prospered. And she had a surprise for her rescuers: As she grew, she developed the colors, morning crow and bright red comb of a rooster!
Discovering Louise was a he didn’t prompt a name change, though. “The fact that he was mistaken for a female saved his life,” SALI founder Keryn Denroche says, “so we thought he deserved to keep the name.” Denroche realized that Louise’s challenges made him perfect for SALI, where at-risk children help care for—and learn from—rescued farm animals.
Denroche started SALI’s farm in 2008 after taking a course on how animal cruelty is often inflicted by people who have been subjected to violence themselves. She has adopted animals that are unwanted because of their sex (male goats), disabilities (lame horses) or overpopulation (rabbits and cats).
The kids who visit the farm range in age from three to 11 and have, in their young lives, faced abuse, neglect and abandonment. “Like the animals, they feel unwanted,” Denroche says. Spending time with Louise and his companions teaches empathy, kindness and responsibility. “They heal one another,” she adds. “A lot of times we’ll hear from a child’s caretaker, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen him smile.’”
Louise plays a big part in helping the kids build confidence and self-esteem. A young girl with a new prosthetic leg visited the farm and instantly bonded with the rooster, who had just been fitted with a custom-built avian wheelchair. As Denroche puts it, “Nothing says ‘anything is possible’ to the children more than a rooster in a wheelchair.”
Louise doesn’t have the typical aggressive rooster temperament, Denroche says. Instead, he is gentle and adores people. Louise’s enthusiasm as he runs up to greet visitors shows that all animals have the ability to connect with others. This one little rooster is spreading a profound message: “Any creature that receives love and kindness is going to respond in a good way,” Denroche says. “Once it experiences that compassion, it’s open to giving it back.” And that’s certainly something to crow about.
Want to help Louise? Go to sali.ca to donate toward his granola breakfast, pine-shavings bed, veterinary costs or chicken coop makeover.
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