I have no words for how weird this is, but the following actually happened today.
At about 4:00, I decided to go out for a walk and do a few errands—you know, check the post office box, pick up a light bulb at the hardware store, buy some cat litter, that sort of thing. It was a lovely afternoon and this was going to be a very ordinary, refreshing walk. So I walked out the door, down to the end of the block and around the corner, and there on the sidewalk, scratching around in the dirt next to a small tree, were two chickens. They seemed perfectly happy and quite at home on the sidewalk in what is normally a pretty quiet residential neighborhood of San Francisco. They weren’t causing any particular trouble as far as I could tell, and they were friendly enough. But they were, I mean, chickens.
I have been to many places where it would not seem at all unusual to see a chicken on the sidewalk. A farming town in the midwest, say, or a small village in Costa Rica. But in San Francisco, where you can find anything—anything—on the street, I have never, ever seen a live chicken, to say nothing of two live chickens. And I simply had no idea what one was supposed to do upon encountering such animals that clearly did not belong there.
Perhaps, I thought, these chickens, which were not yet fully grown, belonged to the elementary school across the street. I saw two young children in front of the school with their father, and I asked them if they had any idea who the chickens belonged to. They did not. And none of us knew what the protocol was for dealing with an unexpected chicken discovery in San Francisco.
One option, of course, would have been to carry on with my walk; this is, I’m quite certain, what the majority of San Franciscans would do. I had an ethical problem with that course of action, however: nearby dogs were expressing a profound interest in the chickens, and had the birds chosen to escape by crossing the proverbial road, they would undoubtedly have been run over by an SUV. But what am I going to do, take the chickens home, keep them in my bathtub, and put up “Found: Chickens” posters all over town?
I called my wife. She suggested I call Animal Care and Control. So I did. They did not seem especially surprised to hear that there were feral chickens gallivanting about Glen Park, and assured me they would dispatch someone to fetch them. How long, I asked—should I wait? No, they said, there were at the moment only two officers attending to the animal control needs of the entire city, and it could be a while. I said that by that time, the chickens could have wandered anywhere. So they said perhaps I could put them in a box and bring them on in to the shelter myself. Ermmm. OK.
I enlisted the aid of the children, who were still standing there gawking at the chickens, to watch them for a few minutes while I went back around to corner to get a box. On my way, I called City CarShare to reserve a car; conveniently, one was available just a few blocks away.
This left only the small matter of rounding up the chickens, which had by this time gone their separate ways, and putting them into the box. I had never, before today, had the pleasure of chasing down and apprehending a chicken. This was considerably more challenging than I had imagined. For being small and practically brainless, they’re surprisingly fast, and they also have the annoying ability to levitate out of the way right when your hand comes in for the catch. And of course, I’m trying not only to chase down the chickens, but to do so in such a way as to prevent them from running out into the traffic when trying to evade me. That was an extremely interesting experience. I eventually succeeded.
So off we went to the animal shelter, the poor chickens cheeping nervously the whole way. The woman I met at the front counter of the shelter was not remotely fazed by my delivery. I got the distinct impression that nothing short of a unicorn would raise an eyebrow there. I handed over the chickens, gave my name and contact info, and that was that.
I don’t know what fate will befall the chickens. The woman at the shelter opined that they may have escaped from a coop in someone’s back yard. They were very, very scruffy, so if they had been pets, they were not at all well cared for. Perhaps someone will call to inquire after their missing chickens, or perhaps they will be euthanized. I’d be sorry for that to happen, but not sorry enough to adopt them myself. I don’t think my landlord would cotton to the idea, and I doubt they’d get along too well with my cat. But in any event, I saved the chickens from an immediate fate of death by canine or car, and I can now add “chicken rescuer” to the many other job titles on my résumé.