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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Once at a neighborhood party a discussion arose about the relative merits of cats and dogs. Though owning a dog at the time I stated that dogs were the dumbest animals on Earth. Dogs will growl and bark whenever you pass by even if they see every day, since they apparently never learn who you are. Further I maintained that even a chicken was smarter for though dogs can be trained to do silly things like roll over and beg, can they learn to do something useful like lay an egg? Everybody laughed, though one of the guys who had gone to UCONN said that his roommate who was an animal husbandry major had kept a pig as a pet in their room and pigs were very smart while chickens were stupid, but I maintained I’d be willing to bet that a chicken could be taught to do a trick if it so desired.
The conversation and the party ended but the following Saturday morning my doorbell rang and who should be outside but two of the party attendees holding a shoebox, and in the box much to my surprise was a tiny yellow chick, the cutest darn thing you ever saw. Thrusting it forward they said “here wise guy, let’s see you teach it a stunt if you and it are so smart,” and gave me three months to do it in.
They had gone to a local hatchery in the town where we lived and bought a newborn Plymouth Rock chicken that would grow to full size within six weeks, so 12 weeks should have been more than enough time to teach it something. I had always thought that raising a pet chicken would be fun and my wife who was standing at the door and listening said “sure, why not, but it’s gotta be in a cage.” Delighted, I ran to a building supply store to purchase the necessary wood and chicken wire for a coop big enough to keep the hen happy, and also bought the recommended chicken feed from the hatchery so the chick would be healthy and content.
While the thing was still in the shoebox it made a peeping sound like “chee chee” and since a pro golfer at that time was named Chi-Chi Rodriguez, we named it Chi-Chi. We kept the cage in a spare room and spread lots of paper around since a chicken, whether intelligent or not, is a very messy eater. It was late summer so we’d often let it loose in the back yard and my kids and their friends would play with it every chance they got. Even our dog quickly got used to it so Chi-Chi the Chicken was one of the family. It obviously felt comfortable and secure since it rapidly grew and never tried to get away, letting us pick it up whenever we wanted. Of course some wisecracking neighbors would stop by on occasion to see if she had learned anything yet, but all I ever said was “just wait three months.”
A party was arranged at a neighbor’s house when the time to show off arrived, and in I proudly walked with Chi-Chi under one arm and a platform-like table under the other, something I had made for Chi-Chi’s performance. To my shock the house was packed with people from blocks away, for it seems the story had spread far and wide and everyone came to see me make a fool of myself with my stupid chicken. Putting the table down I gently stroked Chi-Chi’s head to keep her calm while cooing softly, but she didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the crowd.
After a little while of showing Chi-Chi off and satisfying people’s curiosity, an area was cleared for the table and as a hush fell over the room I put Chi-Chi on her stage. I held her motionless while softly saying “stay, staaaay” and ever so slowly released her while quietly backing away. Chi-Chi the Chicken didn’t move a feather as I began circling around and after 30 seconds or so of her astounding performance I picked her up and kissed her little head. You could have heard a pin drop during the entire time, but then someone starting clapping and everyone followed suit. Chi-Chi was the hit of the night and of course I was hailed by one and all as a magician. Ta, dah!
Not to leave you hanging as to how the feat was accomplished, what my smug neighbors didn’t know but I did was that if a chicken is placed with its beak touching a straight vertical line, it becomes sort of hypnotized and will remain in that position for up to a minute. The platform that I had made wasn’t really a stage but rather a ruse, for it had on it the straight line that was required. When I put Chi-Chi down I had held her motionless with her beak to the line, and my chanting “stay, staaaay” was only theatrics. I hadn’t taught her anything and Chi-Chi the Chicken, though considered a genius was in reality no more talented than any of its breed, and no longer cute either.
Of course I brought Chi-Chi back to the hatchery where I hoped she’d lay eggs for many years to come, and if there’s a chicken heaven perhaps she’s now producing eggs for the angels as well.