Amy Leinen spent about an hour prowling the residential streets of east St. Paul in last week’s frost, fishing net in hand.
She was trying to catch a chicken on the loose.
Sightings of this rogue rooster had been posted to a community Facebook page, where one commenter laid claim, writing that his mother had been hoping to use it in a Hmong ritual when it escaped.
It had been three days since the jailbreak, and it was getting cold outside. Leinen was just about to give up when she finally spotted the chicken in a backyard alley, scouring for food.
She crept up, captured it, and brought it to a foster home. Having cheated certain death, the chicken is now cohabitating and eating alongside a family of pet cats, and pooping on the hardwood floors. Leinen has no intention of reuniting her rescue, now named Tshua, with its original owners.
Leinen is a vegan and a volunteer with Chicken Run Rescue, a group that not only swears against eating chickens, but objects to the growing practice of raising urban hens for eggs. Instead, Chicken Run Rescue believes that chickens should only be kept as pets.
Earlier this year, Minneapolis relaxed some regulations for keeping chickens, allowing more people to install backyard coops. Like dogs and cats, some chickens invariably break free, says Caroline Hairfield, deputy director with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control.
There are times when 60 chickens will flood the city pound at once because an owner surrendered them, Hairfield says. Or they could be survivors of cockfighting busts. Some are strays found wandering the unforgiving streets solo.
“It happens. People call us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this strange chicken in my yard,’” Hairfield says. “It’s not a lot. It’s not like we’re chasing chickens all the time.”
Animal Control is supposed to euthanize birds they don’t have space to care for, but Hairfield says the city hasn’t had to do that for the past two and a half years. Chicken Run and other rescue partners always clear them out.
“There are several [chicken rescues] out there, that may have different views,” Hairfield says. “They do believe it can be ok to eat the eggs. [Animal Control] tries to stay in the middle. We don’t judge either way, as long as they’re humanely treated.”
This means in theory, no one in town is killing chickens: Minneapoils rules for chicken-keeping prohibit slaughtering the animals.
When Facebook learns of stray chickens before Animal Control does, Leinen and her fellow vegan volunteers will coordinate extractions. They’ll go hunting for them on their lunch breaks, or when they get off work, and the chicken’s settling down to roost for the night.
They’re trained in how to lure the birds with treats, how to hold them, and pack them in carriers bound for temporary sanctuaries.
“Some of the other foster chickens I’ve had were very snuggly,” Leinen says. “One chicken would watch me go into the kitchen, and if I opened the refrigerator door she would come running because she knew that’s where I kept her grapes. She’d jump up and down trying to get the grapes from the fridge. Chickens when they’re petted will purr. A lot of people don’t know that either.”