The story you’re about to hear is true.
After spending the day cooped up in a hotel conference room in a New England state-capital town, I decided to revive myself with a walk through the historic neighborhoods to enjoy the architecture and gardens. In the dooryard (yeah, they actually call the side yard a dooryard) of a stately Federal-style residence, I stopped to admire the craftsmanship of a post-and-beam garden shed.
That’s when I noticed two Rhode Island Reds and a third hen, the variety of which was unknown to me. Two were pecking the soil for bugs while the third stood watch from the ramp of the front door to their movable hen house—itself in the Federal style in colors matching the house.
As I admired the carpentry and the hens, I got the dust scared off me by two ferocious dogs that darted out of the open gate of the house three doors down and made right for me. One dog, I was sure, was going to take a bite out of my leg. “They won’t hurt you,” a gentleman walking toward me said. I wasn’t so sure, especially given the teeth and growl directed my way.
“It’s those chickens they’re after,” the neighbor said. “I hate those things. Don’t understand why they’re allowed to have chickens in town. It’s a nuisance.” This, coming from the guy whose dogs were eyeing me for supper, growling and drooling like Pavlov’s puppies over a T-bone.
That’s when the lady who owned the chickens sidled up, briefcase in hand, apparently returning from the office. “Can I help you,” she asked, momentarily confused that I might be accompanying the other guy—her nemesis, I suspected.
“I was just admiring the chicken house,” I said.
“Those chickens drive my dogs crazy,” the guy said.
“Your dogs are not exactly a sedative for my hens,” the lady said.
“If you want to raise farm animals, you should live on a farm.”
“What’s the difference between your dogs and my chickens?”
“What’s the difference? Everyone knows the difference!”
“Your dogs are loud and they stink. And I’ve never once complained. Not to you or the police. Not once.” She was almost foaming like the dogs at this point.
“Who could complain about a dog?”
I tried to quietly back down the street, feeling the hotel happy hour beckoning.
“At least my chickens provide food,” she shouted.
“My dogs were here first!”
“Healthy food,” she continued without acknowledging his remark. “These eggs actually lower your cholesterol. It’s the Omega-3. And they taste great. Like real food!”
“Well, I wouldn’t know! No one has ever offered me one,” he almost shouted. “Not one egg!”
Ah . . . not a single egg.
Without missing a beat, the lady’s tone shifted as she dropped the intensity. “How inconsiderate of me,” she said. “I apologize.”
They eyed each other.
“Come. I’ll show you,” she said. “Leave the dogs.”
I invited myself for the tour of the hen house, and listened as the neighbor talked about the eggs his grandmother raised, and how he hadn’t had one like that in years, and oh boy, look how big that one is!
It was clear that these two neighbors hadn’t shared a dozen words before. Now they had found something to chat about.
I don’t know whether these two ever became friends, but as I left the man was on his way home with a few dark brown eggs and a smile on his face.
I was reminded of the Dog And Egg Walk when I read about the proposed backyard hen ordinance in Berryville. And I’m reminded that we can’t legislate good neighborly relations. We can only aspire to be good neighbors.
Really, what is the difference between a house with three dogs and a house with three hens? Domestic dogs and fowl are among the first domesticated animals. They’ve been living with us some 10,000 years.
The question is, when will we learn to live with each other?