A noisy ruckus coming from the chicken pen interrupted my morning coffee and solitude. From the noise, I was sure a predator had invaded the small pen behind the house. I put down my mug and stepped back inside to retrieve my varmint gun, a 22.-caliber rifle I kept for these occasions.
When I rounded the corner, I could see all dozen hens flogging and fussing at the corner where the wire pen met the wooden wall of the henhouse. I couldn’t see anything but chickens and feathers, but it was pretty clear they had something cornered and were intent on running it out of their space.
I stepped closer and tried to see what had them so stirred up.
“What have y’all found?” I always speak aloud to my animals, though I don’t actually expect them to answer me. I’m not crazy. But I’m alone so much, and don’t want to completely forget how to talk.
My mind was thinking snake, so I walked around to the side of the henhouse on the outside of the fence. I held the rifle at my side, looking to see if I had a good shot. I didn’t want to accidentally shoot one of my hens, but I had no qualms about shooting an egg-stealing chicken snake.
But when I got to the corner, between the flopping chickens, I caught a glimpse of black fur.
“Oh, that’s not a snake. What is that?”
Could it be a skunk? If so, as small as it appeared, it was still a baby, which would explain why it hadn’t sprayed the hens.
Before I could decide what to do next, the tiny fur ball turned and looked at me with pleading eyes. That was no skunk. It was a tiny puppy.
I hurried around to the gate, careful to lean the rifle securely against the post, and grabbed a scoop of corn. As I came through the gate, I began tossing corn onto the ground.
“Here, chick, chick, chick. Come on.”
Most of the hens abandoned the attack and rushed to the corn. Two fat hens continued to bat their wings, shriek, and dart at the tiny ball of fur huddling in the corner. The puppy hadn’t moved; it cowered with eyes squeezed shut as the hens threatened. I approached carefully, not wanting to catch a beak or claw. Shooing the hens away, I bent and reached for the trembling pup.
Mud, feathers, and debris matted the fuzzy black fur. I nestled the shaking creature against my chest, and it gave a whimper. I cooed softly as I carried it back through the throng of hens, who were still cackling their disapproval.
“Where did you come from? And how did you get in there with those biddies? I bet you’re regretting that now, aren’t you?” I rattled on, my voice having the desired effect, as I felt the slight body stop trembling and snuggle closer to me.
I cradled the pup with one hand, latched the gate, and picked up the rifle. Entering through the back door, I returned the rifle to its rack, then grabbed a towel and wiped the puppy’s fur. I checked for injuries, but found none.
“What am I going to do with you?” I asked, settling the pup into a shoebox with a scrap of blanket.
After I washed up, I fixed my usual breakfast of eggs and sausage. I saved a few bites, but had to wake the puppy to share it. Belly full, it went right back to sleep.
I was curious where the little thing could have come from. My closest neighbor was a quarter mile away, but I called them anyway.
“Hi, Joan. It’s Cal. You guys don’t happen to be missing a pup, do you?”
“No. All we have is the one old hound, and he doesn’t get off the porch much these days,” Joan replied.
“Well, I’ve found one. Somehow got inside my chicken pen, and the hens about scared it senseless.”
“Oh, no. Did it hurt any of your chickens?”
I laughed. “No, I was more worried about them hurting it. It’s tiny. Small enough to fit in my soup bowl.”
“My goodness,” Joan said. “Do you think someone dumped it?”
“Almost certainly. I’ll call the rest of the folks on the road, but it looks like I may have a new dog.”
“Well, maybe you needed one.” Joan hung up, leaving me chuckling.
I picked up the puppy and carried it out to the grass beside the porch. “No, I certainly don’t need a puppy.”
But then those inky black eyes stared into mine, and I thought maybe I do. “I think I’ll name you Surprise.”
From that moment on, Surprise followed me everywhere her tiny legs could get her. And if I got somewhere she couldn’t, like the couch or the bed, she whined and whimpered until I gave in and helped her up. She could be quite convincing.
Twelve years later, that black ball of fur still runs around the house and yard, though not as fast as she once did. She barks at squirrels and naps in the sun on the porch. And she keeps a healthy distance away from the pen.
It’s hard to remember what this place was like before Surprise came along. I often wonder, who rescued who?