Playing Chicken with a Dachshund

During our day in Key West a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of something I’d forgotten about.  Key West is overrun with chickens.  Their ancestors were brought to the island by Cubans fleeing their country in the late 1800s.  Originally used for cockfighting, the birds are now protected by law because Key West declared itself a bird sanctuary without thinking about the fact that their gypsy chickens officially fall under the category of “bird.”  In addition, the law prohibits chicken cruelty and defines cruelty to the animals as “luring, enticing, seizing, molesting or teasing.”

In other words, chickens are kind of at the top of the pecking order in Key West.  They’re running rampant, and locals complain that they’re bothering the tourists because a early morning rooster crow is especially troublesome to someone who crawled Duval the night before.

The city is debating what to do.  In the past, a guy named Barber Parra was given the job of being the official Key West chicken catcher.  The chickens he caught were supposed to be relocated to a retirement farm near Miami. But when it was discovered that he was a closet chicken fighter, chicken activists were outraged and claimed that he was selling the chickens to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  He lost the job, and the chicken population has continued to climb.

I’ve thought about Key West and their chicken troubles, and I believe I can offer a solution.  It’s dachshunds.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  those dogs will eat anything.  I’ve watched mine eat raisins, grapefruit, and paper towels.   I once ordered sweet potato pancake mix online.  They intercepted the UPS package and ate the mix, then lay around the yard bloated and unable to move.

Since dachshunds couldn’t be prosecuted for molesting a chicken, Key West could put a few of the little scavengers on chicken duty, and within a few months, the chicken population would be under control. I know dachshunds are capable of catching and eating a chicken because when I was a kid, I had one who did.

We lived on five acres, and my dachshund, Hans, ran free on our property along with my brother’s English springer spaniel, a beautiful liver-spotted guy named Champ.  They were good dogs who stuck pretty close to home.  At least, we believed that until a neighbor knocked on the door to say she had caught our dogs killing her prize-winning chickens.

That’s impossible, my father said, because the chickens were in a coop.

The woman explained that she had watched the little dachshund run toward the coop barking.  The frightened, squawking chickens flew into the air, and one landed on the wrong side of the coop.  Champ chased it down, killed it, and, she said, the two were gnawing on it as they spoke.

Fifty dollars was what the woman claimed her blue-ribbon chicken was worth.  My dad paid her for the bird, and we kids were told to make sure the dogs stayed in our yard.

When it happened a second time, my dad was ready.  He paid the woman for her bird, then cut the carcass in half and tied half of the dead chicken to each dog.  He’d been told by an old farmer that was the way to break a dog of killing anything because even a dog can’t stand the stench of a rotting carcass.

It worked for Champ, who was properly ashamed and forever broken of the habit.  He practically had tears in his eyes as he silently begged to have the hideous carcass removed from around his neck.  Hans, however, was thrilled.  He had what Ernest Hemingway, a famous former Key West resident, would have called A Moveable Feast.  Hans lay in the sun gnawing on the rotting chicken for a couple of days.  And when the carcass was consumed, he went alone to try his paw at chicken rustling.

Dachshunds, you see, are nonconformists.  They’re as stubborn as they are hungry.  Of course, little Hans successfully got a third chicken.  My dad then gave him to a nice family who promised Hans would be an indoor dog.  He spent the rest of his life eating dry dogfood and dreaming of chicken.

And Laverne and Shirley, having heard of a magical land where there are three chickens for every dog in town, are now trying to figure out how to hitch a ride to Key West.

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