grace. ɡrās/ n. the exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another.
When Grace, the rescue chicken, first arrived at Luvin Arms around New Year’s Eve in 2018, she was very sick.
The team at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary had just saved over 600 chickens from a bankrupt “humane/free-range” Colorado farm where tens of thousands of birds were dying or already dead. These sweet birds had been left in the peak of winter without water, food, or heat. They huddled together just to stay alive in the cold.
This was the Sanctuary’s largest rescue to date. The Luvin Arms crew worked with an incredible network of compassionate people to find every rescued bird a forever home. Grace, along with eight other chickens, remained at Luvin Arms.
All of our new animal residents are required to undergo an initial quarantine period in order to prevent any possible communicable diseases from spreading into the rest of the Sanctuary. Because the conditions of the free-range farm were so deplorable, Grace and her friends required around-the-clock medical attention. Adorned in hazmat suits, a faithful team of Luvin Arms staff and volunteers sought to rehabilitate Grace and her flock while they were in strict isolation.
Grace survived the trauma of her former life. We now affectionately call her Gracie, an endearing nickname that emerged as she transformed while living at Luvin Arms. When her health improved and she began to thrive, Gracie became more and more inquisitive and confident. Today, she is extremely enthusiastic and never shies away from meeting new people.
In fact, Gracie’s shining personality made her the perfect Luvin Arms Animal Ambassador for her species. This is an important and far-reaching assignment for Gracie; she represents all the chickens in the world who do not live free and happy like she does. They need Gracie to “speak” for them.
Gracie was one of our first animal residents enrolled in the Luvin Arms Enrichment Program. She is our clicker play superstar! Clicker play fosters a common language between humans and animals by rewarding cooperative behaviors with positive reinforcement (treats!). Gracie works regularly with her clicker play companion, Cheryl. They have even been featured in videos and films together.
During many Sanctuary tours, out comes Gracie to demonstrate her expertise. Children and adults alike are amazed by her skills. A chicken can be taught to distinguish colors, spin in a circle, and ring a bell? You bet! Gracie changes minds and hearts about chickens, showing people that birds are sentient beings capable of so much when given the opportunity to thrive.
According to Dr. Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, “chickens are behaviorally sophisticated…learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.”
Participating in Luvin Arms’ unique enrichment program gives Gracie the opportunity to exercise her cognitive functions—something we all need in order to flourish in life.
And Gracie is not done learning. She keeps working on new skills. When she is concentrating on a new behavior, she turns her head to the side and becomes quite talkative. Once completing a new task correctly, the excitement is evident in both her and her clicker play buddy—especially if watermelon is the reward!
Several months ago, the contagious avian flu began rapidly sweeping across the country. This new virus is so deadly that when one chicken shows signs of the disease, government mandates require that the entire flock be exterminated to prevent spread. More than 77 million birds have been killed to date, using the most inhumane techniques.
The Sanctuary quickly moved into action to protect our precious flock. Just like dealing with other infectious diseases, the presence of this new virus required immediate, intense, and severe action on the Sanctuary’s part.
Up until recently, the Sanctuary has been under a strict lockdown for all our birds, including Gracie. Cheryl, her clicker play companion, could no longer work with Gracie, let alone visit with her. Only a restricted number of staff could go into the chickens’ homes, completely covered head-to-foot in hazmat gowns. This time, extreme isolation procedures were put into place in order to protect Gracie and her friends from outside disease.
The avian flu lockdown was a lonely time for our bird community. Cheryl said this:
“Oh my goodness, I miss Gracie so much! I think about her every time I visit the Sanctuary. I wish I could at least go say hi. I’d love to see her little face when I call her name and she sprints to the door. I’m sure she’s very mad at me right now, thinking I abandoned her. But I know the care staff is doing such an amazing job taking care of all the birds, and I can’t wait until I can see her and play with her again soon. I’m sure she’ll be excited for a walk in the fresh spring grass.”
Her caregiver, Jolene, recently said: “She definitely misses her play time, getting special snacks, and attention!”
We hear from our enrichment program coordinator, Robert, that no skills have been lost during the lockdown: “She hasn’t missed a beat.” Gracie recalls all her skills, even with many weeks off! This is another amazing example of their sentience—chickens retain memories.
We all look forward to the day when Gracie will charm Sanctuary visitors once again with her incredible cognitive skills and confident personality.
Gracie continues changing minds and hearts, one person at a time.
Here’s a video featuring our Gracie!
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