Last March, five of us left Reno, Nevada with several horses and hounds from five different western hunts to drive four days to reach North Carolina to compete in the Performance Hound Trials Championships. The first night we stopped in Las Vegas, as Vegas is actually an 8-hour drive from Reno. We had booked a horse hotel for all the horses, and the hounds would stay in the trailer on the property. The horse hotel was less than a mile from the strip, which was a bit surreal to think about.
As we drove up to the horse hotel, there were multiple signs that said, “DON’T CHASE THE DUCKS”. These signs were everywhere, a foreboding warning that implied to all visitors: don’t look at the ducks, don’t speak to the ducks, don’t acknowledge the ducks in any way. Okay, these ducks are special. We got the message.
The ducks, as it turned out, were a free-ranging little flock of fat, domesticated ducks that kept getting in the way. They insisted on walking in front of each horse as they were unloaded from the trailer and moved excruciatingly slowly while doing so.
I was talking with the horse hotel’s owner by a shade tree as the horses were settled into outdoor stalls. I happened to glance over the lady’s shoulder to see Grace, Angela’s black poodle, walk towards me. Grace had been darting about, having jumped out of the open window of the parked truck. The lady knew that Grace was loose amongst these precious ducks, but she never said anything about putting the loose poodle away.
I had no idea what I was chatting about with this lady because my eye kept getting pulled to look over her shoulder. I saw Grace approaching, but the poodle’s head looked odd. I kept looking, trying to figure out what was up with Grace’s strange head. Then it hit me as she got closer; Grace was dragging a black chicken in her mouth! The chicken was hanging upside down, with her head bouncing off the ground, and wasn’t moving or making any kind of protest.
It wasn’t the ducks that we needed to worry about, it was the damn chickens! Oh my god, they were so concerned about the ducks being chased, what was the owner going to think about a killed chicken?
My first instinct didn’t do me much credit, as my brain immediately went into covert mode in wanting to hide this recently murdered chicken. In the span of a few seconds, I concocted a plan to grab the carcass, hide it under my shirt, and then go behind the barn to find a likely place to hide the body. I blame a ghost of all those killed Vegas mafias for the bad influence on me.
Without warning, I put my hand out and pushed the lady behind me. Blocking the lady’s view of the carnage, I reached down as Grace walked right up to me with the chicken’s legs in her mouth and the head bouncing off the ground.
Grace dropped the unfortunate pile of feathers at my feet. Just then, Angela and Katy saw what had happened and started yelling at Grace. That made the owner look around me to see the chicken. There is no other way to say this - the lady went hysterical. She began yelling at me, “Just leave her! Just leave her! Don’t touch her! I know she’s dead! I know she’s dead!”
But the dead chicken was blinking up at me. I told the lady this, that the chicken might just be stunned, but the owner wouldn’t listen. She repeated her mantra, “She’s dead! She’s dead! I know she’s dead! Don’t touch her!” So, I stood up and backed away, holding up my hands to show that I wasn’t going to touch the maybe dead, somewhat alive chicken.
The lady picked up the chicken with its mortal coil in question and started to stroke the feathers as she cradled it like a baby. At first, the chicken could hold up its head fairly well, but very soon, it started to roll its head around as the eyes began to fall back into their sockets. Then, the chicken started to get little shivers and shakes, suspiciously like a death rattle.
It was during this display of fragile mortality that the owner wouldn’t stop talking about how the chicken was disabled. I kept looking at Angela, who by now had apologized as passionately as any owner of a poodle-turned-poultry-murderer can. Promises of crates of chicks to be delivered the next morning as repayment was offered over and over.
But the owner wouldn’t stop lamenting about how this chicken was disabled. And I thought, “Well, of course this chicken is disabled! Grace just dragged it upside down the entire length of the barn!” Angela paused in her promises of gilded feathered fowl to look at me and then at the owner. Angela interrupted the lady, “Wait – was the chicken disabled before or after my dog took it for a walk?”
“Oh no, I raised this chicken from an egg, and she was born with a deformed leg. Look.” The lady then held out this wreck of a chicken leg, which stuck out at a mangled angle incompatible with chicken walking.
That’s when I caught Katy’s eye, and we both had to swallow our giggles. I had to turn my back to the distraught disabled-chicken owner, knowing I was now going to hell. I kept thinking, poor Grace was just walking past this one-legged chicken, laying in a heap on the ground, as there is no way this hen could walk, and the poodle decided to pick her up as a show and tell. “Look what I found! A one-legged chicken!!” No one gave Grace the credit for completely ignoring all those ducks. Instead, unfortunately, she found the one fowl she shouldn’t have.
I couldn’t talk to this woman again because Katy and I were laughing uncontrollably. Every time I had gotten a hold of myself, I unwisely glanced at Katy. We devolved into hitting each other repeatedly to get the other to stop laughing, to no avail. Angela repeatedly gave both of us the evil eye, and out of the corner of her mouth she kept threatening, “Both of you shut up before she calls the cops and kicks us out!” This was not my finest moment.
Fortunately for Angela, the overnight bill had already been paid before Grace had fatally molested the disabled chicken.
During this tragedy, Grace had been shuttled back into the truck. But no one realized that the window was still open. Grace made her second entrance a few minutes later, now covered in shavings from the shed that held a large mound of bedding. An important back story on Grace is that her favorite thing back home was to bury her killed squirrels in the shavings of the horse stalls.
Upon seeing the dusty poodle, we went into a panic. “Oh god, what has Grace buried in the shavings? Wait, WHERE ARE THE DUCKS?”
Angela knocked the incriminating evidence off Grace before the owner could spy her. We said our goodbyes as quickly as we could, but only after Angela groveled some more and offered even more crates of able-bodied chickens to the owner. We wisely left for our hotel as quickly as possible.
We didn’t see the lady the next morning, as we felt it prudent to leave pre-dawn. As we drove down the interstate towards our next stop in Santa Fe, we were passed by 20-30 police cars heading towards Vegas with their lights flashing.
Holy Crap – they found what Grace had hidden in the shavings! It had to be one of the ducks to warrant that many cop cars.
Renee photoshopped a mug shot for Grace, and for the rest of the trip, if we saw anything chicken related, we dissolved into giggles. Well, all except for Angela. She cussed us repeatedly with, “This is not funny!” The rest of us heartily disagreed.
Any future cross-country trips will require a new horse hotel for us to stay, as we will never be able to go back to that fowl-loving place again. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but Grace’s disabled chicken infamy is too large for even Vegas to contain.
Originally Published on June 18, 2023: