It never gets easier to let a loved animal friend go (to be euthanised) no matter how many times your heart has been through the loss. Today I held little Soleil in my hand while the vet euthanised her. The thoughts that run through your mind as to all the things you can do to save her, give her a good life, keep her with you can be overwhelming and almost believable, if you let them be so. But then the reality of the quality of their life stares you in the face. Do you choose loving the animal so much that you think that’s enough and give them the best life you can or do you choose to love them enough to feel what their life would be like, for them, and let them go, if it’s right to do so. And who says it’s right or wrong? Only you know. I can only tell you my feelings about it hoping it may give you some comfort if you are not sure what to do.

Soleil is a white Leghorn chick and was just 5 days old when she was brought to me by a distraught Mother Clucker (hen parent) who had been trying very hard since Soleil hatched, to fix her spraddled legs. She asked for my help. While my work is with mature chooks, I felt compelled to help. I worked intensively over the next 7 days, with this teeny little nearly feathered bundle of energy; splinting her badly spraddled legs and curly toes; giving her physical therapy; protein & vitamin rich chickie food and water. She was strong, vibrant, vocal, and wanted to be near me always, preferring to sleep in my bra (while it was on me!). She wanted to get running around but could not stand on her legs or feet, at all and it was clearly frustrating her.

Chickens are very social animals; they need social interaction and as chicks they are constantly chirping to let their mum know they are nearby while they learn all there is to know about being a chook. Soleil thought of me as her mum so if I didn’t answer her enough, she’d chirp distressingly until I responded to her, then she’d chirp softly again. When I’d sing to her, she would purr. That melted my heart.

I thought she might prefer a hen to be near her, so I put her next to Ellen, one of my older hens. Soleil instantly buried herself under Ellen’s wings and stayed there, chirping so softly, for a long time. Every time I went to take her out, she’d protest and bury herself deeper under Ellen’s body. I might be a substitute parent but I’m not enough. I don’t have feathers; I don’t have the innate talent to coo and purr like a mother hen does. I’m not able to teach her how to be a hen. I was not enough for Soleil to be truly happy. I could pretend I was enough, because she needed me and called for me, but when you sit quietly with any animal, empty your mind and just be in their presence, you get a feeling, of how they feel. That is them talking to you and we need to listen to the subtle signs they give us. The subtle signs that we often don’t listen to because we just love them so much and want them to stay with us for as long as they can.

After 7 days of intense therapy, nothing had improved which indicated this was more than spraddle leg (which usually will improve after 2 to 5 days of the work I’d been doing with her). I took her to the vet for a second opinion. The vet confirmed that her legs were badly deformed and her feet non-responsive so she would never walk. She would never be any better than this.

On the way to the vet, I imagined how she could live with me if her legs weren’t to work at all. Unlike humans, hens need their legs to live a normal, social life with a flock or even one other hen friend. They scratch, walk, roost, dust bath, with their legs and feet. They move up to a roost, into a nesting box, into the shade and into the sun. They move to where they eat and where they contemplate their day, all with their feathered friends. They are social beings and need to socialise with their own kind, even just one of their kind, to be with, every day. A hen that cannot do these things will be outcast from the flock, so there would be no socialising for a hen that cannot walk. That’s not a good or happy life for a hen. Being a house hen, with me, no other hen friends, never able to live a hen’s life. I would not do that to her. Her legs were beyond help, so no wheelchair or artificial legs would allow her to push a chair or walk – not that I’d go that way anyway. Hens would still outcast a hen that’s different or appearing weak and their social connection is probably the most important part of a hen’s life. I know there are exceptions so no judgement on anyone that decides to go down that path. Like I said in the beginning, only YOU know.

This I know to be true, for me. I love my animal friends so much that I would do anything I can to help them. I love my animal friends so much that I know the most important thing to do is to feel what they would want, what is best for them, not what is best for me. There is a wide chasm of difference between the two. What is truly best for Soleil V what I want. For Soleil, I decided to let her go. So, in my hand, the vet gave her the same dignified passing as any loved animal receives. She passed quietly, softly, while I sent her love.

Bursting into tears when I got into the car with Soleil and Nahla (my dog friend who goes nearly everywhere with me), I called my sister for some comfort. I have buried Soleil in my garden right next to Narelle, my adventurous Australorp hen who passed some months ago. They share the same tombstone, a sweet little girl talking to her hen friend.

If you are going through the agony of knowing what the right thing is to do, I have 5 tips:

1) Don’t let other people tell you what to do. You are the one that loves your animal friend. You are the one that needs to take responsibility for their future. You are the best one to decide what is best for them.

2) Consider all possibilities to help your animal friend. There may be remedies out there you don’t know about. Research, ask, try things. I’ve learnt a lot about saving hens from all sorts of illnesses by researching and trying. Some work, some don’t. You give it your best shot while you feel your animal friend wants to keep trying too.

2) Sit quietly with your loved animal friend, stop thinking and just feel. Then when you feel your mind is truly quiet, ask them what they want. If you catch your mind jumping in with answers, then that’s you. Take ‘you’ out of this. Feel what they want. Watch their eyes, their movements, their actions and feel their feelings. Go back to this quiet time with your animal friend, each time their symptoms get worse or better. They can tell you so much about how they feel if you are ready to listen.

3) If they are quietly telling you it’s enough, love them enough to do what you feel is best for them, for their quality of life, for their natural way of living. You’ll know. If you choose euthanasia, be with your animal friend to the end. Please do not leave your animal at the vet to be euthanised because you cannot bear the hurt. You must bear it, your animal friend needs to feel you there with them as they pass. This time you are there for them completely. Soothe them, talk to them, let them know it’s all ok.

4) Afterwards, talk to a friend who understands you and your love for your animals. Allow them to comfort you. Cry, miss them, love them. Go back to those quiet moments where you stop thinking and when you are quiet, in your mind, talk to your passed animal friend. Check in with them from time to time if you feel the need to. Energy is love and love is energy. It’s all around us.

Our animals have so much to teach us if we’d only listen. Sending you hugs for any heart ache you are feeling about your loved animal friends. xxJ