The demise of Slasher, by Martin Gurdon
It is the end of an era. After a decade of happy garden activity we have had to say goodbye to Slasher the Araucana. This wonderful bird, who had been a fixture of mine and Jane’s lives since 2007, contracted a throat condition called Tricomoniasis at the start of the year, which medication was keeping in check but not curing. We made numerous trips to the vet and the prognosis had shifted from upbeat to cautious. We were told that if the problem couldn’t be cured it would lead to an unpleasant, lingering end because Slasher wouldn’t be able to eat and drink properly and would waste away.
So, when she and I headed to the vet for her umpteenth check up, I feared the worst.
“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” said the vet, as the bird stood on the examination table and gave me a dirty look from under her floppy comb.
I signed the usual grim form and waited in reception to pick up the box containing Slasher. Quite often when our birds are professionally dispatched I pay a little extra so that they don’t have to make the sad journey home, but Slasher had been such a big part of our garden lives that I felt differently.
Ironically, she was otherwise in good health. At the tail end of winter she had suffered a condition called wry neck, which has stroke-like symptoms and meant a twisted head and, for 24 hours, an inability to stand and walk, but a few days of R&R had seen her bounce back and she was quickly patrolling the garden and showing everyone else who was boss. She had gained weight and, after several years of retirement, had even begun to lay the occasional egg
Catching her for the last time had involved the bird launching herself at my head and flying over my shoulder. I had eventually run her to earth using a fishing net on an extendable pole, and she had thrashed about and cursed loudly when finding herself under the mesh.
We keep animals for all sorts of reasons. Our chickens are pets, but the bottom line is that they have led happy lives with us and looking after them has sometimes meant making tough decisions. It seemed strange to dispatch an animal who was still such a force of nature, but Slasher had had a fantastic time followed by a speedy, painless exit. I knew this was the right thing to do, but having dug a hole and shoed away the other birds (this happened before the fox attack), I picked up the old towel in which Slasher was wrapped, found that it was warm and was genuinely moved.
ABOVE: Remembering Slasher, who remained a force of nature right to the end