How the Hen House Turns: Chickens, Dogs and Retirement

How the Hen House Turns:
Chickens, Dogs and Retirement
By Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

In retirement communities, residents are usually encouraged to have pets, but they must weigh no more than 25 pounds. Guinea pigs and chinchillas are nice, friendly choices. They don’t have to be walked, nor let out like cats, but they do add to one’s housekeeping chores.

Gwendolyn, my Americauna hen, weighed less than 25 pounds, and our kind director said I could bring her here to California. However, a little thoughtful consideration made me realize she would have to be caged–not a happy option for a bird that would love nothing better than to wander and scratch and dig through straw, scattering it all over groomed lawns or carpets.

Gwen would require a huge fence to keep her safe from local coyotes, and to keep the other residents’ gardens safe from her. So I will have to be content with being a volunteer at Hidden Villa Ranch, just up the hill in Los Altos–someday, if the calendar clears up a bit.

The answer here for several residents is the designer dog. They do have to be walked, but the trails are handy and walking exercise is a recommended activity. Dachshunds are a nice choice. They seem to adapt well to community living. They are quiet and patient when leashed near the dining hall.

Favorite options are the miniature poodle mixes called Shihpoo or Cockapoo. The Cockapoo is the result of mating either the American Cocker Spaniel or English Cocker Spaniel with a Poodle. They have been known in the United States since the 1950s. All fluffy and white, a cuddly delight, they love us old folks.

Almost every morning, while jogging around the perimeter road, I run into a friend walking her Havanese. I have to be careful not to accept this white fluff’s enthusiastic offers to play, for it sets off her happy high-pitched yapping. Wikipedia says they are the national dog of Cuba, developed from the now extinct Bichon Tenerife and crossbred with other Bichon types, including the Poodle, to create what is now known as the Havanese.

The  Labradoodle is also a cross dog, created in 1955 by crossing the Labrador retriever and the Standard, Miniature or Toy  Poodle. In 1988, this larger mix began to be used as an allergen-free guide dog, but not all Labradoodles are hypoallergenic. The term is often used loosely. These are also beautiful fluffy, curly-haired white dogs, a friendly delight, but they do require some regular grooming.

In recent programs featuring the dog, PBS pundits point out that it is the most varied species on Earth. In a short few centuries, beginning with Su Chi of the Chinese imperial family and her Pekinese dog gift to Queen Victoria, we humans have managed to create a huge number of very different canines. Geneticists are digging into the huge genome responsible for the variety and its lucky connection to tameness. More about that next week.