Susitna Writer’s Voice – Natural Observations: March 27, 2022 “Jem’s story continues, pt 2”, by Robin Song

This is part 2 of an update on Robin Song’s amazing hen, Jem. In this part, Jem overcomes more challenges to his health. Jem. Part 1 aired the previous week.

Jem’s story continues part two
This is the second part of Jem the Hen’s amazing life story update. If anyone would like to know how I came to save Jem, after she lost both of her feet to frostbite in the winter of 2019, and the details of our first few months together as I brought back to the brink of death, you can search KTNA’s Susitna Writer’s Voice Archives for the 3-part series titled “A Very Brave Bird.” This update chronicles the next big challenge we faced together, which happened during our first summer together.

My dream was – and continues to be – to have a prosthesis made for Jem. After her health stabilized and she was eating well, gaining weight and growing healthy, I started researching prosthetics. My friend CW, who lives in Willow, has a 3D printer. What he needed was a design to program the printer and ideas for the materials he would need. We found stories and articles online about prostheses for chickens, ducks, turkeys, swans and even cranes. I contacted all the links that seemed most promising for Jem. Most were dead ends, with unanswered emails and voicemails. I found an Outside company that makes animal prostheses. But the cost was $900.00 Living on disability and a fixed income was almost a month’s worth of income, for me. And no way to do custom fittings for Jem. In July 2019, I noticed that Jem was acting a little differently. I put my pursuit of his prosthesis on hold until I could figure out what was going on with his health. His appetite had plummeted and his energy wasn’t as robust. Jennifer Pironis, Talkeetna’s vet, had just received her first x-ray machine and agreed to use Jem as a guinea pig. On July 23, I took Jem to Jennifer’s clinic, and with patience and Jem’s amazing confidence, we were able to get several x-rays. They revealed a strange mass in Jem’s abdomen. Jennifer is not a poultry vet and she could not definitively diagnose what was there. She suspects a tumor. Jennifer recommended I find a veterinarian who specializes in poultry. After several phone calls, I contacted Dr. Lorelei Hass from the Ravenwood Vet Clinic in Eagle River. When I described Jem’s symptoms, Dr. Hass asked me to send the x-rays. The next day she called to say she also suspected a tumor, but she wouldn’t be sure until she had surgery, which would cost over $1,000.00. The clinic could not settle the payments with me. My heart sank. I didn’t want Jem’s life to end this way – not after everything she’d been through so far. But I didn’t know what else to do. Heartbroken, I called Jennifer to come euthanize my Jem. On the morning of our last day together, I called my friend Bob in Northern California. We had met when I was 19 and remained good friends. I knew he would understand my grief at losing my beloved Jem. He wasn’t home and I left a voicemail. An hour before Jennifer arrived, I took Jem into the forest with my dogs, as we had so often done before. I wanted one last peaceful outing, sitting on the mossy forest floor, watching Jem relax, listening to the birds. The cell phone rang: it was Bob. We talked. He said to make an appointment with Dr Hass – he would pay for the operation. I could hardly believe my ears! Hope rose in me. I called Dr. Hass: we made an appointment for August 27. I called Jennifer to cancel her visit; she was relieved. Of course, I didn’t know the outcome of the current operation, but at least we were giving Jem a chance. CW drove us to the veterinary clinic. I held Jem close to me the whole time. I was nervous for her, but also hopeful. It was a long hour of waiting. Then the result: When Dr. Hass opened Jem’s abdomen, liquid, yolk and several shellless eggs leaked out. An egg was lodged in her ovaduct, so eggs were falling into her abdomen. Dr. Hass rinsed the abdomen and removed a large portion of the ovaduct. She started Jem on strong antibiotics, which I would continue at home, to fight the infection. Jem was also taking painkillers. After about an hour, she was awake enough to begin the long journey back. Jem slept soundly that night. The next day, after I applied her slippers, Jem strode across the cabin floor with an energy that belied that she had just had major surgery. It was, however, a long recovery. Because Dr. Hass had to pluck many feathers to do Jem’s surgery, it triggered a major molt. Moulting is very stressful on a bird’s body, and on top of the surgery, it was almost too much. Jem has lost his appetite. She even quit drinking. I had to buy a special emergency food from Dr. Hass, mix it into a thin porridge, and squirt it into Jem with a syringe every four hours for almost a month. Jem has lost half his weight. I offered all the treats she liked – she refused them all. She wouldn’t eat. CW would go to the pet zoo and look for anything he thought would whet his appetite. Three weeks later, he brought a bag of dried crickets. She loved the live mealworms I raised for her and Jorie Hen – and still do. But – like everything else – she had also stopped eating it. After CW left, I put some crickets in his dish. She looked at them. Then I picked one up, removed its hind legs and ate them! I was stunned. She did the same to another. I quickly removed the hind legs of several crickets and offered them to her – she ate them all. This was the turning point. Hind legs of dried crickets. Go figure. Later that night, she had her first glass of water on her own. I called Jennifer. I was delighted. ” She drinks ! I whispered into the phone, not wanting to distract Jem. Jennifer was thrilled. We had been doing saline infusions every other day, to get liquid into Jem, for three weeks. It was not a pleasant process, but it saved lives. We had planned one for the next day. I held Jem close to me as usual, Jennifer sitting up so she could insert the needle into Jem’s thigh, then the liquid would drip from the bag hanging overhead. But this time, instead of standing still, Jem kicked hard enough to send the needle flying. This was unusual from my usually tolerant hen. The third time she threw the needle, Jennifer said she thought Jem was telling us she no longer needed the infusions. So I brought Jem home. In fact, she drank alone. And she never looked back. She gained weight. Her new feathers have become shiny and healthy. In due course, I removed his stitches. To prevent ovulation, Jem has hormone-blocking implants inserted under the skin of her back every few months. It exists in a kind of “intermediate world”; because she’s not ovulating, she’s not really acting like a chicken. But she doesn’t sing or act like a rooster. But she’s 100% loving, sensitive, affectionate, intelligent, intelligent and beautiful Jem – the amazing chicken. She enjoys car rides, hikes in her special backpack, worm hunting trips, blueberry picking outings, daily dust baths, cuddles, bird watching and snuggling under her bear plush. Thanks to Bob, Dr. Hass, Dr. Pironis, CW, and the support of several friends, Jem is entering his fourth year as a happy, healthy bird. And we celebrated our third anniversary together on February 11, 2022. I still have hope for a prosthesis for her. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I know she deserves it. I will continue to look for a way to make this dream come true for my Jem.