Summer-Fall 2012 Poultry Press NEXT
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Cover image courtesy Houghton Mifflin publications
city chickens
City Chickens

By Christine Heppermann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Review by Karen Davis, President of United Poultry Concerns

“Chickens in the yard. Chickens in the shower. Chickens upstairs and downstairs, in the kitchen and under the couch. . . . How did they go from helping dogs, cats, and pet birds to helping chickens?”

In North Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the inner city, there’s a magic kingdom you can glimpse through the peephole of a wooden fence. This is the home, in a busy neighborhood, of Mary Britton Clouse, her husband Bert Clouse, and Chicken Run Rescue, the nonprofit rescue, rehabilitation, referral, adoption, and education center founded by Mary and Bert in 2001. It all started when six Thai roosters, impounded by Minneapolis Animal Control after a cockfighting raid, needed a refuge. Mary and Bert already had several rescued animals, including parakeets and doves, but chickens? “Fighting” roosters?

City Chickens tells the intriguing story of how Chicken Run Rescue got started, and how and why it operates. Each morning, Mary and Bert are awakened by the crowing and clucking of their “guests,” as they call their cherished residents. They spend the day cleaning cages, medicating sick birds, soaking infected chicken feet, rescuing hens trapped in snow drifts, running to the vet, driving long distances to place a single chicken in a home Mary has approved through her meticulous online adoption service, and much more. I’ve visited Mary and Bert and watched their indefatigable dedication in action.

Technically, City Chickens is a book for children, but it is really a book for all ages. It’s arranged in short, vivid chapters accompanied by photographs, including overhead views of the Clouse’s small enclosed yard – from the wreckage it was when they first moved in to their transformation of it into a lovely garden for the chickens to enjoy. Their basement is a chicken hospital; an upstairs kitchen is the emergency room. Looking at the tranquil house and garden through the peephole, you would not guess the energy expended inside to give suffering chickens a first or second chance at life.

We get to know Mary and Bert and several of their shelter residents by name and through each bird’s personal story, lovingly recounted by Christine Heppermann, who describes how she went from a more or less impersonal interviewer to becoming a chicken adopter herself through Mary’s online “Adoption Chronicles.”

As we read, our education broadens. We learn about inner-city cockfighting, hideous university experiments on baby chicks, poultry industry atrocities, and how the urban chicken-keeping trend has swelled the number of cast-off chickens. “Not everyone who raises city chickens is prepared for the work that goes into taking care of animals,” Heppermann writes. “Or they purchase chicks thinking they are hens, and one or two – or all – turn out to be roosters. And so Mary and Bert get another call. And another and another.”

Rather than summarize the stories of individual roosters and hens featured in City Chickens, I urge everyone who loves chickens already, or who would like to get to know them better, as well as learn something of the nuts and bolts of running an urban sanctuary for chickens, to buy, read, and share this book. If you’re wondering about adopting a few chickens for companionship, City Chickens will instruct and inspire you. You’ll be moved and enchanted by the story of Billiam the rooster and the kind family who adopted and loves him. You’ll be touched by the luck of Miss Manor the hen, “from the moment of her capture” by Bert at the Friendly Manor apartment complex in freezing snow, to Miss Manor’s bliss in her garden of earthly delights at Chicken Run Rescue.

Mary Britton Clouse is a visual artist whose haunting portraits of chickens have been shown in galleries and praised by art critics around the world. Yet she tells Heppermann that her chicken rescue work leaves little time for art these days. This is sad, she says, but look at it this way: “The world will survive if I never do another painting, but if we don’t take in a chicken, it could mean the difference between life and death for an animal.”

Amazingly, Mary manages to rescue chickens from the evil effects of human ignorance in both essential ways. I speak for chickens everywhere in thanking Mary and Bert. I am grateful to Christine Heppermann for including a page in City Chickens about United Poultry Concerns’ Humane Alternatives to School Hatching Projects, “Hatching Good Lessons.”

City Chickens is inspired by the love of chickens and by two incredible people who are spreading that love through their tireless energy and talent. The work of Chicken Run Rescue, as Mary and Bert describe it, “is compelled by our belief that taking animals off of our plates and putting them in our hearts is the way forward.” Order your copy of City Chickens and put this wonderful and unique treasure on your gift list. To learn more about Chicken Run Rescue, visit

Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

Summer-Fall 2012 Poultry Press NEXT