“The Rights of Chickens,” by Claire Russell

Apr 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

They had changed the bylaws earlier that year and now every yard on the block had chickens. Alison didn’t know what to do about it. The noise, the stench of it. This was not the country. This was the city! The houses were attached to each other for Chrissakes.

Alison had initially been in support of changing the bylaw because she’d thought why not, why shouldn’t people be able to raise chickens? Live and let live, right? She was supportive of things like healthy living, healthy diets. Hatching your own chicks, eating your own eggs—these all seemed like good ideas. She had no idea that so many people would take advantage of the opportunity.

But there were chickens everywhere. The smell of their shit was intolerable. Every morning she woke up to the sound of them. Chickens on roofs, in gardens. Chickens in school yards.

Last week, she’d walked into her house, and there was a chicken on her kitchen table. It had managed to sneak in through the window.

“I’m so sorry,” said Elena, her neighbor and the chicken’s owner. “We weren’t aware that our chickens could climb. We will try to be more careful.”

“They can’t fly, but they climb!” Alison told her sister later on the phone.

“Maybe you should shut your windows,” said her sister, helpfully. “At least when you go out.”


It wouldn’t have been so bad if Alison wasn’t already feeling depressed and unwanted. Her boyfriend, Eric, had moved to Australia the week before, and while she’d wanted to stay together, to try out a long distance relationship, he’d said that he thought he was ready to sow some wild oats. Those were his words.

“If I’m totally honest,” he said to her the night before his flight. “I think you might be the reason I’m leaving.”

“I thought you wanted to go to the beach at Christmas,” she said. “I thought you wanted to eat shrimps off the barbie.”

“Those reasons might not have been totally truthful,” he said. “Well, they were true but they weren’t the most important reasons. The truth is that I need space…from you.” The wild oats expression had come out a few sentences later.


There was only one other person on Allison’s block who did not keep chickens. His name was Edgar and he was allergic to eggs. He was also one of only three people to sign her petition to rescind the bylaw.

She’d set up a table at the community center down the street. The receptionist on Saturdays was also a chicken hater.

 “I know they might be a nuisance to someone like you,” said Elena who had her Pilates class on Saturday at the community center. She was a thin woman with yellow, brittle hair and a sinewy neck. She had been among the first to get the chickens and Allison thought of her as one of the neighborhood trend setters, those people who yield influence without even trying.

“I just don’t understand why every one has to have chickens,” said Allison.

“Perhaps you should consider getting your own. They really do add meaning to our lives. At any rate, you might just have to learn to tolerate them. After all, people now have the right to own chickens.”

“What about my rights?” said Allison.

“Your right to what?” asked Elena.

“My right to peace and quiet! My right to peaceable enjoyment of my property.”

“I don’t think those are really rights,” said Elena. “More like preferences. Anyway, the chickens are not on your property.”

“Oh no?” said Allison. “I remember there being a chicken on my property last week!”

“You might want to be strategic,” said Elena. “Life is easier when people like you.”


Edgar took pottery classes at the community center on Saturday and stopped by Allison’s table with a coffee for her. “You’re working hard,” he said. “And I appreciate the efforts you are making.”

She told him about what Elena had said. “Do you think I’m being unreasonable?” Allison asked him.

“I think you should have the right to peace and quiet,” he said.

“Don’t the chickens bother you too?” she asked. Just last week, she’d seen Edgar return home from work with his groceries and trip over an entire flock of chickens that had escaped one of the coops.

“Bother is a strong word,” said Edgar. “Mostly, I don’t like the smell of eggs.”

He had a point there. Now that so many people kept chickens, they were eating eggs for breakfast every day. Most mornings the smell of scrambled eggs overpowered the smell of the cherry trees which had just started to blossom.

“I don’t like feeling like I’m different from other people,” said Allison.

“You’re not allergic to eggs. You could get some chickens.”

“I don’t want chickens,” said Allison. “I’ve never been that interested in them. I don’t even really like eggs.”

“Seems like we are a minority.”

The next morning Allison was looking out her window when she saw Edgar enter her front yard. He was carrying a bouquet of roses.

“I know that roses might seem extravagant,” said Edgar. “Especially since we are not even officially dating. But I thought they might help with the smell,” he said.

She took the flowers, pressing them to her nose. They were fragrant and offered a brief reprieve from the smell of chicken shit. She was flattered and oddly touched. Edgar was handsome, she realized. He was a very large man, much larger than Eric. Eric had actually been not dissimilar to some of the chickens—he was often moving and easily startled. Edgar was bear-like and sensitive. He had a broad round face with a smooth, bald head. He wore lumber jack shirts that he buttoned up to the highest button. Where Eric spoke rapidly, Edgar talked in a very slow and deliberate way. She thought that sex with him would be more satisfying than sex with Eric. Eric never lasted longer than 7 ½ minutes, and it took her at least 8 ½ minutes to climax.


Edgar asked her to dinner. He chose a vegan restaurant across town with small wood tables and no table service. They did not serve beer or wine, so they drank water. Edgar apologized for the lack of ambience. “I chose the restaurant because I could be sure they did not serve eggs,” he said.

“Or chicken, for that matter,” said Allison. She had an ambivalent relationship to eating chicken now. Once you really saw what chickens were about it was hard to want to eat one. But sometimes, when she was really angry, she fantasized about eating them.

At dinner, Allison avoided the subject of the chickens and resisted the temptation to complain about Eric. She had made the mistake of checking Instagram earlier that day and seen photos of him on ranch in the Aussie outback with a young woman who was both younger and thinner than her.

With these two subjects—chickens and Eric—off limits, Allison found it hard to maintain a conversation. The chickens and her ex were pretty much all that she thought about these days. Edgar was the strong silent type, which could have made things awkward, but luckily the restaurant, being vegan, served large bowls of salad with many different crunchy legumes and grains, and coarsely chopped pieces of kale. They spent the better part of an hour just chewing their food, so the lack of conversation was not as bad as it could have been.

When they got back to their neighborhood—Edgar lived on the same block—they were happy that it was silent. The chickens were sleeping. They were less happy to find the note, pasted in scotch tape on Allison’s door:

CHICKEN HATER! The note said in all caps. Underneath it, written in small cursive, were the words Why don’t you just move to another neighborhood?

“Rhetorical questions are lazy,” said Edgar.

 “Was it rhetorical?” Allison asked.

“Perhaps you should invite me in so that we can discuss it,” said Edgar.

Instead of discussing the note, they kissed. Edgar was a good kisser, she decided. She appreciated that she had been able to do so much with her mouth that day that did not require talking. Chickens can’t kiss, Allison thought, because they do not have lips.

Edgar did not ask to spend the night and Allison did not invite him.


The next morning, there was another note, which said the same thing: CHICKEN HATER! Go home!

Allison called Edgar. “There’s another one,” she said.

“Another chicken?” he asked.

“Another note.”

“I’ll be right over,” Edgar said.

When he got there, the note was on the table. “It looks like the same person wrote it,” he said.

“Yep. Same hand, same pen,” said Allison. “I wonder if it was Bill. Lydia told me once that she thought he has dementia.” Bill was a widower and lived across the street. He was one of the most passionate and least responsible chicken owners.

“What are you going to do about it?” asked Edgar.

“I don’t know. What if it is dementia? I mean, why would the person tell me to go home? Don’t they know I live here?”

“Racism?” said Edgar.

“But I’m white,” said Allison.

“You look like you could be Mexican,” said Edgar.

“I guess so,” said Allison. It was true that she had dark hair.

While they sat there considering her options, they decided that more kissing might help. Edgar’s mouth tasted like peppermint and his lips were soft. He was the kind of person who enjoyed kissing and was not just looking to get onto the next part. Allison let him remove her shirt. She then removed his plaid button by button. By the time she had undone all his buttons, she was very aroused. He removed her bra, she kissed his neck and shoulders. She enjoyed the feeling of her breasts against the hair on his chest. Her skin was cooler than his skin and the contrast aroused her even more.

“Let’s go upstairs,” she said.


Sex with Edgar took 22 minutes, which was almost three times as long as sex with Eric. They lay in bed together for a long time, thinking about the problem of the chickens.

“It’s possible that the petition was a bad idea,” said Allison.

“It did not garner that much support,” agreed Edgar.

“We need another strategy,” said Allison.

“But what?”

“I’m too hungry to think.”

Neither of them had had breakfast. They could smell the eggs cooking from the neighbours. “Let’s go to the beach,” said Edgar.

This time they drank smoothies sitting on a log by the water. It was low tide and the seagulls were circling. Occasionally, one would dip down to the beach and grab something, fly up again, and then drop it on the rocks below.

“What are they doing?” asked Allison.

“They are grabbing clams and muscles,” said Edgar. “They drop them on the rocks to break them open.”

“Smart birds,” Allison said.


When they got back to Allison’s, there was no note on the door. Instead, the house had been egged. Yellow yolk ran down the windows and was stuck to the glass in her stucco exterior.

“That’s it,” said Allison. “I’m calling the cops.”

Two officers came to the house. A very thin one with no hair, and a short one with a thick head of hair.

“We have no way of knowing, unfortunately, who threw the eggs at your house,” the thin one said. “Almost everyone on the block has means.”

“Not to mention motive,” said the short one. “You have not been popular lately with the neighbours.”

“What about the notes?” asked Edgar. “Could you identify who wrote the notes?”

“The notes are not really making any threats,” said the shorter one. “We couldn’t really definitely say that it was the same person who wrote the notes that threw the eggs.”

“Listen,” said the bald one. “There’s not much that we can do. Certain neighbors have been complaining about you as well.”

 “Complaints about what?” asked Allison.

“Hate speech.”

“Seriously?” asked Allison. Edgar sat silent beside her.

“Some residents of this neighborhood are concerned that your language—in the form of a petition—is hate speech.”

“Against who?”

“Against chickens.”

“Are chickens legal persons?” asked Allison.

“Well, no, not technically. Not yet,” said the officer. “But there are two sides to every story.”

The other officer piped in: “If I can be so bold, it might be a good idea to make peace with your neighbors. As we’ve already said, we’ve had more than one complaint about your petition.” Then she said, not unsympathetically, “It appears that they have banded against you.”

“Some of your neighbors have friends in high places,” said the other one.


Allison was not very happy with Edgar during this interaction. She thought that probably he could have done more to support her. Instead, he sat beside her like a useless lump listening to the conversation but adding nothing. The chickens were one thing, but harassment was something else. Allison had always been an advocate for all kinds of people: queer, trans, people of color. She considered herself a feminist, a supporter of BLM.

But she drew the line at chickens. Chickens were not legal persons.

“It cheapens other, legitimate, movements,” she said. “It’s insulting to real minorities.”

Edgar was chewing on his lower lip. “I’m going to leave now,” he said. “I’ll come over later tonight.”

“Yeah sure, whatever,” said Allison.

“Don’t be mad,” said Edgar. He kissed her and left.


That evening, the doorbell rang. Edgar was standing at the door. He was holding a large box, the kind of box with holes in the lid. He had an eager expression on his face.

“Is that a cat?” asked Allison. “Genius.”

Allison imagined what a large enough cat could do to the chickens next door. “A fox might have been even better,” she added.

“No,” said Edgar. “It’s not a cat.”

“What is it?”

“A solution to the chicken problem,” said Edgar. “If everything turns out the way I think it will.”

Edgar opened the box. Inside was a large, black chicken with a bright red comb growing out of its head.

“Is that a chicken?” asked Allison.

“Not technically, no. I’m pretty sure it’s a rooster,” said Edgar.

“How is that a solution?”

“If you can’t beat them, join them?” said Edgar.

“I think you should leave,” said Allison.

Edgar put down the box, and grabbed her by the shoulders. He looked straight into her eyes. “Allison,” he said. “I really like you. Give us a chance.”

Allison could see he was sincere.

“Like I already said,” he added. “I have an idea.”


The next morning, Allison was woken by the crowing of the rooster. Great, she thought. A rooster might be the solution to Edgar’s problems—the only problem he had with chickens were the eggs—but for her this just added a whole new level of irritation. After a few mornings, though, she found that she looked forward to the rooster’s crow. She liked to get up early anyway, and the rooster gave her that little push.

She decided to put up with the rooster for a little while at least. What else was there to do? The one benefit of Rambo—the name they’d decided to give the rooster—was that he kept most of the chickens out of her yard. It turned out he was very territorial. He also meant that Edgar was around more, since Edgar had agreed to take full responsibility for the feeding and cleaning up after the rooster. This suited Allison just fine. She didn’t like to be alone. Edgar spent most his time reading, he knew how to cook, and was able to give her two orgasms in 22 minutes.

Three uneventful weeks went by until one morning the phone rang.

“Hi, Allison,” said the voice. “This is Elena.”


“I’m calling about the rooster.”


“It’s a public nuisance.”

 “So are the chickens,” said Allison and hung up.

A day later, there was a knock on her door. It was Bill from across the street. She almost felt sorry for him. He was wearing a dirty baseball hat and overalls like a real farmer.

“I need to talk to you about your rooster,” he said.

“What about it?”

“It’s been impregnating my chickens.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It’s ruining my eggs,” he said. “I don’t want to eat fertilized eggs.”

“Too bad for you,” said Allison and shut the door.

Edgar observed all this from the living room where he was reading the newspaper. He closed the newspaper and put it on the couch. “My plan’s working,” he said.

Later on the same day, it was clear something was up. Lydia stopped them on their way home from the community center. Allison took the pottery class there as well now.

“I’m a night owl,” Lydia said.  “The crowing is waking me up too early.”

“Tough shit,” said Allison.

As soon as they got in the door, Allison and Edgar went upstairs to have sex. Allison thought her life was going pretty well now.


The neighbors could not really complain. There was nothing in the bylaws against roosters. A month later, however, there was a note from the city. It stated that there had been a change in the bylaws—no roosters, only chickens. Lydia it turned out was connected. Rambo would have to be out by the end of the week.

Allison wrote a letter to the newspaper. She said that the chickens were being denied their full rights as sentient creatures, that keeping chickens was a form of slavery. “If people really believe in the rights of chickens,” she wrote, “then they must also believe in the rights of roosters.” They printed it in the editorial section.

The animal rights activists were on her side. Even Elena said that she had a point. The real game changer, though, was the day that Rambo laid an egg.

It was a few days after the note. Allison was cleaning out his pen in the yard when she noticed the egg. It was a green egg, as beautiful as anything that doctor Seuss could invent.

When the officials from the city came, Edgar showed them the egg.

“It looks like we have a chicken after all,” he told them.

Now there was a debate about what actually made a chicken a chicken and a rooster a rooster. Some said that the crowing meant Rambo was a rooster; some said that laying an egg made Rambo a chicken. Others said that nonbinary conceptions of gender should not be reserved for humans alone and that gender discrimination should be abolished in any form.


In the end, Edgar and Allison were allowed to keep Rambo. They went down to the beach at low tide to watch the seagulls. Now that Rambo had started laying eggs, things had become complicated.

“Consistency would say that we should probably get rid of him,” Allison said.

“You mean it,” said Edgar. “We should get rid of it.”

“Or should we say them?” said Allison. She was happy that her political work was getting more attention, but she was starting to find the terminology confusing.

“I have a feeling we’re going to see urban chickens outlawed again soon,” said Edgar. “It’s become too controversial. Or at least their numbers will be capped. It’s the only way around the problem.”

And that’s what happened. A new bylaw went into effect, limiting each household to just a few chickens. Keeping chickens fell out of fashion. For many it was only appealing to keep chickens if you could keep acquiring more of them. Otherwise, there was no competition. For the true chicken lovers, the slavery argument had worked best. Keeping chickens no longer seemed ethical.

By the time Edgar had moved in officially, and Allison was pregnant with their first child, there were only a few houses on their block with chickens. They’d kept Rambo around, giving the eggs to their neighbors, until s/he finally stopped laying entirely.

Rambo eventually died of old age.


Originally from Vancouver, Claire Russell is a Montreal based writer whose recent work has been in the genres of flash fiction and creative nonfiction, appearing in High Shelf Press and The Good Men Project. Claire’s work looks at the idiosyncrasies of human behavior; the responses to various forms of violence and trauma; and the compensatory power of art. Claire teaches writing and English Literature and Language at John Abbott College in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. She lives in Verdun with her partner and children.

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