January 24, 2017 10:39 pm
Updated: January 25, 2017 6:20 pm

Therapy rooster for at-risk children gets customized wheelchair

Custom-fitted wheelchairs are not uncommon on the streets of metro Vancouver - but how about one for a rooster named Louise? That's an unusual name for a male bird but as we see in this report from Aaron McArthur, Louise is no ordinary rooster.

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Louise is anything but a conventional therapy animal for at-risk children.

In fact, everything about Louise is a contradiction because Louise is a rooster.

He’s a rooster with a deformed leg and to help with the plucky bird’s quality of life, he’s been outfitted with a custom-made avian wheelchair.

While it sounds unusual, it’s actually fitting for Louise’s atypical story.

Destined for slaughter


Story continues below

Louise’s luck started early. As a one-day-old chick, Louise was mis-identified as a hen and spared from being sent to the grinder with all the other baby roosters. Instead, he and his brother were shipped off to a local farmer with 48 other chicks.

But as chicks, Louise and his brother had badly deformed legs; which was either due to a congenital condition or being injured when transported and couldn’t compete for food. Although the pair was scheduled to be killed, the farmer’s kids took pity on them and asked the Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. (SALI) farm in South Surrey to adopt the siblings.

SALI is a forever home that takes in rescued farm animals including roosters, horses, goats, rabbits and barn cats; which are all rehabilitated into therapy animals for at-risk children.

Mistaken for hens, volunteers at SALI’s Farm named the pair after the classic movie Thelma and Louise. Although the SALI team did their research on how to treat deformed chicken legs, Thelma’s legs were too deformed and ultimately had to be euthanized.

For Louise, who had one good leg, he continued to grow and as he grew, so did the doubts about the bird’s gender.

Is that a rooster?

It may be easy for some to tell Louise was a rooster but for SALI this was the first time the organization had rescued one. And Louise didn’t fit the rooster temperament. He was the opposite. Kind, gentle and adored people.

Rather than renaming and enforcing gender boundaries, Louise kept his name. And instead, according to SALI, his story resonates with at-risk children by helping them to learn to love themselves no matter their name, gender, race, disabilities or any trauma they have faced.

“He is one determined bird,” SALI founder Keryn Denroche said.

“He lives every minute to the fullest and shares his love for life with all the children he meets especially through hugs and cuddles.”

The donation-based SALI farm brings small groups of at-risk kids one day per week for eight weeks. One of SALI’s long-term goals is to help children learn empathy skills by teaching them how to care for others. At the farm, the children, who have either been abused, witnessed abuse, come from troubled backgrounds or have family members struggling with homelessness, poverty, mental illness or addictions, are paired with trained volunteers and take part in animal care and gardening.

According to SALI’s website, contact with animals gives the kids an opportunity to “convey respect, empathy, gentleness, and a humane regard for animals, which has been shown to generalize to humans.”

A rooster in a wheelchair

Louise leads by example and he is one tough bird.

To date, he’s had numerous veterinary and orthopaedic consults, x-rays, two surgeries, and last spring, he escaped the clutches of an eagle.

The health of his deformed leg is a constant struggle and due to an infection he had to have two of his three toes amputated. He now wears chicken booties on both feet for protection.

Louise needs a little extra care due to his bad leg and the custom-fit wheelchair fits the bill.

“His new wheels made a huge impression on the children that came to the farm this fall,” said Denroche.

“He immediately evokes empathy in the children and they feel a kinship with this misunderstood animal. He shows them that with love and kindness anything is possible.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 

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