Susie was a sweet little ginger roo. Many of our birds are named before we know their sex. Susie, because of his red coloring, was named after my favorite red-head Susan Sarandon, obviously before we knew he was a boy. It’s not uncommon for a chick’s eyes to be blue when they are young. Susie’s eyes started out a bright sky blue and then changed to a deeper blue as he grew up. Depending on the light they might appear a vibrant green color, but they never changed to the yellow or brown color than most birds do when they mature. So we dubbed him Susie Q the blue-eyed Roo.
He was about 9 years old when we first noticed he was coughing when he ate. Closer inspection revealed that he had a cancerous mass growing in his throat. We took a wait and see approach to it. We decided that when he got to the point that we thought being outdoors was too stressful for him that we would bring him in the house to live out his days in comfort. Until then, he was very content to spend his days in his run with his companion hen Parker. It was only a month or so until we noticed that he was really struggling to eat. The mass was taking up much of his throat. To make matters worse, the layer pellets were turning into a thick paste and sticking to it, further reducing the size of his airway.
We got some Q-tips and cleaned it out as much as possible. He was fine for a few days and then we would have to clean it out again, but he seemed fine in between, so we just kept making him as comfortable as possible. One time that I had a Q-tip down the poor little guy’s throat, he struggled a little and I inadvertently poked him in the throat with the Q-tip. I felt horrible. It started to bleed a little, but as I tried to clean it up I noticed that the rubbery yellow mass had started to separate from the surrounding tissue. I gently worked it until almost a third of the mass tore off significantly opening up his throat!
When we put him back in his cage, we gave him some scratch grains as a reward for being so patient with us. He ate it all and looked up as if to say, “More please?” We realized that the scratch grains were easier for him to eat because they didn’t turn sticky, so we let him have his fill of them. Reluctantly, I made the decision to feed him scratch grains exclusively. I was worried that he might not get the nutrition he needed, but then again why wouldn’t you let an old man with cancer eat whatever he wanted. It wasn’t like I would be shortening his life. As it turned out, he ate more and started to put weight back on because he could eat them without clogging his throat.
Every few days we cleaned his throat and each time I was able to remove the yellow tissue that had grown back. Amazingly, the underlying mass got smaller each time until it disappeared completely. Unfortunately the yellow stuff continued to grow on the side wall of his throat, so it needed attention every couple days. Susie went on like this for a few months. His quality of life had not diminished, so we saw no need to cull him. As winter set in, we resolved to keep him outside as long as possible. We knew that the cooler temperatures would most likely keep the progression on his cancer at a slower rate. He continued to allow us to clean his throat and remove what we could of the growth. It was obviously uncomfortable for him and it would always bleed some, but he was otherwise a happy little roo.
The winter began to get harsh. The temperatures were lower than they had been in many years. The prolonged deep freezes began to take their toll on the little guy. We made the decision to bring him in the house knowing that it probably meant that the growth of the cancer would speed up and we would lose him soon. Much to my surprise, the cancer didn’t speed up at all.
Susie became my little companion. He followed me around, he sat at my feet while I typed away on my keyboard and he would run to the refrigerator every time it was opened. He also had this bizarre fascination with standing in the door way to the bathroom and watching me while I would pee. Don’t believe me? See for yourself… It’s Reason #6 House Chickens Are Not For Everyone. He would spend some of his time hanging around with the Poopy Crew and he would ALWAYS help me unload the groceries. I had always loved the little guy, but it’s fair to say that my fondness grew as the days and weeks passed.
Several months passed and the cancer got harder and harder to keep at bay. We decided that we would let him decide when it was his time to go though. I’m not opposed to culling when a bird is suffering, but he never seemed to be. Then one morning I found him lying on the floor with blood running from of his beak. I cleaned him up and held him for a bit. I figured it was time to put him out of his misery, bleeding to death seemed imminent and I thought he deserved a more dignified end than that. My husband would be home soon and I wanted to wait so that he could say goodbye. I sent him a message and let him know to come right home from work because Susie was fading fast. I wrapped the little guy up in a towel and laid him on the floor by the French doors in a patch of sunlight to rest until my husband got home. I went back to working at my computer for a bit while I waited. After an hour or so, I realized that I had missed lunch and got up to get a snack. As I walked to the kitchen, I glanced over and saw Susie still resting on the floor. His eyes were shut but he was still breathing. Once in the kitchen, I opened the refrigerator and stared in for a minute pondering my options. I finally grabbed an apple, stepped back and closed the door. As I did, something caught my eye and I looked down. There was Susie looking up at me as if to say, “Anything in there for me?” The bleeding had stopped, his eyes were bright and as always he came running when the fridge was opened. I felt terrible that I had almost taken his life not even an hour earlier.
He lived for another 6 weeks after that! Eventually the cancer spread and there was nothing left for us to do but let him pass, which he did one night peacefully in his sleep. It was a tough experience for all of us, but I would not have given it up for anything, he made such a profound impact on all of our lives. I do miss that little guy.