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Runaway hen brings lawyers together in Bouldin neighborhood

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Lawyer Suzanne Mitchell found Peckham under her car. At first, she couldn't quite identify the small, ruffled creature. Later, Mitchell learned that "Pecky" was a hen with a yen for travel.

Uncertain what to do next, Mitchell, a kind, outgoing person, posted this message on the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association listserv: "Is this your chicken?" she wrote. "And if not, if you know about chickens, please take it."

Anyone familiar with my neck of the Austin woods can predict what happened next.

"I received an unbelievable number of emails," says Mitchell, who lives on South Fifth Street near the Twin Oaks Library. "Including a recipe for chicken soup."

Sara Clark, another lawyer, who resides way over on Johanna Street, responded with an offer of help. Clark keeps chickens in a roomy enclosure.

"You could park two cars in our chicken pen," she says.

Although they were strangers, Clark volunteered to room Pecky while Mitchell solved the mystery of her origins.

Complication: It was a dark and stormy night. (No, it was!)

Mitchell bundled Pecky into a cat carrier — arousing the unwelcome curiosity of her feline friend — then delivered the carrier to Johanna Street, where Clark, unsure of the response from her own brood, parked Pecky on a side porch for the night.

The next day, she introduced the bantam silkie to her gang. Clark's egg-layers freaked and scattered. Maybe it was something about the term "bantam."

About this time, Ellen Richards, not a lawyer but married to one, wondered if the news she read on the BCNA daily digest — actually reading the full message board is a full-time job — might interest her alley-side neighbors. That would be Carolyn Denero, yes, another lawyer, and her daughter, Skylar.

"Oh, here's Carolyn's chicken," Richards thought.

It should be explained at this point that the Denero family lives on a fecund South Sixth Street hillside with Franky, a dog as frisky as his friend Skylar and endlessly curious about the scent of chickens. Their backyard is packed with plants, which attract insects and other treats deemed tasty by chicken kind, which they keep.

One of Skylar's hens had indeed gone missing, something she discovered during her birthday party.

"I asked everybody I saw," Skylar recalls. " ‘Have you seen my chicken?' "

One neighbor replied, "No, but we've seen a hawk."

(Meaning the red-shouldered hawk family that nests in Bouldin.)

"I agonized," Denero says of the possibly killed Pecky. "Not Skylar. She's tough as nails."

Seemingly, so is survivor Pecky. Although small, she's already a mature hen.

"I don't know about mature," Richards says. "She ran away from home."

Texts followed emails. Visits followed phone calls. Finally, the wandering Pecky made it back home to her pen.

Not recognizing the prodigal, Skylar yelled out, "Mommy, you got another chicken!"

But it was Pecky. Clark, Richards and Mitchell had teamed up with Denero to return her to Skylar.

Along the way, these neighbors discovered all kinds of connections and interests shared, besides the obvious legal thing.

Richards jokes of her new collection of friends: "How many lawyers does it take to get a chicken out of jail?"

Some in the Pecky Club are Bouldin newcomers. Others have lived here for more than 20 years. And they've found another way to appreciate their local message board, which can be a powerful social tool, unless you bring up politics.

"Don't express an opinion," Richards warns. "Someone will bite your head off."

Clark comes to the defense of her fellow Bouldinites, who can be, to put it mildly, militant: "We can also be extremely reasonable."

So, chicken found. Friends made. Connections discovered.

As for Pecky, she's had a poultry adventure of a lifetime.

"If she could talk," Denero says, "we'd ask her why she crossed the road."

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com