Hide your hens! Airport Heights has a chicken-rustler

commentSeptember 20, 2013 

It was, of course, bound to happen. As chickens have proliferated in the city, it was only a matter of time until some of them were taken. Not by bears. Or dogs. But by people.

I believe the term is "rustled."

Let us go now to a modest, prayer flag-adorned street in Airport Heights, where you will find several strongly worded signs taped to the pickets of a fence and adjacent light post that feature the faces of abducted hens on milk cartons. The most prominent sign is all text, entitled: "An open letter to a chicken thief..."

"You have forced our hand in this matter of your pitiful thievery, and we imagine, the subsequent ingestion of four of our laying hens and two of our pullets," it goes on.

"The chickens, monetarily, were worth about $250. Our family security is priceless, and we will defend life and property against your intrusion to the absolute and fullest extent of the law."

The creator of this chicken-theft protest art is a carpenter/woodland firefighter/artist named Scott Jordan, who occupies a densely gardened house with his wife, Margi Clifford, who is a yoga teacher and counselor. Jordan didn't introduce himself when I knocked on his door at the time I'd arranged to talk with him. Instead he opened it abruptly and jumped back like a rattler when he saw me, eyes burning with anger at the injustice of his lost birds.

"Want to see the coop?" he said.

I did. He and Margi have a sweet coop. Their yard was all kale and squash vines and a labyrinth of moveable fencing for herding around their birds. Their surviving chickens pecked and bobbled.

The first chicken loss was in May, Scott told me. By then, I'd taken a seat in his living room near the wood stove that heats the house and a large, husky mix named Dave. In the spring, the chickens -- named Hen, Little Comb, Big Comb and Hen-Pecked--had the run of the yard, he told me. They could easily be seen from the street if they chose to go into the front yard. Nobody bothered them. Until one day three of them were just gone.

"There as no blood, no feathers, no gore, no nothing," he said.

I should pause here for a minute to let you think about the logistics of stealing chickens from a front yard on a crowded residential street undetected, without leaving so much as a feather. It is not a crime for novices. You have to snatch up those birds with precision, which can't be easy, and then stuff them in a bag or a getaway car or what have you and beat it. And not just one chicken. You've got to take three. I tell you, Watson, that chicken thief could not have acted alone.

Anyway, the first abduction left only Hen in the coop, he said. She stopped laying for three weeks due to the trauma. Scott and Margi filled the flock back out with six pullets, or adolescent birds, which weren't old enough to lay. And things went along. One of the pullets succumbed to unknown causes. (There was an a autopsy performed by a vet. Result: inconclusive. The vet sent a sympathy card.) Then, one night in late August, the hens toddled into the coop for the night. Scott shut the door. By morning, three of them had vanished.

"Hen, Red, and it was either Patty or Selma," Scott said.

The door of the coop was open. Some of the moveable fencing had been smashed down. And there was a clue. Scott got up from the living room and rummaged around among the fleeces and bikes in his entry. He emerged with Ziploc bag. It contained a cigarette butt.

"DNA, man, DNA," he said, shaking it over my head.

He also filed a police report, he said. I called Jennifer Castro, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman, to ask her if chicken stealing is a thing now. She didn't know, but she took me through a long aside about how the gardening-chicken trend is a total thing now and a coworker of hers gave everyone in the office a couple of eggs as a holiday present a couple years ago, which seems weird on the face of it, but was actually pretty nice. She said she'd find out more about chicken abductions. When she called me back, she said Scott's report was the only one like it for the past year. By comparison, there were five reports of people stealing fried chicken. Four of those were from KFC. The fifth was an eight-piece from Fred Meyer.

Scott is still super burned about the second incident.

"I named those goddamn chickens!" he said.

Margi showed up at about this point in the interview. She grabbed a handful of tortilla chips from the kitchen and started checking email. She was bummed about the chickens, but she figured whoever took the hens needed them. Maybe they were hungry? After the second break-in, Scott started researching complex security systems, she said.

"He was looking for cameras and bells and whistles," she said.

Margi said it was best not to overreact. In the end, Scott channeled his anger into art. He made his missing chicken posters and taped them on the fence. They've caused a lot of conversations. People cross the street to read them. Occasionally a car will veer to the side of the street and idle, taking them in.

One day, a Volkswagen Passat pulled over and a couple got out while Margi was digging potatoes in the front yard. It was a couple from down the street. They offered their condolences. They had chickens, too, they said. A few weeks later, there was a knock at the door.

"It was the saddest thing, (the man from the neighbor couple) was there in his bike helmet in the rain to tell me two of their chickens were gone," she said.

The thief had struck again. Now it was a rash of chicken thefts. After that, the Passat chicken people enclosed their coop in chain-link and locked it with a padlock, she said.

Margi had an email tip from a neighbor that night.. That neighbor heard from another neighbor that a loose chicken had been seen in the vicinity of 16th Avenue and Columbine Street four days earlier.

"Nothing would please me more than to bring one of the girls home," the neighbor wrote.

I left after that. Scott was headed to a community council meeting to talk neighborhood security. On the way out, I paused to look at the missing posters on the fence one more time. The one for Hen described the bird fondly as the "undisputed Queen of the Coop." There was also a message to the abductor promising to bring his or her "chicken-stealing ass" to justice. In smaller type it said, "You might want to research what historically happens to animal poachers." And then there was a picture with the hen's auburn feathers and fleshy pink comb and yellow eyes staring at the camera through the chicken wire.

Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Reach her by phone at 257-4591, email her at jomalley@adn.com, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @adn_jomalley.

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction:

The neighbor couple who lost their chickens were driving a Volkswagen Passat, not a Subaru. 


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