If chickens could purr...

WINSTON — When Joy Zeller-Johnson returns home she expects her pets to greet her. Sometimes it is one of the three cats, other times the dog gets there first but most often the welcoming committee is headed up by Sadie, her pet chicken.

The domesticated chicken is part of the family now, five years after her cage was attacked by a cougar, leaving her so scared Zeller-Johnson, 71, couldn't bear to leave her outside overnight.

Zeller-Johnson thought things would go back to normal the next day when she returned the nearly 3-year-old chicken to the outdoors at their Winston home. Then she heard the pecking at the door.

"She marched right back to the cat carrier she had been in the night before," Zeller-Johnson said.

From that day on Sadie began spending nights and cool days indoors, venturing outside only when she felt like it, her owner said. Soon enough, she began taking cues from the house cats — using a litter box, pecking at doors to be let into other areas, and cuddling up to Zar, a German Shepherd who likes to watch TV.

She wishes she knew what caused the hen to start using the litter box, Zeller-Johnson said.

"It is kind of hit and miss," she said. "But more hit than miss."

She speaks in her own language of bawks and clucks, often looking sideways at her owner or guests, awaiting a response. The hen is hospitable to most guests, but sometimes hisses at male visitors for unknown reasons. She also doesn't particularly like other chickens. "I don't know what she thinks she is," Zeller-Johnson said.

Some days, Zeller-Johnson said, she will see a cat and the chicken piled up on the back of Zar. The other animals welcomed her indoors, and she returned the favor. The dog protects the chicken, Zeller-Johnson said. The two animals are good enough friends to not be afraid of each other.

Sadie was purchased to provide eggs for her owner, which she does in the warmer months, but now provides companionship as well as food.

"People kind of don't believe I have a pet chicken," Zeller-Johnson said with a laugh. "Most people think they are dirty, but they aren't any more than a cat."

The only indoor mishap Sadie has caused, besides the occasional loss of spare feathers, occurred because of her intense curiosity with the computer. The chicken loved to watch her owner type, Zeller-Johnson said, but earlier this year she got a little too close and knocked a cup of coffee over on the keyboard.

Zeller-Johnson's daughter, JoZell Johnson, said she enjoyed growing up around animals and thinks Sadie's status as a pet isn't any different than a common pet.

"Sadie has always been fun," JoZell Johnson said, adding that she thinks the chicken's companionship is great.

"(The chicken) is just fun to watch," Zeller-Johnson said. "There is nothing better than watching a chicken run ... and interact with the people around her and the other animals. It is just fun."

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