MADISON, Wis. -- Though she probably wouldn't mention this on her business card, Liz Perry is a chicken matchmaker.
One of the few, if only, people performing the worthy service in southern Wisconsin, Perry helps unwanted chickens find new homes -- homes where they will be egg-producing pets and not end up in a casserole dish.
As the number of urban chickens taking roost in cities and suburbs explodes, Perry -- who owns two pet stores in Madison -- has become the go-to foster mother for unwanted birds. She figures she's found homes for as many as 250 chickens in the last few years. She doesn't have a website nor does she advertise her urban chicken rescue services, but people find her anyway, often by posting questions on the website madcitychickens.com.
Shortly after she opened her first Nutzy Mutz & Crazy Catz store in Madison, customers started asking Perry if she sold chicken feed. She didn't know Madison allowed residents to keep as many as four hens in their backyards. Realizing a business opportunity, she began stocking bags of feed.
Then, when she and her husband dropped off trash at a local dump, she saw a chicken running around the landfill. They took the animal home, dubbed the new pet Consuela and were later featured in the documentary "Mad City Chickens."
She began networking with backyard chicken owners as well as those who wanted to get chickens. Soon, folks who no longer wanted their birds began contacting her.
Maybe they ordered four chicks but five or six were delivered by mail, or maybe one of the hens turned out to be a rooster, which is not allowed by many city ordinances. She began getting calls from animal shelters to handle chickens that were surrendered or neglected by their owners.
She once mentioned to an organic chicken farmer in Jefferson, Wis., that she finds homes for chickens.
"He called and said 'I have these girls I need to find homes for, or they'll wind up in the stew pot.' I said sure. He said 'I have 80.' I'm like -- 80? But I found homes for all of them," Perry said.
To folks who have no idea or don't care where their omelets or chicken Parmesan come from, it might seem strange that anyone would take such an interest in chickens who need new homes. But Perry points out that chickens make good pets, they're hearty, and they lay eggs every day. That's why so many urban dwellers are building chicken coops in their backyards.
But invariably some owners tire of their flocks.
"It's not unlike puppies. The chicks are super cute and fun, but then they grow up and people say: 'My kids aren't taking care of them anymore.' So they'll get dumped," Perry said.
Jen Lynch and her husband, Scott, were one of the first families recruited by Perry to take in chickens. The Madison couple had talked about getting some chicks but hadn't pursued it until Perry asked them a few years ago to take in two chickens -- Flicka and Ricka -- featured in the "Mad City Chickens" movie.
The Lynches are active in the local food movement and run a mobile wood-fire pizza company, La Fortuna Pizza, and wanted chickens for their eggs. Flicka and Ricka did lay eggs but they also quickly became members of the family.
"They're hilarious and tame. Ours knew commands. One used to fall asleep in my daughter's lap. They performed antics for food they liked," said Jen Lynch.
Perry travels throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois picking up chickens. Some are neglected, like Finch, a rooster suffering from frostbite when he ended up at an animal shelter. Perry nursed him back to health by putting aloe on his damaged claws, though the frostbite did turn his red comb into a flat-top. Finch survived and now lives at the Raptor Education Center in Antigo, Wis.
Marcia Coburn, president of Red Door Animal Shelter in Chicago, found out about Perry through a friend who works at an animal hospital. Among the hardest animals to place are roosters because their loud crowing soon wears out their welcome, and many communities bar roosters from backyard coops.
Coburn doubts that any of the chickens taken to Red Door Animal Shelter run away on their own.
"Nobody has ever called us and said they lost their chicken. I think they're abandoned," said Coburn. "We started working with Liz to place them. She's placed roosters for us, too, which is really hard."
Perry placed seven neglected chickens with Chris Holman who runs Nami Moon Farms in Custer, Wis. They met at a farmers' market in Madison and when Holman saw Perry's online comment about chickens needing homes, he sent her an email.
The seven chickens placed with Holman had been neglected and removed from a home with too many animals. By the time Perry arranged for them to go to Holman's farm, they were healthy.
"We have the space, we like chickens," said Holman, who placed the birds with his pet chicken flock. "From my point of view if no one else will take them, we've got the space."
Perry carefully vets all prospective chicken owners to ensure the birds will be pets and not Sunday dinner. But she's also realistic and knows that sometimes chickens eventually are slaughtered, particularly when they stop laying eggs.
"I don't judge people who eat their chickens if they're running around and are free range," said Perry, who doesn't eat chicken, turkey or eggs. "If it's a chicken that came from a bad situation I will only find them a home where they're considered a pet."
(c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services