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Hen picked: Chickens are service animals

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By Nancy Kennedy

INVERNESS — No, you’re not seeing things — that’s a chicken riding in a stroller.

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Henny Pen, or “Henny,” is a rescue chicken that’s part of a trio of service animals adopted and trained by Ed Brown and his 9-year-old son, Austin.

“We take them out for walks everywhere,” Brown said. “Oreo, the black-and-white one, sits on the handle and we go out on the trail or shopping at Lowe’s.”

Henny has leg paralysis. Oreo had been left for dead.

Brown couldn’t resist rescuing them. You could say he’s chicken-hearted.

“I’d seen (videos) of chickens being tortured, horrible stuff,” he said.

Henny has to be carried, but Oreo and Victoria come running when called. And they’re good car travelers, too.

Oreo is the “watch chicken.” One time Brown had some french fries burning in the oven and Oreo pecked at him until he got up to see what was wrong.

“We brought Oreo to the fireworks and she loved it,” Brown said. “She spread her wings and looked like an angel.”

This past Christmas the chickens had their photo taken while sitting on Santa’s lap.

“People love to see them,” Brown said. “They get real ‘chicken-eyed.’”

Trained as service animals, the hens wear service vests and go into nursing homes.

“Chickens are easily trained as service animals,” said Floral City animal rescuer Lisa Jones, “especially the ones that Ed has, because he spends so much time with them.”

Henny is one of the chickens Jones had rescued. He and Austin often visit Jones and her rescue chickens at Frog Holler in Floral City.

Each chicken has its own personality, Brown said. Henny is the most huggable. Oreo is sassy and full of energy and likes to be the center of attention — and she growls.

Victoria is quiet and polite, “queenly,” like Queen Victoria.

Brown has a total of 12 chickens, but Henny, Oreo and Victoria are the rulers of the roost.

“We have a lot of sponsors and we’re in the process of building a chicken condo,” Brown said. “It’ll be air conditioned and everything.”

He said people ask him all the time why he does this, why he loves chickens.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “People say, ‘When I was a kid growing up on a farm, I used to have to go get the eggs every day.’ People get tears.”

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.