At Kootenay senior’s centre, ‘Chicken TV’ enriches lives

Trio of chickens bringing unexpected joy to seniors at Castlegar residence

Ellen Demers had chickens growing up, and shares her ice cream with these ones. “They’re not spoiled, they’re loved.”                                Photo: John Boivin

Ellen Demers had chickens growing up, and shares her ice cream with these ones. “They’re not spoiled, they’re loved.” Photo: John Boivin

It’s a sunny, hot afternoon, but a group of elderly women are outside, looking through a fence at an enclosed space in the courtyard of their seniors home.

Inside the pen, a trio of chickens are doing what chickens do — scratching, pecking the ground, and softly vocalizing.

“It’s warm today, they’re kind of exhausted, it’s so hot,” says Ellen Demers, as a black pullet pecks at a handful of oats she’s offering through the wire. “See how they’re drinking that water?”

Demers, who has lived at Castlegar’s Talarico Place for two years, says being able to be around the chickens means a lot to her.

“I came from a farm when I was young, and I just love those things, I just love them,” she says. “They always seem to come to me, and I enjoy that.”

Demers isn’t the only one who loves the chickens. A few yards away, inside the air-conditioned building, other seniors are peering through the windows to catch a glimpse of the birds.

At Talarico Place, the animals have become the centre of attention for the seniors, the gossip at breakfast and the go-to topic between residents passing time.

“To hear the residents talking about them in the dining room in the morning — ‘Where are the chickens? How are the chickens?’ — it’s been amazing,” says Kelly-Anne Gyurkovits, the recreation co-ordinator at the home.

Gyurkovits says she first read about chickens being used as seniors therapy a few years ago, and started to lobby her administrator to let her give it a try.

“At first the staff thought we were out of our minds, saying this wouldn’t work, there’s no way we could do this,” says Gyurkovits. “I kind of put a bug in [my boss’] ear a few years ago, and she thought I was kidding.

“And then she went away on holidays, and when she got back, I said ‘we have this all organized,’ and she said ‘let’s give it a shot.’”

The chicks arrived one year ago, just a couple days old. At first they had a small enclosure, and wandered freely around the courtyard. But, when the chickens started doing what chickens do after eating, it became clear they needed to be in an enclosed space.

This year, with the help of Mitchell’s Supply and Western Industrial Contracting, they built a proper fenced run, and a little coop. Cluckingham Palace is now the heart of Talarico’s community.

“We call it Chicken TV,” says Gyurkovits. “If it’s not hot out here, there’s a lineup to see them and feed them. We have people in the dining room saying ‘can you move that chair for me? I can’t see the chickens.’

“I’ve been working with seniors for 30 years, and this is the best thing I have ever done. By far.”

Gyurkovits’ boss, Stacey Thin, says having the chickens meets with the institution’s greater goal, to create a rich, healthy, loving place for seniors. The path to that goal is creating interactions and building seniors relationships with animals, children and the community.

“I think chickens bring spontaneity, a life-worth-living to residents… they provide something for people to talk about, interact with, reminiscing about their past, caring for them, ” says Thin. “We’re providing care for them, but they need to provide care for other things.

“It’s bringing them back some purpose, some joy in their lives.”

The birds are low-maintenance animals, and eat a lot of table scraps from the kitchen and staff’s homes. Cleaning the tiny coop is not much of a burden either.

Gyurkovits says the chickens help residents connect with each other, with staff, and with their past.

“It’s just a joy. It brings back memories and all those things they did as children, or chores as adults.

“We have a generation of people here who didn’t necessarily have an indoor dog or an indoor cat, they had farm animals,” she says. “That’s what they are used to, that’s their thing. This is something they can identify with.”

As far as Gyurkovits and Thin know, they are the only seniors facility in the province providing Chicken TV.

But she doesn’t think they’ll be the last.

And what about the side benefits — eggs?

“We get three a day,” says Gyurkovits. “We can’t serve them to the residents, so we sell a dozen or so a week as a fundraiser.”

It’s been long enough in the sun, for both chickens and humans, so Ellen Demers and friends retreat to the cool interior of the home. But she’ll be back as soon as she can, she says, with some treats for them. She likes to share her ice cream with the birds — a chicken favourite, apparently.

“They’re not spoiled,” she says. “They’re loved.”

 

Chickens are growing in popularity as therapy birds for seniors. Submitted photo

Chickens are growing in popularity as therapy birds for seniors. Submitted photo

‘Cluckingham Palace’ was built this year with the aid of some local businesses. Submitted photo

‘Cluckingham Palace’ was built this year with the aid of some local businesses. Submitted photo

Just Posted

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

CVRD Area E director Alison Nicholson, right, hiked two hours to Waterfall Camp at the Fairy Creek watershed along with Comox town councillor Nicole Minion and Comox Valley Regional District director Daniel Arbour to meet with old-growth logging activists on Monday, June 7. (Submitted)
Cowichan Valley regional director visits Fairy Creek protest camps

‘They clearly communicated that they are committed to what they are doing’

Tim Wilkinson, who will attempt a double anvil triathlon on Vancouver Island on July 3, poses with his training partner, Shadow, who has been dragged up and down the Nanaimo Parkway many times. (Submitted)
Vancouver Island triathlete takes on ‘double anvil’ for charity

7.6km swim, 360km bike ride, and 84.4km run, all within 36 hours

An old growth cedar stands in a cut-block within the Caycuse Valley. More than 100 prominent Canadians, have signed an open letter calling for the immediate protection of all remaining old-growth forests in B.C. (Submitted)
Brian Mulroney and Greta Thunberg among 100 celebrities pushing to save B.C. old growth

List includes Indigenous leaders, scientists, authors, Oscar winners

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Most Read