It was dusk on a Friday in early March 2020. Brian and Jamie Cusick were heading to their newly built East End home after a family dinner. As they turned onto Riverside Drive, they saw a group of neighbors across the street on their front porches. Their kids were all outside playing and the two neighborhood roosters—no one’s pets, really, just two stray birds someone had abandoned a couple of years ago—were strutting around, one in the street and the other on the sidewalk.
The Cusicks had never met any of these people, the ones who lived in the neighborhood’s original, more modest two-story homes, before. Ever since they’d arrived, in fact, Brian and Jamie had noticed that the people in their new River’s Edge development didn’t mix much with the people across the street. But that all changed in an instant when a pickup truck came barreling down the road between them.
As soon as he saw it, says Brian, “I thought: Oh, he’s gonna slow down, or He’s gonna veer over into our lane, because we’re turning—there’s no one behind us.” Instead, “The truck just sped up and veered over and hit the rooster—right there in front of us.” And then it sped off. A brutal hit-and-run.
Two of the kids, Rebecca and Carly (then both age 10) burst into tears, certain the rooster “was gonna die,” says Carly. And the Cusicks’ 22-year-old daughter, Caroline, who’d been riding in the back seat, was stunned. Meanwhile, “the chicken’s just kinda lying there and the other chicken is going bonkers,” says Brian. Nevermind that pandemic lockdowns were looming and Brian was facing the start of a month-long, part-time furlough from his nearly 40-year career as an ear, nose, and throat doctor. In that moment, the one thing Brian Cusick knew was that he needed to help those kids and that rooster.
He got out of his car, picked up the wounded bird—which was still alive—and moved him over to the sidewalk. One side of the animal’s head and one eye were swollen and “his leg was flopping in the wind,” says Brian, but on a Friday night, there wasn’t much he could do. The group placed the rooster in a box on Joan Powers’s back porch. Powers, Carly’s and Rebecca’s grandma, put out some food and water. If he was still alive in the morning, they agreed, they’d figure out a plan.
What happened next could be classified by some as a small miracle. It was also an unexpected answer, of sorts, to that age-old question about chickens and roads.
No one knows who abandoned them, but the two roosters that lived across from River’s Edge were infamous for prowling the neighborhood, chasing passersby, and eating whatever people happened to throw their way—Goldfish crackers, Cap’n Crunch, Cheez-its. Powers’s back porch had always been their informal home base, but the birds were both very social and, at times, “really, really mean,” says Rebecca—especially the one who ended up getting hurt. “Every time joggers would run past him in the front yard, the rooster would run after them, like real fast,” says Carly, imitating their screams and giggling.
Even so, to many who spend time in the area, the roosters were sort of like neighborhood mascots, independent and free range, in the truest sense of the word. In fact, “if you Google ‘St. Rose Church + rooster,’ ” says Jamie, laughing, “you’ll hear about somebody leaving mass one Easter Sunday, saying: ‘I heard the cock crow three times.’ ”
So, when they found the injured bird still breathing the day after the accident, under the watchful eye of the unscathed rooster, Brian felt compelled to call a veterinarian. “But not all vets take care of chickens,” he says. “You need an exotic bird specialist, because apparently chickens are exotic birds.” Unfortunately, the vet they found couldn’t see them until the next day. Once again, the two families placed food and water beside the birds and hoped for the best. When they found the animal alive again the following morning, Brian and Caroline drove it out to Batavia.
There, the vet said the best course of treatment for the rooster was to stay overnight and receive IV fluids, pain meds, and antibiotics. Half-jokingly, Jamie says they immediately began thinking: “How much is this gonna cost?” But something Powers said had stuck in Brian’s head. “She told me: ‘If the vet wants to put him down, bring him back.’ ” In other words, she wanted the rooster to die in the yard where it had lived.
“I couldn’t see bringing this chicken back with this head trauma and broken leg, just to die a slow and painful death,” says Brian, “so I said, ‘OK—let’s admit it.’ ” When the vet said the bird had to have a name, Brian—who, to this day, calls the rooster a chicken more often than not—decided, aptly, to name him Chicken. By then, says Jamie, her husband was “all in, full throttle.” A man on a mission when his life’s work had otherwise been put on an abrupt hold.
One overnight in Batavia turned into two, and soon the vet was operating, putting a pin in Chicken’s leg and a cast on after that. When the Cusicks went to pick up the bird, the vet told Brian Chicken needed to live in a pen as he recuperated, largely to “keep him away from the other chicken,” says Brian. “They were afraid the other chicken was going to want him to get up and he wasn’t going to be able to.”
When he told Powers about the pen, she built one herself and placed it on the back porch, with a special ladder and deck for the healthy rooster so “he could walk up and be next to Chicken,” says Brian. Sure enough, “the other chicken was always up there, sleeping next to the caged animal,” he notes. “He was watching out for him.”
The following weeks “were like Christmas every day for the chicken,” says the Cusicks’ youngest daughter, Mary Kate, who’s 20, “because he had everyone come visit him.” Carly and Rebecca and the Cusicks also took turns feeding Chicken a healthier diet of chick seed, crickets, and meal worms (“He drove 45 minutes to get this chicken mealworms,” says a shocked Mary Kate of her dad), plus administering antibiotic drops and eventually taking Chicken back in for cast removal. But the project didn’t end there.
When the pin in Chicken’s leg started poking through the bird’s skin, Brian took him back to the vet to have it removed, then later removed the surgical staples himself. Even though Chicken’s leg had healed, it was weak and “floppy,” says Brian, so he devised a way to give it physical therapy. He made a sling by cutting two leg holes into a towel and hanging it like a hammock in the coop so Chicken could stand without putting too much weight on his leg. With the help of his daughters and Carly and Rebecca, Brian—who by May was back to working full-time—put the rooster in the sling twice daily “so he could get used to moving his leg.” “The towel swing was really cool,” says Carly, who takes pride in the fact that she helped Chicken walk.
As Carly, Rebecca, and the Cusicks worked together to feed and rehab the chicken, something else happened, too. As pandemic lockdowns faded, the girls from both families got together for impromptu tie-dye parties, went out for ice cream a couple of times, and even had fun making lip synch TikToks together. “I don’t know if we would be such good friends without the chicken,” says Mary Kate today.
By July 2020, Chicken was back to normal, roaming the neighborhood by day with his companion rooster, occasionally terrorizing joggers, and roosting at night in the coop on the back porch. Sometimes after mass at St. Rose, Brian and Jamie walked by to check up on him.
The girls wrote Brian a thank-you note and gave him a painting of Chicken, which he and Jamie hung in their kitchen.
All told, Brian estimates Chicken’s rehab project cost roughly $1,000. As soon as he says that, Jamie smiles and says, “He’s lying.” Eventually, Brian admits, “It was a little expensive. Because chickens don’t have health insurance.”
What happened next seems, at first blush, far from a fairy tale ending. As fall 2020 approached, Brian’s work picked up, the Cusick girls headed back to work and college out of state, Rebecca and Carly each went back to school, and reality set in for the chickens, whose average life span is between five and 10 years. In September, Brian and Jamie found Chicken’s companion lying next to a barn across the street, dead from natural causes. A couple of months later, Chicken himself followed suit, from loneliness or natural causes (or both), says Brian. Carly and Rebecca “were very sweet,” says Brian. “They had a funeral for him, buried him in the side yard by the barn and put flowers on the grave.”
For most of the people in the Cusicks’ development, Chicken’s passing was unremarkable. “Not everybody loved him the way we did,” notes Jamie. But when you ask Brian what he would have done without the rooster while he was working part-time and unsure about his future during COVID, he says simply that Chicken was “a good distraction” from everything going on—a feeling so many who endured the pandemic know firsthand. Even so, as Jamie scoops ice cream into bowls for Carly, Rebecca, and their cousin, she says, “I think what happened is we were developing a relationship with the people, not just the rooster. It bonded us.”
Some people taught themselves to bake bread during the pandemic. Others grew backyard gardens or binge-watched Netflix. The Cusicks and their neighbors worked together to help Chicken. “It was honestly never really just about the rooster,” as Jamie said by text to her daughters after Chicken’s death. “Dad made everyone feel like they mattered and we all came together to save that rooster and the rooster ended up saving us.” In other words—in this case, anyway—the chicken crossed the road to help everyone else get to the other side.