Few takers for huge, smelly, beheaded chicken -- imagine that

A dead chicken by the side of the road in Silver Spring led to a dispute about who was responsible for cleaning it up.
A dead chicken by the side of the road in Silver Spring led to a dispute about who was responsible for cleaning it up. (Jean Teichroew for The Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

It wasn't typical fare for the neighborhood e-mail discussion group, but Jean Teichroew hoped that another Silver Spring resident might know the answer to her question: "Whose responsibility in the county is it to remove a dead chicken?"

The rust-colored, feathered corpse had been lying rear-up near an empty Heineken box at 16th Street and Second Avenue, just north of downtown Silver Spring, since late last week, Teichroew wrote on the North Woodside forum Tuesday. After it had begun to "ripen" in the heat, she wrote, she called Montgomery County's Animal Services Division but was told that officers couldn't retrieve it unless the bird was "the size of a vulture."

"I believe the chicken is missing its head," Teichroew wrote. "Please, hold your guffaws."

Her query set off a stream of chicken jokes, including questions about "fowl play." What became known as "The Dead Chicken Story" ended Wednesday morning, when a Montgomery County Council member's staff intervened and red-shirted "ambassadors" from downtown Silver Spring's Urban District were sent to pick it up.

Teichroew said that the chicken, which she had to pass daily on her walk to work, was "pretty disgusting." Even so, when asked where she thinks the chicken came from, she didn't miss a beat: "From across the road? I don't know."

How a headless chicken ended up on the side of a major road in a bustling suburb of the nation's capital remains a mystery. But the quest to remove the remains provided a glimpse into the local bureaucracy of dead-animal removal and a dose of dark humor during an unseasonably hot and muggy week full of dismal news about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"We took it seriously, and we took care of it," said Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center. "On a lighter note, it provided some comic relief in these stressful times."

Rodriguez said his colleagues joked that, based on his penchant for cooking whole pigs, he might want to take the chicken home for dinner.

Police Capt. Paul Starks said the department's Animal Services Division responds to calls about live animals, such as complaints of loose dogs or allegations of animal abuse. A private contractor removes dead deer, and the county pays the Montgomery County Humane Society to remove other dead animals, he said.

The county needs a size limit, Starks said, "because if we picked up every [dead] chipmunk, squirrel and crow, it would be a lot."

B.J. Altschul, the Humane Society's spokeswoman, said there is no size limit for removing dead domesticated animals. Dead wild animals, however, must be larger than an adult possum, not a vulture, she said. Chickens are considered domesticated. A Humane Society driver tried to find the dead chicken in Silver Spring on Wednesday, she said, but it was gone.

Teichroew said she and her son, Peter, 24, planned to remove the chicken themselves Saturday with a bag and a pair of gloves. But when her son saw the bird's size, he told her, "Mom, that thing is huge!"

Concerned that the smelly, fly-covered corpse was a public health hazard, she asked her son to call Animal Services again. "Tell them it's really, really big," she recalled telling him. "Maybe you'll get someone who doesn't have the 'vulture rule.' "

This time, he was told that someone would be sent out. But when Teichroew walked to work Tuesday morning, the chicken was still there. She then called Montgomery's Highway Services division, but it referred her back to Animal Services and the police department's non-emergency number. When she called that, she said, she was pointed back to Animal Services and the highway division. That's when she called the office of council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), and a staff member passed her concerns along to Rodriguez.

Teichroew said she's still disturbed that someone would leave a beheaded chicken on a street corner but glad that the poultry mystery could provide some comic relief.

"I feel good I could do my civil duty," she said, "and give people a good laugh."

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