Shelley Hall can’t be certain what inspired her young son’s love for chickens.
It could be the family’s collection of dogs, cats and other animals, or the neighbors’ cattle and goats. Or the wildlife that Sawyer, 3, sees on the family’s many hunting and fishing trips. Maybe it’s the visits to Ranch & Home, where he’s been known to slip away from his parents to seek out chicks, and attempt to free them from their pens.
Hall for one is happy her little boy is fascinated with chickens and not, say, bears.
It’s chickens, or rather videos of chickens, that distract Sawyer from his daily chemotherapy for leukemia.
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Sawyer’s story and his love for chickens made its way to Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, the nonprofit that fulfills the wishes for gravely ill children. Lauren Davies, a Spokane-based wish coordinator, sprang into action. She contacted Shelley and Mark Hall. Did Sawyer have a particular wish?
Indeed Sawyer did.
The boy wanted a chicken coop for the small but growing flock of chickens that were in a dog run outside the family home near Charbonneau Park, above Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.
The chicken-centered request was unique, to say the least.
“I’ve never granted a chicken wish before,” Davies said. More than half of the wishes the nonprofit arranges involve travel, with California, Hawaii, Florida and even Alaska being popular dream destinations.
But Sawyer was determined and Davies went to work. She researched the care and feeding of chickens and investigated Walla Walla County laws on backyard chicken keeping. She struck gold when she cold-called Carolina Coops, a New York company that makes custom designed coops and told executives there about Sawyer.
The company shipped a coop kit with a price starting at $2,000. It arrived, unassembled, on a flatbed at the Hall home Wednesday.
Sawyer of course wanted to move his three chickens — Snowflake, Fluffy and Rotisserie — into the coop immediately.
He waited impatiently until Saturday, when volunteers from Home Depot and the Tri-City Industrial Kiwanis Club put it together and set up a fenced area for the chickens to roam relatively safe from predators.
Hall said the family has been lucky so far, but neighbors lost 30 birds in a single fox raid two years ago. Their new Carolina Coop isn’t just a pretty addition to the yard, it’s an important safety feature for young Sawyer’s flock.
While the volunteers wrangled parts into place, Sawyer roamed the yard, playing ball and occasionally scooping up a hen and offering her to visitors.
Sawyer first showed signs of illness a few months after his second birthday, according to his mother. He was covered with bruises, had inexplicable nose bleeds and tired easily.
Hall, who had been through emergency medical technician training, was alarmed and turned to Google in search of an explanation. Doctors initially diagnosed a vitamin deficiency. Hall insisted on the tests that confirmed what “Dr. Google” had already told her: leukemia.
The diagnosis sent the family into chaos. Sawyer was hospitalized at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane. His family spent July, August and September of 2016 at the hospital, staying at Ronald McDonald House while he was treated.
His older sisters went to stay with Hall’s ex-husband so their school schedules wouldn’t be disrupted. Dogs were divided among family and friends. Neighbors stepped in to help with the remaining animals. Hall had completed her EMT training, but her plans to take the national certification exam fell to the wayside. She faces a deadline but waves it off as unlikely while Sawyer is in treatment.
The family spent Thanksgiving at home, but returned to Spokane immediately afterward, camping out at Ronald McDonald House until February.
Sawyer is at home now, but the treatment continues. He receives chemotherapy treatments at home every night. There’s a monthly visit to Spokane for treatment through a port in his chest, and quarterly visits for treatments through his spine.
He will continue chemotherapy for two more years, then faces continued followup care. Hall doesn’t plan to enroll him in kindergarten until he’s completely clear, lest he be sickened by classmates.
Sawyer has a 90 percent chance of recovery but is at risk for secondary cancers because of his chemotherapy.
The chicken coop project cost about $1,000 in cash, but Davies said most of the project’s value is in the donations of materials and labor. A former Make-A-Wish family is donating additional chickens for the flock, and an animal feed seller is supplying a year of chicken feed at a steep discount.
For information about supporting Make-A-Wish or nominating an ill child, visit akwa.wish.org.