HANFORD — At first glance, Poppy looks like your everyday rooster, but on closer inspection, one finds that it’s actually not that simple.
Poppy was born with a condition that has helped make him a social media star and the subject of a new children's book.
According to Hanford speech pathologist Tricia Stone-Shumaker, the issue first became apparent when he was a chick. On picking him up, her son noticed the chick’s beak was off. As it turned out, Poppy was born with a crossed beak, causing the bottom portion to jut outwards on his left side.
It also meant that Poppy couldn’t feed himself. Stone-Shumaker turned to the internet to find support groups for people with cross-beaked chickens and to her surprise, found one with 3,000 members.
One of the admins from the support group taught her to make a feed into a playdough-like, tube-shaped substance, which she then was able to use to “torpedo” feed Poppy. Stone-Shumaker credits the admin and the technique with saving Poppy’s life. But it didn’t make their problems go away — Poppy was still unable to feed himself or be left alone. Further complicating matters, Stone-Shumaker’s son was graduating from West Point and missing the ceremony was out of the question.
“I couldn’t leave him. I had nobody that knew how to hand-feed him,” Stone-Shumaker said. “We used to go every six months to Hawaii, we were flying everywhere to go visit family, friends and just to go on vacation.”
Their solution was to get a 37-foot RV with two bathrooms, one of which her husband soundproofed to accommodate Poppy’s crowing in the morning. Stone-Shumaker then loaded Poppy (and a duck with a broken leg named Remi) in the RV and hit the road on a cross-country road trip. They visited national monuments and landmarks along the way like the Grand Ole Opry and Mount Rushmore, never leaving their rooster behind. Poppy didn’t know it, but he was also bringing joy to other travelers.
“Even in the RV, we’ve stopped to go get gas and he’s popped up on the couch and people can see him through the window there,” Stone-Shumaker said. “And people can walk past and point and they’re kind of amazed and it’s kind of hilarious to see.”
Poppy’s story quickly spread via social media to local news outlets and even found its way to People Magazine. Now, he’s the subject of a newly-published children’s book.
Having wanted to write a book for decades, it was item No. 2 on Stone-Shumaker’s bucket list, but she lacked a muse. That all changed when they got home, at which point the inspiration struck, especially considering her work in speech therapy.
“What a perfect combination — I work with special-needs kids in my profession and I have a special-needs animal,” she said. “The story, it’s about Poppy, but really it’s about people and being accepted and a level of inclusion, meaning to be important.”
Self-worth was already a lesson the rooster was teaching to Stone-Shumaker’s patients, who often deal with autism and speech impairment. But seeing Poppy’s journeys with Remi the one-legged duck, she hoped, would drive that lesson home. With the work of illustrator Kim Sponaugle, they showed Poppy and Remi encountering other creatures from a fish without a fin to a snake unable to slither. All the while, they impart the same message to Poppy: “The things that make you different are the things that make you … you.”
“This is something where, if we can share this book and offer inclusion, and showing people, ‘it’s okay to be different, it’s okay if you aren’t a typical kid,’” Stone-Shumaker said. “You can maybe look back and not make fun of somebody else because you were there.”
The book was finished in 10 months, with its soft release on April 26. Stone-Shumaker says it’s just part one of three in a larger series. The book is currently available at www.poppythechicken.com/shop and other books stores.