She was dangerously thin, fleeing in fear at even the sound of a falling leaf. The leather collar around her neck was so tight it was clear she had grown out of it some time ago.
Vicki Webb first spotted the reddish-blond Labrador-shepherd mix stray when she began stealing cat food from bowls in the Webbs’ backyard. Every time Vicki tried to coax her toward a bowl of dog food, she’d run away.
But each day she would return. Lingering in nearby woods, she’d show up at the Webbs’ house around dusk, then leave as the sun rose. This happened every night for two years, and during that time Vicki and her husband, Don, never forgot the timid stray.
At first, Vicki started sitting on a blanket, not too close to the food bowl, not too far away, to keep the dog company. Soon, the dog started barking to announce her arrival, and Vicki began sitting with her for longer periods, even far after dark. The dog wouldn’t let Vicki or Don touch her, but she was becoming more comfortable with their companionship.
The Webbs eventually named the dog Chicken because of her skittish nature. It didn’t matter how busy they were or how hot or cold it was outside, they were devoted to Chicken. One winter day was so frigid, Vicki and Don built a makeshift shelter from bales of pine straw, lining it with blankets and heating pads for Chicken. Vicki was pleased to see the dog’s furry legs protruding behind the straw the following morning.
Then, a breakthrough. A week of non-stop rain brought an exhausted Chicken inside the Webb’s fenced-in yard; a gate was usually left open for her. She fell down on the grass, too weary to stand.
“I saw this as the best and possibly last opportunity to finally secure Chicken, having never been able to touch, pet or provide a loving embrace,” said Vicki. “The fence gate was closed and with the drop of the latch, Chicken became Chicken Webb and our hearts were filled.”
Chicken did not resist this time, even jumping into the Webbs’ car for the first veterinarian visit. While there, Chicken crawled into Vicki’s lap and licked her.
Now, after Chicken, who died in 2016, officially joined their family seven years ago, the Webbs are honoring their extraordinary and unforgettable friend at the place where she benefited so much from effective, compassionate care.
In a planned gift, the Webbs have pledged two endowments, $1 million each, to the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. One establishes the Chicken Webb Osteoarthritis Pain Management Research Endowment. The second creates the Chicken Webb Cancer Research Endowment.
Over time, it was clear that Chicken’s life as a stray had taken its toll. When she started suffering from painful osteoarthritis, the Webbs brought her to the CVM and to Duncan Lascelles, professor of small animal surgery and pain management and an internationally renowned expert on measuring and treating companion animal pain.
Lascelles, who had also treated the Webb’s cat, Ditto, performed hip replacement surgery to ease Chicken’s discomfort and restore mobility. When Chicken later developed hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the circulatory system that also affected Chicken’s spleen, the Webbs brought her to the NC State Veterinary Hospital, where surgeons removed her spleen and began a chemotherapy program, extending Chicken’s life for two years.
The CVM’s clinical staff has become like family to the Webbs because Chicken was also such a valued, memorable family member. It had taken several years for the Webbs to gain Chicken’s trust. When it came to her care, they trusted NC State.
“Our pets are our children and we are very grateful for everything that’s been done here,” said Don. “We hope this will memorialize them in a way that will help others.”
~Steve Volstad/ NC State Veterinary Medicine