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Protected by 'Officer Chicken'

Henrietta, a volunteer sentry for the community of Cheval, mans the guard booth daily (where the cracked corn is) and sometimes takes walks to patrol the perimeter.

By STEVEN A. SIMON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


LUTZ -- Enlisting animals to help with security is not that unusual. Dogs watch over homes, places of business, flocks of sheep, even junk yards. The great cat-like sphinx guards Egypt's pyramids.

Closer to home, Cheval has an animal volunteer for sentry duty at one of the subdivision's three gates.

The enlistee is a proud black-and-white chicken -- to be specific, a female Barred Plymouth Rock chicken.

No one knows where it came from, though the best theory seems to be that she is an outcast from a small flock living a half-mile or so inside Cheval.

"She just showed up one day about two months ago," said Tammy Austin, a human guard who serves alongside the chicken.

Another guard, Stewart Gottfried, shrugged his shoulders when asked to explain the bird's presence. "The chicken crossed the road and just never went back, I guess."

By all indications, the new winged sentinel seems quite content with her posting. Known by the human guards as Henrietta (pun very much intended) and by some bemused residents as "Officer Chicken," the bird can normally be seen manning (chickening?) her post near the Ramblewood gate.

When things are quiet there, she has been known to patrol the perimeter, walking purposefully along the block wall, ever vigilant for anything suspicious -- or edible.

Henrietta enjoys all the comforts necessary for life as a free-range chicken. Her conscientious guard cohorts keep bowls filled with cracked corn and water. Nearby shrubbery provides shade and shelter. If she should get lonely for fowl companionship, wild turkeys abound in the Brooker Creek Nature Preserve adjacent to Cheval, not to mention the flock of chickens up the road. What more could one chicken want?

Cheval residents seem to appreciate Henrietta's law enforcement presence as well. While she does not inspire fear in the hearts of potential scofflaws, she serves the community in a quieter, subtler manner. Drivers wait patiently as she slowly makes her way across the road. (Thought for traffic planners: Might the presence of fowl augment other "traffic calming" solutions such as stop signs and speed bumps?)

Lest anyone think Henrietta tarnishes Cheval's classy image, there is a precedent for poultry to coexist with exclusivity. The upscale Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., is well known for the daily ritual of ducks waddling, to the stirring strains of John Philip Sousa martial music, through the hotel to swim in the Grand Lobby fountain. Begun in the 1930s as a practical joke by the hotel's general manager, the duck walk has become a beloved tradition and tourist attraction. So much so, in fact, that the Peabody hotel employs a "Duckmaster" and has as its Web site address www.duckmarch.com

According to Cheval West Homeowners' Association board member Lori Lencioni, the development has no official position on the bird. She personally enjoys Henrietta, however, and says, "Considering Lutz has always been thought of (and the residents on the other side of Dale Mabry are still fighting to keep it so) as rural, I find it refreshing to see a bit of country right here in our back yard."

Sleep soundly, Cheval. Henrietta is on the job.

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