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Why did Mr. Joy cross the road?
To help folks re-coop

Therapy chicken cheers nursing home residents


Reprinted with Permission of the Charlotte Observer

This image will illustrate floats
DAVIE HINSHAW / Staff Photographer

Beulah Huntly gently rubs Mr. Joy during his visit to the Golden Living Center on E. 5th St. Mr. Joy is a white Old English Game Bantam rooster who lives with Alisha Tomlinson.

He's the size of a softball and never is going to lord it over a barnyard. He's got a soulful sort of cluck and never is going to wind up on a plate next to the potato salad.

No, Mr. Joy has a higher calling. Mr. Joy is a therapy chicken.

Everyone's heard of dogs that cheer the sick or comfort the lonely. But these golden retrievers have nothing on the three-quarters-of-a-pound Old English game bantam rooster owned by Alisha Tomlinson of east Charlotte.

"Oh, it's just precious," whispered Kathryn Black, 81, as she cuddled a quiet Mr. Joy on his recent visit to the Golden Living Center in Charlotte. Mr. Joy settled himself onto Black's lap and closed his eyes. "You going to sleep?" she murmured, and made a low, humming sound as she petted him.

Mr. Joy came to the Tomlinsons from an elderly gentleman, who as Alisha puts it, "raised him from an egg." It soon became clear that he was destined for a career beyond the coop.

One day Alisha, a pet sitter, had to visit a client in an assisted-living center to care for the woman's cat. Mr. Joy had ridden along, and Alisha didn't want to leave him in the car. She brought him in and put him in her client's lap. Chicken magic.

"He stretched his neck out and she just stroked him," she said. The elderly woman, crippled with osteoporosis, lit up in a way Tomlinson had never seen. And Mr. Joy's mission of mercy was born.

Now the tiny rooster makes rounds to nursing homes, riding in a basket lined with chicken-print cloth, delicately pecking corn out of people's palms. Wherever he goes, people are moved to share their own chicken stories. That was true at the Golden Living Center.

"Chickens are like everybody else: They have their own personalities," said Jerry Crosby, 72, as he petted Mr. Joy. He recalled life on a mini-farm in Florida, and told about the hen his family had who "would adopt anything that moved."

He also related the tale of his father attempting to butcher a renegade rooster and accidentally nabbing the wrong bird, a saga which ended with "but we still had chicken for dinner!"

This generally is not the sort of story Tomlinson likes to hear, although she understands that many of Mr. Joy's new friends grew up with a different relationship to poultry than the one she has.

In addition to his therapy gig, Mr. Joy also has been known to show up at fast-food parking lots sharing a subtle message of vegetarianism. She simply waits by her car with Mr. Joy basket. "People come over and say "Is it real?' "

Tomlinson quietly hands them a brochure about factory farming while they stroke the chicken.

The Web site Tomlinson created for him ( carries the motto "Just say `No' to the nugget!" But, she says, she keeps this part of Mr. Joy's resume low-key. "It's not a hard-core agenda," she said. "You catch more flies with honey."

Back at Golden Living Center, Mr. Joy took a stroll on the center's lawn, relieving himself and enjoying a fluffing of the feathers ("Shake it out!" Tomlinson said.) Then it was time to head home and return to his wives, Ms. Joy and Mrs. Joy.

Give him a cluck

E-mail Mr. Joy at

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