Agatha the hen befriended Malcolm the duck when they were both just babies. ART AVAILABLE IN A HALF HOUR (ED NOTE)
By REBECCA SLOAN
SOUTHINGTON -- If you happen to be strolling along the grassy banks of Barbara Stout's backyard pond, don't be surprised if you spot a chicken taking a dip.
Don't fret. You don't need glasses, and you're not hallucinating.
It really is a chicken, and it really is wading into the water.
The answer is simple. The clucking hen wants to be close to its best friend, a quacking duck.
"They are inseparable," Stout said. "Wherever the duck goes, the chicken has to go, too."
Alert the producers of the film "Babe." Trumbull County has its very own tale of an unlikely animal friendship.
"I've never seen anything like it. The chicken didn't want to be with other chickens. It just wanted to be with the duck," Stout said.
When they met: The feathered friends found each other when an acquaintance, Jo Ann Rogan of Leavittsburg, bought the duck, then a baby, and a flock of about 11 chicks.
The duckling, now called Malcolm, had a broken leg and was lonely and neglected.
"I felt so sorry for it," Rogan says. "It was in an old cage with no water to swim in."
Rogan took the chicks and duckling home and put them together in a big pen, but the birds of a feather didn't exactly flock together.
"The chickens beat up on the duck. They pecked at him and chased him away," Rogan recalls.
All the chickens, that is, except one.
One chicken, now named Agatha, took a fancy to Malcolm, and when the other chickens tried to pick on him, Agatha rushed to his rescue, wings flapping, beak snapping.
In fact, Agatha liked Malcolm so much, she decided she preferred his company to that of her own kind.
Soon the pen of poultry and fowl was divided, with Agatha and Malcolm on one side and the rest of the chickens on the other.
New home: Although Malcolm and Agatha had formed a fast friendship, Rogan wanted to find another home for the duck, preferably somewhere with a pond, so she asked Stout to adopt Malcolm.
She agreed, and off Malcolm went.
Poor Agatha was so forlorn, she wouldn't eat her chicken food.
"It became clear that the chicken and the duck would have to go as a pair," Rogan said.
Reunited: And so Agatha and Malcolm went together to live with the Stout family.
Times have been just ducky ever since.
Malcolm passes his days paddling in the pond, while Agatha wades nearby.
"When Malcolm swims out far into the water, Agatha follows him in as far as she can go," says Katie Stout, Barbara's daughter.
Is it an unlikely romance that keeps these feathered friends together?
"I don't think so. I think it's more of a mother-hen type of thing. I think the chicken felt protective of the duck from the start and had the instinct to mother it," Stout said.
Although Malcolm and Agatha are full-grown now, the two don't seem to notice their differences.
"They just look at each other as each other's best friend," Katie says. "Sometimes I think the chicken thinks it's a duck."
Although Malcolm's broken leg was never fixed, he gets around just fine.
"Someone said we could have the leg broken back into the correct position, but I don't know if I want to do that," Stout said.
Safety: Malcolm and Agatha have free rein of the Stout property, something of a worry at times.
"We had ducks once before, and a fox got them. If anyone has a better home for these two where they will be safe from that type of thing, they can adopt them," Stout said.
For now, summer's blissful afternoons roll on with chicken and duck side by side, wading along the sparkling shores of the Stout pond.