One of Mary Kauffman’s turkeys, Diogenes

A turkey dinner is traditional for most on Thanksgiving.  While many birds are a bit nervous this time of year, some lucky fowl in Ketchikan are living the good life. 

With faces that look almost prehistoric, sage turkeys proudly strut in the barn at Mary Kauffman’s north Ketchikan home.  I met with Kauffman to find out more about her menagerie of livestock, including peacocks, geese, ducks, rabbits, and, of course, turkeys.

Kauffman has lived in Ketchikan for 30 years and her property is a haven for rescue animals, especially abandoned or injured fowl.  Having grown up on a farm, Kauffman is accustomed to the hard work necessary to care for a variety of animals.

 “It’s always a job keeping them clean, because I clean them every day.  Just keeping supplies is impossible because there just isn’t always a lot of food in stock, so I have to plan ahead.  It’s the logistics.  It’s like running an army you’ve got to have the food.”

She says when she first moved to Ketchikan, she rescued stray cats that gravitated towards her property.  She made sure all were spayed and neutered, and found homes for many.  Eventually, with her farm experience, she began rescuing ducks, geese and pea fowl that were abandoned or mistreated. Kauffman took in turkeys as well. 

 “This was one that wasn’t wanted.  I was offered the bird and I took him.  They said he was mean, but he’s never been mean.  A turkey is very intelligent, just like a dog.  If you mistreat a dog, you’re going to turn one into a biter…no doubt about it.  If you mistreat a bird, they will slice you up with those spurs and things.”

Surprisingly all of the animals live harmoniously – pea fowl interacting with the turkeys, rabbits resting beside geese, and ducks tailing after the others.  All follow Kauffman from time to time.

 “Normally they don’t recommend that you put turkeys and peacocks and rabbits all together.  But I’ve learned over the years that animals behave the way you expect them to.  If you’re kind to them, they learn to get along with each other.  And as it gets darker, they all come in on their own.  I just call them and they all parade right in.

Several of Kauffman’s charges are special needs animals.  Two of her turkeys, Charlotte and Mister Magoo have vision problems.  She points out a duck that walks with a challenged gait from a broken leg.  As we talk, two of the large male turkeys, Diogenes  (die-AE-jeh-neez) and Atlas, present themselves.  They strut, puff up, and display their tail feathers like a fan.

 “It’s interesting.  You can see a headdress sometimes.  When they’re showing themselves off you can see a headdress.  And I’ve always wondered how they figures out how to align their feathers.  You can see it there with that turkey sometimes.”

Kauffman tells me this behavior indicates that they like me.

 “They’re letting you know that they’re here and they like you.  If they don’t like you, they’d be out of here.  They don’t have the tail feathers like the peacocks to show off.  They have their own way.”

She says she spends two to four hours each day tending to the animals’ needs.  Nearly 70 years old and with some medical problems, Kauffman says the work helps keep her going.  She retired 17 years ago and uses the proceeds from advertisement on her website, sitnews-dot-us, to help pay for her animals’ care. 

All of the animals are clearly loved and well cared for.  I ask her about the turkeys in particular and what their lives are like.

 “Probably better than most of our lives.  We have to get up and go to work and pay the bills.  They just walk around and fluff and huff and puff.”

Kauffman says she used to give them more fresh vegetables, taking discards from local grocery stores, but she is no longer able to make the trip to town regularly.  Despite, her turkeys are living well.

 “So they get all kinds of goodies.  Mostly they get a plant-based feed.  They get a lot of sunflower seeds and a variety of corn-mix seeds every day.  And every now and then, once a week or so, they’ll get some greens which they really like.”

She says she can no longer take in any more animals, but intends care for the ones that she has for the rest of their lives.  She has made provisions in her will to see that they are cared for or, if necessary, humanely destroyed.  Kauffman says none of her animals will be served on a dinner table.

 “So he’s not going to be turkey dinner ever.  I imagine he’d be pretty tasty if he were.” (turkey sounds)