A 16-pound chicken named Portly can make a grown woman smile, especially if the woman happens to be known as “The Dragon Lady.” Earlier this month, I visited the home of Vickie (Karesh) Dawson, aka The Dragon Lady, just north of Camden in the country. I had heard lots of stories about Vickie, and quite frankly, her nickname of “The Dragon Lady” intimidated me a little. What I discovered is a lady with a vibrant passion for animals and life.
Vickie’s love for animals began early in life in Greenwich, Conn. At age 3, she asked for a hamster and she got a pair. Soon her dad was transporting many little hamsters to the pet store on his train rides into the city to his office as Vickie became the hamster supplier for the store. At age 5, she moved on to turtles she found by digging through the lily pads in her neighbor’s pond. Soon her dad had new companions on the train rides into the city.
At age 11, Vickie and her family moved to Camden when her dad retired. Our town only grew her interest in animals. At the old Sheheen Feed and Seed Store, Vickie saw quail. They told her quail couldn’t be tamed. That lit a fire of determination in the future “Dragon Lady” and she made them a deal. If Vickie tamed the quail then she would get enough feed to feed them forever from the store. Those quail enjoyed a free meal every night.
Back then, you could ride horses on the sidewalks of Camden, and go on horseback escapades up and down Fair and Lyttleton Streets. Vickie remembers when she and a friend were caught jumping the hedges of Harry Kirkover’s home on the corner of Greene and Lyttleton. Luckily, it was much to Mr. Kirkover’s delight.
Vickie’s adult years have included showing and placing a Mastiff at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, owning polka-dot goats, rescuing Greyhounds and she even kept and bottle-fed baby tigers at the request of Georgia DNR.
But recently, it’s Portly and his crew of fellow Buff Orpington chickens who have captured the heartstrings of Vickie Dawson. She and her husband, Buddy, even sold their house on the Polo Field in Camden and moved to the country so she could have more chickens than current city laws allow.
When I say Buff Orpington chickens are huge, I am not exaggerating. Portly isn’t the only pet chicken strutting at 15 pounds or higher, there are many. And they are beautiful when they strut. These chickens are golden in color and have feathers which look soft and plush, like luxurious satin. Because of their beautiful and soft appearance, Orpingtons are better known as show birds rather than utility chickens. They are prize-winning poultry. Vickie has shown them statewide and nationwide and has won Champion of Shows and Best in Shows. All of her birds have names and, while they all looked alike to me, she could tell each and every one apart. And as she held them, I smiled thinking of my silly wariness of “The Dragon Lady.”
Oh, the reason for “The Dragon Lady” nickname? In the 1990s, a Camden building contractor “blessed” Vickie with the nickname after he experienced her determination. In China, a “Dragon Lady” is a strong-willed, powerful lady. Good thing for the contractor Vickie Dawson loves animals … and people.
(Andrea Walker is an autism consultant with the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs Autism Division, the founder of Fostering Foster Animal Rescue, and now a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. For more information connect with Fostering Foster on Facebook, at fosteringfoster.com or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)