A Furry Chicken? ‘Furball’ Spins Tale of a Museum-Raised Chick

new book immortalizes museum’s spring chick program

Carlee Shimek |

CUTENESS OVERLOAD. Seven-year-old Doris (pictured) helped Gladys Webb take care of a special little chick named Furball.
CUTENESS OVERLOAD. Seven-year-old Doris (pictured) helped Gladys Webb take care of a special little chick named Furball. (Submitted photos)

Some of the best – in this case, most adorable – stories end up being true. In Furball by Eleanor Jones and Mary F.C. Pratt, the tales of the titular chick raised and healed by Granny Gladys and 7-year-old Doris are one such example of true stories making it onto the published page. 

Gladys Webb, the inspiration for Granny Gladys, began caring for the Chippewa Valley Museum’s chick program in 2018. The display of live chicks as part of the Farm Life exhibit had been a tradition at the museum since 1988, ending the year Webb took over.

“It was very popular,” said Jones, a retired UW-Eau Claire English professor, and co-author of Furball. “Children flocked here to see the chicks.”

In the program’s last year, one of the chicks became injured and Webb opened up her home to it, which she shared with two cats. Amazingly, the cats did not try to eat Furball; instead, they all lived harmoniously, according to Webb. 

Along with Webb, Doris Clements, daughter of one of the museum’s employees, developed a special attachment to Furball, volunteering to help Webb on the weekends with the chicks.

“She was just a very affectionate bird,” said Webb. “Furball just happened to be the only one out of all the chicks that got hurt, and I took her home.” 

As Furball grew, Webb found the chicken a forever home with Mary and Gary Mathis of the Town of Pleasant Valley. Furball was certainly an eccentric chicken, climbing up on people’s backs or shoulders and snuggling up against chests. 

 “It’s a strange story,” said Jones when asked about creating the book along with Pratt. “But it was worth doing.”

The book is a lovely rendition of the true story about Furball, Granny Gladys, and Doris, integrated with child-friendly illustrations by Kurt F. Shaffert. The book came out in November 2021, just in time for Jones to pose for a picture with the finished product on her 100th birthday. 

The book is available for purchase at the Chippewa Valley Museum and Dotters Books. And although the spring chick program is over, one of its descendants shall live on forever in Furball