It’s 6:45 in the morning, and Milt Strong is eager to be exercising after recovering from heart surgery. He’s brought along his pet, Summer, who is set to hit Dallas’ Katy Trail with him.
“She’s ready for a nice walk. Right, baby?” Strong said endearingly to his companion.
Strong isn’t talking to a furry dog friend. Summer is Strong’s feathery pal. Her name is inspired by the type of chicken she is: a rusty-red Welsummer. She squats down in her basket that’s attached to a baby stroller, without clucking or ruffling her feathers.
“Look how happy she is,” he said.
Milt Strong takes a walk with his chicken Summer along the Katy Trail in Dallas.
Joggers on the Katy Trail have spotted Strong with his chicken in a stroller over the last few years. Some, so tickled by the unusual sight, post about him on social media, nicknaming him Pollo Abuelo — Grandpa Chicken.
In many ways, Summer has become a wing woman for the single 69-year-old. The sight of Strong and Summer has inspired women to stop and ask to take pictures. Other runners do a double-take as they pass Strong with his red baby jogger, curling a smile when they realize there’s a chicken with him.
It all started as a way to poke some fun at the upscale walkers he sees pushing small pups in fancy strollers. He first took his chicken on a walk using an old children’s push bike, but it was hard to maneuver.
“The national dog of Highland Park is the Goldendoodle. They’re expensive. I’ve got a cock-a-doodle instead,” Strong said, laughing.
His chicken also helps him get exercise, an important task for a man trying to stay in shape, even with his heart condition.
“I do it because it helps me get healthy and it put smiles on people’s faces.”
The chicken character
Chickens have been a part of his life for years, but he takes it to another level.
His son, Josh Strong, remembers that while he was growing up, his father always had chickens in Colleyville.
“We’d go out and scramble around, chasing for the chickens. This is the third batch of chickens he’s had since I was born,” the 38-year-old said.
Milt Strong stops while pedestrians take pictures of his chicken Summer along the Katy Trail. (Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)
In Strong’s backyard, he has a large chicken coop he built from scrap wood for his nine hens. He calls it their “Taj Ma-Chick.”
Although Josh Strong lives in Austin now, he often gets messages from friends who spot his father.
“A friend of mine sent me a photo of my dad and the chicken and asked, ‘Is this your dad?'”
“Yep, that’s my dad. He just likes to walk his chickens,” he responded.
Milt Strong takes a walk with his chicken Summer. His other chicken, Lady Gaga, got too big to ride along in the basket.
Josh Strong worries about his dad’s health issues that have come up in the last few years. He’s had basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, and a heart stent. Then came the quadruple bypass surgery with two heart valve repairs in May.
The six-hour procedure knocked the energy out of him. Josh Strong said it was a difficult time for a person who insists on staying busy and active. Sometimes his dad felt so weak, he couldn’t even prepare frozen dinners.
When the son had to go back to work, Milt Strong’s friends and housekeeper stepped in to care for him, preparing meals and looking after the hens.
One of those friends is Mary McLean, who lives in North Dallas and sang with him in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra chorus. She says there’s much more to the man besides his chickens.
Runner Chris Ferguson stops to take a look at Opportunity follows struggle. It follows effort. It follows hard work. It doesn’t come before.Strong and Summer along the trail. (Rose Baca/Staff Photographer)
He’s a talented musician with a wide-ranging bass baritone voice. He’s also a loyal friend who always has a joke to crack, she said.
“He has a heart of gold and he is such a nut at the same time. I love him,” McLean said. “He has been a dear friend for 12 or 13 years.” She adds: “I would love my friend to find a wonderful woman.”
After Strong got divorced in 1991, he never remarried. “I sure did love her,” he says of his ex-wife, preferring to keep the reason for their split private.
Strong and his friends were happy once his doctor said he was cleared to exercise again in early July. And that includes his chickens.
Summer is named after the breed of chicken she is: a Welsummer hen.
“I will tell you, his chickens were madder than heck at him because he couldn’t go out there. They quit laying eggs,” McLean said.
“I missed being out there. For a lot of reasons. The main one is, I feel better when I exercise,” Strong said.
He’s back out on the trail now, hitting a workout five days a week. Sometimes on Saturdays, too. Often dressed in a bright shirt and a wide straw hat to protect him from the sun, he’s hard to miss.
“I’ll be the one with the chicken,” he said.