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“Until One Has Loved an Animal . . .”

I was using my lathe in my outdoor wood shop when McChesney came to call. He sat first here, then there, I fed him just a bit, but he had not come for food; just to visit. Then, as he has done before, he nestled into the shavings and sawdust coming off the lathe. He paid no heed to the noise. When the shavings began to accumulate on his back, he would shudder them off and slightly change position. He visited for an hour and then he left.

McChesney is a Mourning Dove; one we have rehabbed.

He wasn’t there the next day, but my contractor laying stone in the back yard told me McChesney had come to visit him. “Yeah, he just sat on a pile of rock for about four hours watching me.” That’s McChesney.

Mourning Doves are among the most endearing birds to rehab. When very young – just feathered – we keep them in spacious cages on a shelf, and when they see Sabrina coming, they run to her, wings flapping and cooing: Weep, weep, weep. They quickly make the connection: Mommy = food. Basic arithmetic. They seem not to mind that she has neither beak nor feathers; it’s performance that counts.

Having attained a degree of maturity and self-sufficiency, the doves are moved to an aviary where they can gain flight-strength and Sabrina can carefully watch them develop. Often, wild doves come, alight on branches near the aviary, and courtship begins. When we release the rehabbed doves, it is not at all uncommon to see them fly off together.

A more raucous and impatient visitor is Sir Nigel. He’s a Blue Jay, member of the ‘Corvid’ family which includes Magpies, Crows, Ravens, Rooks and Jackdaws. ‘Blues’ are capable of an infinite variety of vocalizations, are very curious and quite insistent. They, like many of our other birds, having been set free, remain around our large backyard. They aren’t pets; they’re also not stupid… they know where the food is, and they remember who has fed them; so to have them dive-bomb you or land on your shoulder is not unusual. This will continue until they figure out natural sources of food and protection in the nearby forest.

A group of air-conditioning guys came to complain that Sir Nigel was swooping in, picking up small screw drivers and meters, and flying off with them. Of course, he carried them in the direction of the feeding area, his way of reminding them there was a hungry Blue Jay in their midst, a state of affairs not to be long-tolerated.

But for all of that, Sir Nigel is more persistent than other jays. It’s nothing for him to fly into the animal room while Sabrina is feeding squirrels, land on her head, and instruct her in loud and certain terms how to improve her technique. And of course, since the subject is feeding, he sees himself as an expert

Rehabbing is a business of emotional extremes. I watch the new folks train with Sabrina, people with good hearts and wonderful intentions. They want to help but they don’t yet know how heart-breaking this business can be, i.e., the animal or bird you just cannot save even after exhausting effort. Yet I wonder if the old saying is true: That we can be no closer to God than we are to those animals and birds with whom we share His creation. But then, there are the rewards, like McChesney, and – okay, okay – like Sir Nigel.

“Until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.

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