The great horned owl was not enthusiastic about being held. He was like my son getting his first haircut. As his handlers washed his wings, he frowned his eyes half closed and clenched his feet into tight fists. I could just imagine him thinking what my son said many years ago: “Let me out of here.”
As Dawn Mazierski clasped the belligerent owl’s legs with one gloved hand and tightly held his wings with the other, Dr. Karen Moran carefully forced food into its mouth with forceps, pushing open that threatening beak for each bite. As she worked, I was tempted to stroke the soft feathers covering the owl’s feet. Fortunately, I knew better. Those feathers hid inch-long talons that would dig deep into my hands if I did.
I was watching just one more event on a normal day at the SPCA Serving Erie County for the many staff members and volunteers who work with injured wild animals. I had been invited by Beverly Jones and Jean Alden to visit the facility on Ensminger Road in Tonawanda and learn more about the rehabilitation activities.
The owl they worked with that morning was brought to the SPCA because it had lost its sense of balance. An X-ray showed no broken bones, but the bird was clearly incapacitated. The staff diagnosis was a concussion suffered when it flew into something. Workers will care for the owl in the hope that over time it recovers. If it does, they will release it near where it was found.
Most of us know the SPCA as a place where pets may be adopted, and indeed on that morning the background music was a canine chorus. I was shown the many dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters and even turtles that were up for adoption and I was sorely tempted. There were two dogs in particular that I would love to have taken home. I knew, however, that I could get no animal past my wife.
But I was not there to adopt a pet. I wanted to hear more about the activities of this staff. Here are just some of those they shared with me:
A loon lay for five days in a ditch, having crash-landed there in a storm. It had been assumed to be dead, but finally rehabilitator Marianne Hites found it and brought it to the SPCA. It was in terrible condition: emaciated, dehydrated and near death. The staff nursed it with care and as soon as it gained enough strength, workers let it swim in a bathtub. They had to learn from local anglers how to net pails-full of minnows to feed their patient. The loon would quickly catch a dozen or so shiners thrown into its bath and announce with its strange hoots that it was ready for more. Successfully rehabilitated, the loon was released in the Niagara River.
Two beautiful milk snakes were brought in. One had gotten stuck in a glue trap set for mice. The snake was carefully freed and, after it had shed its injured skin, released. The other snake could not be saved, but in death it produced eggs. The staff was able to raise and release these offspring.
A bittern and a mallard were brought in, each with a broken bill. To repair them, the mandibles had to be bound up. Two tubes were inserted, one for breathing during the operation and the other for feeding afterward. Both operations were successful and the birds released.
A homeowner was delighted to observe fox kits playing at a den in her backyard. But then the mother was somehow badly burned. Elise Able trapped the fox and the SPCA staff cared for it. The temporarily abandoned kits were fortunate: the homeowner fed them until their mother returned.
I salute the SPCA for its humane work with and for animals. For more about the society, including how you might join their 500-plus weekly volunteers, visit www.yourspca.org.