Comprehensive  Ways To Delightful Healthy Pets
CURE AND RELEASE
IHAVE NO IDEA IF SHE WAS A SHE, BUT I CALLED HER ARWEN. I WAS twelve and she was only about a week away from being old enough to fly when I found her after a storm. There were trees down everywhere in our neighborhood. High winds had picked up souvenirs from everyone’s yards and scattered them all over the county. Our backyard got someone’s maple tree branches, a soggy book of poems, a bent watering can, and Arwen, the baby blue jay.
She was alive, cold, and lovely. She had black eyes, big, gangly feet, dark feathers with blue ends poking out from their growing tubes, a dark band of soft feathers like a necklace around her neck, and grayish white fluff underneath, all matted and wet. She smelled musty and wild and I wanted to save her.
I took her home, dried her off, and put her in a box. I gave her a hot-water bottle, a towel, a cup of water, and some shredded newspaper. Then I made a mash of worms and water and fed them to her with a dropper. She was a champ at eating and made me look like a pro. My friends came over to watch. I was a celebrity.
When she was hungry, Arwen made a lot of noise. That was okay. I was one of seven children, and everyone made a lot of noise. There was usually someone hollering for something, singing, organizing yard games, or playing piano. Amid all this cacophony, the little raspy squawks of the blue orphan under my bed floated unnoticed out of my bedroom window. Except by me.
On her diet of fat worms and bugs Arwen grew quickly, and even took the bugs whole. I realized it was time for her first flight. I climbed a tree with her and placed her on a small branch. Her feathers were ready, and she seemed strong. She had been wildly stretching her wings around my room, and now seemed excited by the limitlessness of the yard. Flapping while she held on for an extra second, she let go and glided off. I will never forget the way I felt watching her fly. She was my secret self.
She stayed in the yard the whole summer, and begged for food even though she was fully capable of finding her own. She would call out with her raspy voice when I came into the yard, but she slowly chose a bird’s life. I felt the loss, but I understood. My friends and school and civilization pulled me away from her as well.
Arwen is still with me in a sense. Whenever I’m involved in the rehabilitation and release of an animal back into the wild, I am often reminded of the wild joy of that first free flight of my adopted blue bird.
ONE SUNNY MORNING IN northern California about fifteen years ago, Pacifica the sea lion shot out of her kennel and onto the beach as if she were coming out of a starting block. Ungainly on land, she made the sand fly with her flippers as she galumphed her way toward the shore. She was full grown and her scars had healed. She knew just where to go and what to do today and forever. The water sprayed in a sparkling arch as she dove in. After she was a safe distance away, her head bobbed up in the slow rolling waves and looked back at us.
We had been her nurses for nearly two weeks, but this was not a look of thanks or even goodbye. She had moved on and this was more like hello. A proper hello from a healthy, curious sea lion to those of us on land. Even more, she was saying, I’m home.
I had been working as an intern at the Marine Mammal Center in northern California. We took care of any injured and sick marine mammals—elephant seals, sea lions, seals, dolphins, otters, whales, whatever needed help—and then reintroduced them to their habitat. They were often quite ill from some bullet or man-made toxin, or injured trying to free themselves from a net or a snare of plastic encircling their neck or flippers. Extremely intelligent, they responded to the routines of treatment and often became accustomed to us. There was never any doubt, though, that they were wild and wanted to stay that way.
The sea lions were large and dangerous, requiring restraint methods ranging from a light towel wrap to large wooden baffle boards used as shields. That was how we herded the crabby sea creatures into a corner for a blood sample or a treatment. There were hundreds of fish to prepare for meals, some carefully stuffed with medications and supplements. Many animals ate on their own, but some had to be coaxed or tube-fed. The conditions at the center were often cold and wet, and the work was physically grueling. A constant smell of fish and seawater stayed in my hair and hands even after showering.
The facilities were spare, but the resources were not. Dr. Frances Gulland, the devoted head veterinarian, monitored every case with intensity. She had an overflowing, healing energy and her enthusiasm was contagious. She ensured that our laboratory equipment, staff, and volunteers were all top-notch. Each animal had the support of a team of volunteers and staff intent on their release day.
All the hours and hard work were rewarded when we watched that wild splash during the climactic sendoff back to the ocean. I felt overwhelmingly delighted and relieved knowing that those sea animals I had cared for were once again in open waters. They would be fully provided for by their real caretaker, the planet.
LOVE OF ANIMALS HAS always been as deeply rooted in me as my love of people. Animals comfort us as we take on their rhythm and they calm us when nothing else does. They can be unobtrusive in ways humans cannot. Nonhuman language is rich; we understand it instinctively, making us feel profoundly connected to a broader, deeper, better-integrated life.
An elderly client once confided to me, “I cried harder when my dog died than when my own father died.” He said there wouldn’t be enough handkerchiefs in the world to wipe away the tears when he started thinking about his dog. Perhaps he was tapping into unshed tears for his dad, too, but I have heard similar stories from many people over the years.
Our love of animals rejuvenates us every day. Perhaps the ancestry of our pets resonates with the wild that remains in us. Reminding us of the animal way we were born, tumbling into the world; of the way our untamed heart beats as we run with our dogs, of the way we fall asleep with our cat nestled in the crook of our arm or our dog warming our back, and of the uncharted unknown that awaits us when we are finished on this earth.
Spotting a flying bird in a clogged cityscape sets us free. There is an elegance and grace to the soaring—above all the traffic of our minds and troubles of our hearts—that lifts us higher than our wildest dreams.