April 2009 / Links updated 2014 MY DAUGHTER SAVED THE WORLD!
So Can You
The Jews and Muslims share a saying: If you save a life, it's as if you saved the world. They're referring to humans; I would go a step further to include animals, too.
Frankly, I would not have said so a few months ago. But that was before Pidgie.
Who is this remarkable creature that turned my thinking around? Nothing more than a garden variety pigeon. Just two things set him apart: the severity of his injuries—and the fact that my 18-year-old daughter, Sophie, saved his life.
I want to tell you the story of Pidgie as a story in its own right, but ultimately as a way of talking about wolves. The animals may not seem related—the one too numerous for many city dwellers' tastes; the other, rare, prized and wild—but the reasons we do and do not save them—and the reasons we should—share a great deal in common.
Pidgie was a crumpled mess on the curb when Sophie found him last month, but he was still living and she couldn't walk by. So she bundled him up and traveled from vet to vet until she found a wildlife rehabilitator who could help. The rehabilitator, Rita, couldn't take him in. She could only prescribe a course of treatment and return him to Sophie, with medicines and a cage, to care for at home. Meaning my home.
Sophie called to say they were coming. At first, I freaked. We have a dog and three cats. How could a bird possibly be safe here? Besides, we weren't an animal hospital. And of all birds, this! A pigeon didn't seem worth the trouble. But Sophie said not to worry, she would handle everything.
She arrived a short time later, with the pigeon carefully wrapped in a box and the other paraphernalia in tow. I followed her into her room, suddenly interested.
What was the matter with the pigeon? She slowly unwrapped him and showed me. A broken pelvis, no tail feathers, raw skin with superficial wounds on the back, and exposed muscle with deep puncture wounds on the breast and under the wing. The pigeon was an utter wreck. I couldn't imagine how he could survive.
His treatment entailed daily doses of oral medicines, including a painkiller, and occasional application of a cream on the wounds. Sophie had been shown how to deliver the drops: firmly grasp the upper part of the beak and pull it up to stretch out the neck, then insert the dropper and twist a bit to move it down before pushing the medicine out. She did it just as instructed that night, and it worked.
I found it interesting that firmness rather than gentleness was required.
Days passed and little seemed to happen. The back wounds improved, but not the ones on the underside, and Pidgie remained unbalanced when he stood. Still, he was eating (and pooping) and appeared stable. He went off painkillers after a week and didn't seem to mind.
Within a couple of more weeks, his back began to look like a stubbly white beard, as his feathers started to grow in. He was standing more, which indicated his pelvis was healing. Only one thing troubled us. The toes on one foot were perpetually curled under, so he couldn't walk properly.
When a month was up, Sophie brought him back to Rita—now clearly a bird with a future. He got a good washing and a kind of splint to hold the damaged foot open. Back he came to our place for more weeks of tending till his tail feathers should grow in and flight become possible.
The feathers grew back quickly. Suddenly, Pidgie was taking short practice flights around Sophie's bedroom, from the floor to the bed to the dresser to the bookshelf and round again.
A couple of days later, Pidgie was flying for real—and walking pretty normally, too. Sophie removed the splint and his toes remained open. The next day he was flying to the window repeatedly, trying to get out. Rita said it was time for him to go.
So, about seven weeks after rescuing Pidgie, Sophie released him where she'd found him. He instantly hopped out of his box and flew to a window ledge across the street. Two pigeons quickly joined him and one commenced to puff and strut around Pidgie, the way males do when they court. Pidgie was apparently a "she."
When I think back on this small, saved life, I can't keep the tears entirely away. If Pidgie hadn't survived, the world she knew would have gone out with her, but she lived and her world lives on, too.
Still, I must admit that if I had been the one to see her on the street, I would have passed her by, even if she had been a member of a more lovable species. Probably, so would you.
Our excuses would have been the usual ones. Not my responsibility. No time. I can't make a difference. It's just one animal.
And even when a species is at stake, we often find the same excuses handy.
But another, deeper part of us knows it is our responsibility, there is time, we can make a difference, and one species is tantamount to the whole world.
Or think of it this way: saving the world has to begin somewhere—with one life (ours) taking responsibility for another.
One endangered life you can help save today is the gray wolf's. (Tomorrow, it may be another.) That's because the feds have decided to strip the wolves of protection in Montana, Idaho and the western Great Lakes region on May 4th. The last time this happened, a year ago, it resulted in the death of over 100 wolves. This time, more than 600 wolves could be killed in state-sponsored wolf hunts or gunned down by government agents.
One thing you can do for the wolf that WILL make a difference is:
Join the Big Howl campaign to restore federal protection for the wolves. All it takes is sending a message to the Secretary of the Interior.
As the last part of another Jewish saying goes—this one from the sage, Hillel: If not now, when?
Sheryl Eisenberg, a long-time advisor to NRDC, posts a new This Green Life every month. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), wherealong with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Petershe tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling. Read more about Sheryl.
You can save this life. The barely recovered gray wolf population in the Northwest will soon lose its federal protection and once more be prey to wolf hunts. You can help prevent that. Give a BIG HOWL to the Secretary of the Interior to keep wolves safe.
Photo: John & Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS.
Sophie holding Pidgie (note the featherless part of his back).
Hobbling on his splinted foot.
Flying again, at last.
Sophie returning Pidgie to the spot where she found him.
Pidgie perched on a window ledge—in his element again.
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Sheryl Eisenberg is a web developer and writer. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. In between issues of This Green Life, she muses aloud on green issues at thisgreenblog.com.