Pigeon Problems and Cottontail Conundrums


Today, I fielded a call from a woman who saved an injured rock pigeon from a parking garage. She had just seen a car hit the bird, and then stop. The driver got out of the car, walked up to the struggling, shocked bird, and kicked it.

Now, I know it is ‘just a pigeon.’ They are not native to the US, and since they are one of the few animals that can adapt to live in urban areas, there are a lot of them. I know they can cause problems, sitting on our ledges where they shouldn’t be and crapping on things they shouldn’t crap on. Believe me, I know better than most that in some instances they can pose a health risk. I get it if they aren’t your favorite bird.

But I don’t get the callousness of kicking an animal you have just injured. I don’t understand how you can be so angry at an animal – a creature that doesn’t have your ability to think things through and can’t consider your feelings before thoughtlessly getting in the way of your car.

You see, it isn’t just about the pigeon. It is a symptom of a deeper problem; a choice to be so selfish and so cold that you cannot recognize suffering in another living creature. It is a refusal to accept the responsibility that every sane human has; to be humane.

Either that, or the guy is some kind of sociopath.

And then, I come home and find out a personal friend is dealing with a volatile situation with a woman who illegally kept infant wild cottontails.

Now, it started innocently enough; she found them lying in her back yard (cottontails are ground nesters). She didn’t see a mom (mom spends most of her time away from the babies, so she won’t attract predators to the nest. She only visits 2x daily). So, she picks them up to help them.

A kind-hearted act, absolutely. But probably interference when no interference was needed. The woman wants to take care of the bunnies. She calls around to find out how to do this, and learns that a local wildlife hospital will take them in. She learns that it is illegal to keep the bunnies. She hears that bunnies are very difficult to take care of, and the best thing for them would be to go to someone who knows what to do.

But she doesn’t want to take them to the wildlife hospital. She wants to take care of them. They are cute and warm and soft. They are so little, and they are HERS. They came from her yard. It is her right to do this, and she is darn well going to do it. The bunnies won’t die; and besides, she’s willing to take that risk.

So she goes to the pet store, and asks the workers there what she should feed her bunnies. She gets bunny death juice, marketed as an all-species milk replacer. She starts to try to feed the bunnies, but she’s never done it before. She gives the milk too quickly, and the bunnies choke on it and breathe it into their tiny little tracheas and lungs. She gives the bunnies to her children to hold and play with so that they won’t be lonely. She keeps them in a hamster cage, and feeds them odd bits and pieces of human food.

A few days pass. The bunnies have developed pneumonia and nutritional problems from the food and poor feeding technique. They are constantly afraid because of the unnatural situation, and the forced play-dates with giant predators (the children).

They begin to die.

The woman calls the wildlife hospital back and begs them to save the bunnies. When the last two bunnies arrive at the center, one has already died, and the other is dying. The woman’s children are crying, the woman is chewing out the rehabilitator, shouting “They were fine a moment ago! What did you do?”

And it only gets worse from there; now my friend is dealing with all sorts of personal and professional accusations from the cottontail woman.

I get situations like this all the time; it is not new. My friend will weather the storm. The bunnies are gone, so at least they aren’t suffering any longer. The wonderfully kind woman who saw the pigeon incident is helping the bird, and it will either make it to help or it won’t.

It’s probably a bad thing, but when I first heard these stories today, I wasn’t even upset. I’ve heard it all before, and worse. But today, it struck me how similar these two incidents are. Both situations are a result of utter selfishness, and a lack of empathy. Both are wrong, and should not happen. It was definitely bad for the animals, but I am sadder for the people than for the animals.


A Long-distance Relationship


Working in wildlife rehabilitation can be highly entertaining.

I don’t just mean the animal care, either. The wildlife hospital sits right on the crossroads between wildlife and the general public. Few situations create stronger reactions in people than interactions with animals. Sometimes people are frustrated that the raccoons knock trashcans over, sometimes they’re downright angry that the great blue heron is eating their $300 koi. Most of the time people are just trying to do the right thing. Sometimes they care way too much! One thing is for sure… every wildlife rehabilitator has stories.

Once, while I was working at a center in Florida, I got a call from a woman.

“Hi, I’d like to report an injured whale,”

“OK, thanks for calling. We don’t have facilities to care for marine mammals, but hopefully I can refer you to someone who can help. Can I ask you a few questions so that I can understand the situation a little better?”


“Where is the whale right now?”

“In the ocean.”

“Near or on a beach?”


“Are there any landmarks or other information you can give me? Is this the Gulf or the Atlantic?”

“I don’t know where it is.”

“OK, well, what was it doing when you saw it?”

“I didn’t see it.”

“I see. Can you tell me why you think it might be injured? Maybe explain the situation to me?”

“I just know it’s hurt. I can hear it calling to me.”


“I don’t know what happened to it, but it needs help. Can’t you help it?”

“……. Well ma’am, as I said, we don’t have the facilities or licenses to care for marine mammals here. There are stranding response networks, but they would need to know where the animal is in order to help it.”

“I can’t believe this! Can’t you do anything?!”

“… I can give you the stranding line to call if you are able to find out where the animal is, but again, the ocean is a very big place. They’ll need to know where to find it before they can help. Are you ready? Here’s the number – 555…”

Or the voicemail message I got on the squirrel rescue line in Michigan.

“Hi, can you call me back? I got a bunny… or a frog… or something. I cuddled it with paper towel and tinfoil, but I don’t know what else to do…”

Or the call I got just the other day. Pertinent info: It is important for orphaned animals to be raised with conspecifics (other animals of the same species), and it is common practice for rehabilitators to call each other when they have only one orphan of a particular species so that we can get a friend for that animal as soon as possible.

“Hi, I’m calling because I have a single coyote puppy, and I need to find a friend for it. We tried to reunite it with its mother for the past 3 nights, but it didn’t work.”

“OK, well, we don’t have any coyote puppies right now, but I’m happy to contact you if we get one. What center are you with?”

“I’m not with a center.”

“I see. Are you a licensed rehabilitator? Where are you located?”

“No, I’m just the person who found it. Well, actually my cousin found it. She took it to the XYZ wildlife center, but they don’t have any other coyote puppies. I’m afraid it will get lonely.”

“The XYZ wildlife center? What a coincidence, I used to intern there! That’s in Florida, correct? Did you know that we’re in Washington state?

“I just Googled “wildlife center” and your website popped up – I thought since it said you take care of coyotes you could give them one of yours. I’ve been trying to call all the centers around me to try to find another coyote puppy. It’s hard work!”

“Since we’re in Washington, that’s a little far for us to send an animal. But don’t worry – as I said I know the people at that center, and you can leave finding another coyote puppy in their hands.”

In hindsight, perhaps I should have offered to have our coyote puppies Skype with theirs. Even if their puppy just followed ours on Twitter, he’d know that he wasn’t alone… Then again, long-distance relationships never work out!

Critiques and Ducks


Another week ending and I come home again with duck blood on my pants! Thankfully, we were able to stabilize this one. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do something for his injuries.

Tis the season for duckies to pair up for spring – which means it’s also the season for mallard-car interactions as our webbed-footed friends waddle about the place looking for nesting sites. Most ducks and geese are monogamous, so once they pair up they stick together. I’m sure we’ve all seen a piteous living duck beside the road, trying to stay near their dead mate after an accident. For human safety as well as bird safety, don’t forget to watch carefully while you’re driving, especially near wetland areas. Remember – they’re short, and there are always two of them!

OK, on with the show! I haven’t made very much writing progress this week – only about 1500 original words. I’m not unhappy about that though; I’ve been critiquing a friend’s manuscript. I always learn something from critiquing, so I count it as work towards my own writing goals.

Critiquing is a strange animal, and it does not come naturally with writing (or even knowing a lot about writing). I’m trying to improve my own critiquing skills; I want to be as helpful as possible to my group. I can usually identify where something doesn’t seem right, but it is very difficult to uncover the root of the problem.

It is getting easier for me as I learn more and more about writing. Right now, I’m reading a book called The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. It isn’t as detailed as some of the other writing books I’ve read, but it does help tie reactions in the reader with possible story problems. I have not finished reading it, but so far I’d recommend it to anyone who needs to learn or polish critique skills.

Communicating what you see can be a bigger challenge than identifying the problem, especially for me. I tend to be a very task-focused problem-solver type, which means “finding problems” while I’m critiquing. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to receive feedback, so I must work very hard to be sure I am being sensitive, especially since I tend to focus on the problems above the good stuff.

Realizing this also helps me distance myself from negative comments about my own work. Even if it is difficult to hear, my alpha readers are doing their best to help me. The more I listen to experienced authors the more I accept that every story, by every author, in ALL of history has problems at first – and it is no big deal. I can fix it!

Revision is part of the process. We writers own computers and word processors. If we were afraid of hard work, we wouldn’t have written the book in the first place. We’re creative, we’ll solve the problems eventually. The thing about creativity is that you are only limited by yourself – the well will never run dry as long as you are open-minded to change. Amazing books are made by people who are willing to visit that well until the story is right.