Today we welcome guest author Elsa Watson to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Elsa’s Dog Days is the story of a dog-hater who is struck by lightning, and switches bodies with a dog—but not before finding the town’s veterinarian rather foxy himself. At her day job, Elsa works at a wildlife hospital and education center. Thanks, Elsa!
Sometimes the animal world serves up true stories that are almost more dramatic than fiction. At the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, the site of my day job, we see all kinds of drama, from eagles fighting to the death to babies that are orphaned because their mother was killed.
We’re a wildlife hospital, so we’re there to treat the injuries and do what we can. And just like the workers at a human hospital, we rarely know about our patients’ home life. Do they have a mate waiting for them? Did they meet when they were just kids or are they a late-in-life romance? Many wild animals mate for life, working with their partner to raise a new crop of babies year after year. What must that partner think when its mate suddenly disappears due to an injury and spends weeks or months with us, recovering?
We make it a practice—whenever we can—to release our recovered patients into the same area where they were found so families can be reunited. I often wonder what those reunions are like (are there tears? Is there dancing?), but we rarely see them. Only in special cases do we get a glimpse of the loved ones waiting for our patients’ return.
A few years ago a bald eagle was shot with a shot gun not far from our Shelter. In case you were wondering, yes, this is illegal. But it happened all the same. The eagle—a female—plummeted to the ground with bits of shot lodged all over her body, including near her spine. She was brought to our facility and our rehabilitation staff got busy trying to mend her wounds. In the meantime, we learned from a volunteer nest watcher that this eagle had a mate and that he’d been scouring the skies, calling and calling for her.
The shot eagle, as it turned out, was in pretty bad shape. She suffered from serious neurological issues (thanks to bits of shot lodged near her brain), and for a long time our staff didn’t think she would ever fly again. But they didn’t give up, even when her recovery time stretched from one year to two. When we built a new flight cage for raptors, they gamely moved her into it, just to see what would happen.
Amazingly, she flew! And as the months passed, she grew stronger and stronger. She was in the flight cage with other eagles—two juveniles and an older, male eagle. She and this male, dubbed Old Man Eagle by the volunteers, became fast friends, always sharing a perch and often sitting side by side as they gazed out the mesh window at the trees beyond.
Once her flying skills were up to snuff, our staff and volunteers were incredibly excited and eager to get this eagle back into the wild. But the nest watcher reported something sad. Three years had passed by this point, and her mate—thinking her long dead—had re-mated. How was he to know that she was in a recovery center just thirteen miles from their nest? He couldn’t have known. He’d carried on with his life just as our eagle was about to do once we released her.
Fearing that if she returned to her old territory she might get into a fight with the new mate, our staff released her near our Shelter, not in her old area. We attached a temporary tracking device to her tail, so we could see where she went in her first weeks of freedom.
The night she was released, she explored the nearby area. Then, once it was dark, she returned to the Shelter and sat outside the flight cage for a long time. Presumably she was visiting Old Man Eagle. We’ll never know what was communicated that night; in the morning she set out northward and eventually found a new patch of territory far from her original home. By now she may have re-mated. She and her mate may have raised a nestful of eaglets this year. Or she may be waiting for Old Man Eagle to be released, so they can continue their close attachment.
Not every story ends as bittersweetly as the eagle’s. We recently treated a squirrel that may have been poisoned—she was found lying on the ground, her head listing to one side. After just a few weeks of treatment she was released back into the yard where she was found, and by the next day the homeowners reported seeing her—completely cured—scampering around with her mate.
Or there was the goose we released back into the pond where it was found. No sooner had the goose entered the water than another goose came paddling up to it at full speed, quacking and honking, clearly overjoyed to see its companion again. I love hearing about these moments. I can’t help but imagine how hard it must have been for the uninjured mate, thinking the worst—and then how joyful the reunion must be. You’re back! they must be honking. I thought you were dead, but here you are—you’re alive!
And that night, when the two geese or the two squirrels are cuddled up close to sleep, they must both think that finally everything’s right with the world again. Finally I have my love back. Tomorrow we can go hunting for food. And look for a place to make this year’s nest.
To enter for a chance to win 1 of 4 copies of Elsa Watson’s Dog Days, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment about the post below! *NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out an entry at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/05/elsa-watson-love-in-the-animal-kingdom beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 21, 2012. Sweepstakes ends at 1:59 p.m. ET on May 28, 2012 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/page/official-rules-elsa-watsons-dog-days-comment-sweepstakes. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
(***And be sure to check out the H&H “My Pet Is Way Cuter Than Yours” Facebook Sweepstakes for another chance to win a copy of Dog Days!)
Elsa Watson is the author of Dog Days, in which Zoë (a dog) and Jessica (a person) are struck by lightning and switch bodies, leaving Jessica trapped in a dog’s body—and giving Zoë thumbs and the chance to speak. (Coming May 22.) Find Elsa online at www.elsawatson.net.