May 21 2012 2:00pm

For the Birds: Author Elsa Watson on Love in the Animal Kingdom

Dog Days by Elsa WatsonToday 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.

Love is for the birds!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 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 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!)

Eagle image courtesy of Larry Meade via Flickr


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

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Aww! It's really sweet, hearing about how loyal these animals are. Thanks for sharing, Elsa!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
"You're back! they must be honking."
Thanks for that, Elsa. It's nice to know animals can be just as (and perhaps moreso...) loyal than humans.
3. AAHickman
Wow, that made me tear up. I'm such a sucker for animals though it's not surprising. Thank you for sharing those stories.
Amy Lang
4. AmyLang
I am an animal lover at heart and I love the thought of an excited mate being so overjoyed when the injured mate is released! Brings a smile to my face!
6. cupcake
That's just plain sweet, and it might have melted my cold hard heart a wee tad.
 Sandra Spilecki
9. Whitney
I am an animal person--not just dogs and cats. I really enjoy wildlife stories (especially those with happy endings). Thank you!
Trish Johnson
10. TrishJ
I love animals. I remember my children trying to help injured birds and squirrels. I did pity foot down age they brought home a baby alligator tho. Love to win a copy of your book.
Tawnya Peltonen
11. MisfitPrincess
Awww so sweet! The book sounds SUPER good too! I would love the chance to read it.
Diane Castiglione
12. dian429
I always find animals amazing. People just don't realize how amazing they can be. The book sounds great. Would like to read it.
Connie Fischer
How could anyone think of harming an animal? People who hurt animals are dangerous and just one step away from harming humans. Scary.

I love eagles and here in southwest Florida, we see them often as they live here and raise their babies. It's sad though to see them flying over our lake as I'm afraid they're going to snatch one of our baby ducks or moorhens.

We are lucky enough to have a large place nearby for injured animals to heal. It's a fun time to be able to take your children there to see how the animals are cared for and know that they will be released into the wild as soon as they are well.

Thanks for sharing this excerpt. Animals own my heart and I'm looking forward to reading "Dog Days!"
14. Casey B.
I love animals! I cannot imagine my life without them! So i love to read about people who are the same way!
becky moe
16. beckymmoe
Wow, what an amazing group of stories! The eagle one just about broke my heart, though. I wonder if the injury near her brain affected her memory? Perhaps she didn't remember her mate--hmmm, a wildlife-themed amneisa story....

I'd love to read your book! I often wonder what my dog is thinking--though there're also times I'm actually glad I don't know. What I wouldn't give for a cute, single veterinarian, however.... ;)
Karen Haas
17. KarenH
Beautiful post. It is wonderful to have caring people to help the animals when they need it. Thanks for the giveaway.
Joy Gilbert
18. bigladybug
cant wait to read this, my daughter is finally of age to enjoy the stories I pass on to her, plus, she loves animals to a milkyway
Lisa Cox
19. vetteklisa
As a retired veterinary technician, I know how difficult and heart wrenching working with animals can be. I would love to win this.
Stephen Lyon
20. skaftafell
Festival for dogs;
Lightning switches feet with paws,
Vet sees puppy eyes.
21. loannt
The stories are so adorable, I hate that animal cruelty exists.
Taylor Duncan
26. bookreadertaylor
It sounds like another wonderful and worthy author has been added to one of my favorites!
Cheryl U.
27. matkeltri
Sweet story about the eagle. I wish I could see one someday.
denise smith
31. denise226
i love the book i love animals plus love together great !!! hope to win
Trish Rucker
32. mstrish
I love animals, and appreciate anyone who helps them! This sounds like a great book!
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