Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Patient in Recovery

This picture, courtesy of the Université de Montréal veterinarian clinic in St-Hyacinthe, shows the snowy owl in rehab mode. Those eyes, beautiful on a computer screen, are absolutely mesmerizing in person.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Owlet Saga Continues

So I had a dilemma. No one likes to be cruel even if it is with the best of intentions. On the other hand, how could you put an animal down which had gone through such a gruesome ordeal and seems otherwise healthy?

I phoned Steven Walker who was the first on the scene at the accident to get his take on it. He too couldn't bear to have the owl euthanized if it was going to be viable, but no one can see into the future, and we had veterinary advice as to what a likely outcome would be. Given that the owl's odds of having survived the prop strike were astronomical, we decided to proceed with the operation and see if its luck would hold.

I left a message on the vet's answering machine, and he got back to me shortly saying that he would proceed with the operation, but since it was not going to be taken in by the rescue centre I would be responsible for all costs. The estimate is roughly $2,000.

Having gone this far with the creature, I was not going to let a human preoccupation with finances deter me. Steven and I are going to set up a non-profit to care for the owl, which could quite possibly outlive me. More on this, and a plea for donations, later.

The owl had its operation, and came through ok. Since it had a broken mandible, it was being fed by a tube and was putting on weight, a positive sign. We still have no idea how the bird will react to having only one wing, so we have to play the waiting game. But so far, so good.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Update On Rescued Snowy Owl

Sorry to leave you guys up in the air about the fate of the snowy owl introduced below, but I have been very busy as of late.

So let me pick up where I left off.

I drove to St-Hyacinthe and finally located the veterinarian centre of the Université de Montréal after a 90 minute search for its sanctuary, which was closed for the season. Upon finally arriving they took the owl and I over to a clinic and did a preliminary inspection on it while awaiting the head of the centre, Dr. Guy Fitzgérald. I learned many things about owls during the intervening minutes: did you know, for example, that snowy owls are virtually blind in the dark? All my life I had laboured under the misapprehension that they had super infrared vision or something which would allow them to spot a lemming two miles off under a starless sky.

Instead, it is their hearing which is incredible, and able to vector in on the scratching of vermin on the snow or grass.

In time, the head doctor arrived with a group of interns. Donning elbow-length rawhide gloves, they covered the bird with a towel and began their inspection. The owl, they confirmed, would need an amputation to remove the damaged wing, and they also determined that it would need to have a broken mandible repaired if it was going to eat.

They also discovered that the owl was a male. This was not a shock to me but would have some bearing on the centre's willingness to rehabilitate the bird. You see, males need two wings if they are going to inseminate a female. Here is a link to a YouTube if you need a picture to grasp the concept.

The veterinarian gravely pronounced we should consider euthenasia: not only was the male owl of little use for display, adoption or reproduction, but it's quality of life might be too compromised - it appears that birds can suffer from phantom limb syndrome and continually flop around on the floor trying to get airborne.

This was not what I wanted to hear, and since this rescue was very much of a team effort I had to speak with Steven Walker first before coming to a conclusion.

It was a very pensive drive back to Montréal, my mind trying to balance the rescue of a bird which so miraculously survived a propellor strike with the possibility of condemning it to a cruel existence.

I will continue the story shortly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Through The Wringer

Last Tuesday a Dash 8 aircraft was on its final approach to Salluit airport. There was a flock of snowy owls just off the end of the runway, and the noise of the engines' roar caused them to fly off in different directions. Unfortunately for this young owl, it flew up directly into a prop, did two full rotations and was spit out.

Air Inuit employee Steven Walker went out to clean up the mess, and to his (and everyone else's) amazement, the bird was still alive, although its left wing was severed at the elbow. Being a kindly soul, he took the owlet down to his house and placed it in a shack to see if it would survive the night.

The following day while in Montreal I learned of the incident, and phoned Steve to see if I could be of any help. The bird was still very much alive, but it was obvious that it would need some veterinarian treatment if it was to live much longer.

After some research I was able to find a veterinarian centre in St-Hyacinthe operated by the Université de Montréal that had a specialization with birds of prey. As well, they have a sanctuary for hawks, vultures, falcons and owls which could not be returned to nature due to injury. The management of Air Inuit became involved and arranged for the shipment of the bird down to Montreal.

So on Thursday night, after postponing my return back north, I picked up a cardboard box at the Air Inuit cargo depot. Peering in through the holes carved through the sides, I saw the most beautiful golden eyes imaginable. They were alert and seemingly locked onto my face in a silent assessment of my intentions. I drove it to my hotel room to rest overnight before the trip to the veterinarian centre.

I lifted the lid of the box which I had placed on the night table beside my bed, and the owl continued its gaze at me, with its beak open in a defensive posture. Deciding that the bird had had enough, I cued up some looped snow owl calls on my computer, and went out for an hour or two.

When I returned to the room, it was no longer in the box; rather, it had hopped its way over to the computer and seemed to be comforted by the soft hooting of its brethren. I force fed the bird some water, and left it to settle in wherever it wanted to for the night. I would wake up many times that night, and found the owlet's golden eyes fixed on me each time.

This is going to be a long story, so I'll break off the post here and relate the ups and downs of the trip to the vet later.