Several years ago, I rescued a cockatiel from a home up in what locally we refer to as ‘the cuts’, which is a place even more remote in the Santa Cruz Mountains than the Santa Cruz Mountains are generally considered. The person who called to surrender the bird seemed normal enough. His story certainly rang familiar. According to him, his son left for college and his pet cockatiel that was his throughout childhood, had been left behind with dad. Dad thought it needed more attention than he would provide. This is a common reason offered by person’s and families looking to relinquish their companion birds. Upon arriving from a 45 minute sojourn up and through the mountains, 3/4 of it an unpaved, dirt road, I approach what I notice is a substantially sized and modern home, built in a Spanish style. The man brings me inside and tells me that something had happened while he was away for the holiday weekend (it had been the 4th of July a few days prior), but he thinks maybe crows had somehow entered his home (and apparently exited of their own volition, closing the sliding glass door behind them, it seems) because the cockatiel that I had come to pick up for what should have been a normal transport to a foster placement, wasn’t acting right. It may have been “spooked, or something”.
My eyes drifted towards what I saw was chicken wire suspended mid-way up a corner wall, fashioned as box-shaped and nailed to varying lengths of 2×4 pre-treated lumber. The metal wire was dark except where droppings had dried. The ‘bottom’ of this structure to a depth of no less than a foot, was the accumulation of an untold number of years’ worth of bird droppings, rotted food, seed and waste. As my eyes took in the meanings of this sight, they wandered upwards where the two white walls adjoined into this corner were stained with something dark in color, bits of it congealed into drops as whatever it was dripped downwards, towards the mesh enclosure.
As I moved closer, my eyes registered on a small movement lower towards the bottom. It was the cockatiel. It was covered on one half of itself with the same dark color as what I saw seconds before on the walls above. Where the wing was supposed to meet the body, was the viciously bright red of fresh blood. The stains were dried blood. This bird was still bleeding. A bird cannot sustain a loss of blood greater than x. Any and all active bleeding is considered a life threatening medical emergency.
I turned to the man an asked him to retrieve a towel I could use to safely restrain the bird and control its’ bleeding, immediately. He refused. He didn’t have any spare towels and he didn’t want to ruin his ‘good’ towels. There was no time to argue or search for a towel despite his refusal.
I quickly pulled my shirt over my head and off into my hands before swooping inside the box made of wire and enveloping the small bird within its’ folds. Once I had full possession of the bird, without speaking a word I made a direct path for my vehicle. My only thought was that the bird doesn’t have much time left before it will die. If this man decided to change his mind and tell me that he’s not going to surrender it, after all, I was preparing myself to be readied to flee in my vehicle no matter what was babbled behind me. And behind me, that man remained, his mouth still partly open when I pounced into the driver’s seat, cranked the ignition and drove straight forward towards the dirt road that brought me here. The door slammed shut as I made the turn onto the road. Driving with one hand on the wheel and the other clutching the wet bundle to my chest, I navigated the switch backs and dead man’s corners as we headed down the mountain towards help.
20 minutes into the chaotic drive, having had one hand only to switch back and forth between steering the vehicle and switching gears, I feel the not quite hot expulsion of the little cockatiels vomit on my bare chest, immediately followed by its’ body first trembling then shaking violently before again going still. My eyes filled with tears, blurring my sight until falling heavily upon the top of this dying creature’s small, limp head. I sobbed. I prayed out loud. I begged for time, for help, for mercy for justice. Below, its’ head still lying against my chest, a small cry escapes. A tiny, doll-sized voice of pain. I am encouraged. Pain is a sign of life. This bird had, for purpose of my own, declared to me that it was alive and therefore there was still an existence of hope that I could get help in time to save it from dying in my hand. I decided to refuse entertaining thoughts that might encourage another flood of tears and just whistled and clucked softly to the little hurt being I held just below my lowered chin. Within a few more minutes, I was racing into a Santa Cruz, California parking lot and killing the engine before throwing open my door and running, as soon as my feet hit asphalt, to the glass doors of the veterinarian’s office.
I must have been a sight, bursting through from the outside, shirtless, face stained with tears and dirt, chest stained in dried blood and emesis, clutching a dying, blood crusted bird draped in a wet shirt, probably wild-eyed and not far from foaming from the mouth, one seeing this spectacle might have expected.
- To the young woman seated prior to my entrance and now standing alert behind the office desk, I stated the nature of my visit and the critical need for immediate medical intervention–like, yesterday, would not be fast enough, if she would be so kind. Kind, she was. Just a few seconds after I finished speaking, the bird and I were in an examination room, a man following us from behind as we entered. He put both his hands out towards me, palms up, in the way of receiving, to which I placed my balled up shirt, fouled with tears and blood and sweat and vomit, the small weight of a bird inside. He unwrapped it and gently laid the bird onto the table. Fixing his eyes on locating the source of its’ bleeding, he pulled from the side a wing, almost completely severed, than hung painfully from a clotted tendon. Without hesitating, a small shiny silver tool appeared in the hand that snipped the thread thick connection between the wing and the body. With dizzying speed, he ordered a series of instructions to the attending technician while motioning that I step out of the room, into its’ adjoined hallway to the front office. I stood alone in the darkened hall and watched as the exam room door shut out the view and sounds of fast, serious voices.
- There I stood, alone, wearing only a bra and smeared with now-dried blood. I can only imagine what smell I must have been covered in.
- A woman approached, her lips in a small smile, her hands offering a white t-shirt with some forgotten design printed on its’ front.
- After making a few calls to the rescue’s CEO and securing payment for its’ immediate care, a plan was made providing the outcome of the next crucial hours. It was unknown if the bird could survive when I had completed my part of what could be done, and left to return home to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Others in the organization would be enjoined for any subsequent needs.
- Miraculously, the cockatiel survived the night. After placed on supportive I.V. fluids, despite the loss of her wing, she had gained in total body weight. She weighed more, now, without her wing, than she had immediately prior to its’ disconnection and removal, this is how severe the dehydrated and starved condition she was in when she was rescued.
- I was given the honor of giving her a name. I chose Girru.