Baby bird

Rescued Baltimore Oriole

Yesterday, my husband was kayaking in Woods Creek when he saw a small bird stuck in the reeds, the Mom and Dad birds in a panic. 

So he paddled over, lifting the baby Baltimore Oriole from the reeds, setting her on his lap.

"She just stayed there," he said.

And I know she knew, he was a good man and she would be OK. As he paddled along looking for land, the baby bird's parents flew along with him.

"I wanted to find someplace away from the water," he said. "The parents flew next to me about 50 feet away."  

He found a muddy spot, but worried about putting her there, so he walked along to a park-like clearing and placed the baby in a tree, the parents still there. 

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, 17 years.

And the baby Baltimore Oriole rescue got me thinking about all the times we have rescued creatures and critters in our years together. 

In year one, we lived on a Virginia farm overlooking the Blue Ridge. One day we were heading down the nearly two-mile rugged farm road that led to a county route. Over to the right we saw Jane, a neighbor's dog, attacking a deer. We got Jane to stop, but the deer was in trouble. Before I could do anything, my husband had ripped off his shirt, wrapped it around the deer's wounds and was carrying her up the steep mountain road to our home. 

In that moment, as I watched him carry this full-grown doe, watched his arm muscles bulge and his legs buckle from her weight, I knew why I loved him. 

We made a straw bed for her and I called every animal and wild life rescue I could find, but no one would take her. And so we gave her little bits of water and hoped her injuries were not too traumatic. We sat with her and like the baby bird, she never tried to hurt us, as if she knew. 

She quietly died in that space. We here heartbroken. 

One of our most dramatic rescues was the feral cat escapade.

We were still in Virginia,  living in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, several miles back where we could hear packs of coyotes howling at night and where bear loved to wander.

It was early December when we first saw them, the kittens and their Mom.

So we started putting out food and water on a mountain path behind our house. And every day, right at 5:30 p.m., Mom would come first, then go back and get her little string of bouncy kittens.

We named Mom, Miss Shortie, right away because she had such short little legs.

The weather was turning bitter cold and icy and we put a cardboard box with straw and blankets near the food, they started sleeping in the box. 

By mid-December, the ice on the mountain was getting bad and we could only get up to our home with tire chains. We would put the chains on at the bottom and gun the engine, roaring up and up and praying we didn't have to stop.

We were getting more worried about the cats, fearing they would die in cold or be eaten by coyotes. And that's when we came up with our plan to capture them.

We got one of our extra-large dog crates and camouflaged it with cardboard to look like the box they had been sleeping in. We filled it with blankets and straw and let them spend the night in the crate.

On Dec. 24, 2005,  we decided it was time. We tied a rope to the door of the dog crate and once we were sure everyone was inside, it was our plan to have my husband pull the rope to secure the door. Then I would go down the icy bank to lock the door. 

It worked just as we had planned, but it was so icy, it took us a while to push the crate up the icy mountain. The ferals were so afraid, spitting and jumping at us with outstretched claws. 

We had a spare bedroom and decided that would be the cats' room, complete with futon, pillows, litter and lots of food, plus a chair at the window so they could look out.

The first night, we just opened the crate door, shut the bedroom and let them settle. 

And for months and months, we would go into the cats' room and lying down with them on the floor, we petted them with feather dusters while they hid under the futon.

That was 2005 and we still have all the feral babies, who now, as old men, cuddle and kiss and love their family of humans, other cats and dogs. A few years ago, we had to say good-by to Miss Shortie, who died peacefully in my arms.

Two years ago, there was the pigeon who couldn't fly and we kept her for three months, until her flight feathers grew back. We called her Bridget and it was bittersweet when she was able to fly back with the other pigeons who came looking for her everyday.

There have been horses and dogs and even two mice. One mouse, Luigi, made it five and a half years and the other mouse who we never see, but know he is still with us because his food is gone and the water bowl goes down, is beating Luigi's record. We just call him Mouse.

So I am thinking, what my husband and I share is a bond formed through the beautiful creatures who have chosen us on their path. 

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Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli covers Washington County government and other county news and events.


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