A story of human intervention

My day started off the same as every other this month. Feeling the weight of depression that only a broken relationship can impart, I dragged myself out of bed and blamed myself immediately for the ugly state of the world. It’s a good thing for my dog, or I might not even bother waking up and feeling sorry for myself. So, this is progress. But the reality is, it does get much easier every day and I notice that I don’t miss the person nearly as much as I agonize over what I did wrong or could have done better. Always the ruminating overachiever.  However, today was a little different, because I really didn’t care about over achievement either. I just wanted to get on with my life again. And never was there a better way to start doing that then to immerse myself in the situation that was about to unfold on this sunny California morning.

So, I dragged myself out of bed,  threw on whatever would get me out to the beach (obviously aware that there would be no fashion show) and leashed up Dublin the Dog for our regular morning outing. I walked with a neighbor woman for most of the walk up the beach and talked about work, life, and dogs. I’m not one to walk and talk for a long part of my morning venture, but today I just felt like the company. If I were to analyze the workings of the universe, that should have been my first indicator something was different. I dropped the woman off at her spot on the beach and then turned around to begin the walk home. Dublin the Dog turned with me and stayed really close on my heels, not obsessively exploring the sand dunes as she normally would. That would be hint number two that something was about to happen.

So, I walked and walked and suddenly realized I hadn’t looked back at Dublin in a while. When I did finally turn to locate her, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Back  a 100 paces in the sand sat Dublin, upright on her hiney, and directly to her left sat a baby…penguin. Well, that’s what my eyes first witnessed, but upon closer inspection I realized that Dublin was actually sitting side by side with a black and white seabird of some sort – that just happened to be sitting up on its haunches like a penguin. So there sat my cattle/bird dog, sitting beside this penguin impostor, as though they were in a movie theater watching a very boring film of me. As I moved in closer I instinctively knew, from having rescued many birds before, that this bird was not sitting by a bird-eating dog by choice. He was sitting there because he was detained against his will. By the time I was near enough to touch the bird, I had already pulled off my Geoffrey Beene vest that had become my standard bird catching apparatus on these morning walks. As I moved in quickly to cover the bird and pick him up, Dublin the Dog became very vocal and threatening upon seeing the “baby penguin” start to move. But this bird was so calm, cool, and collected, that both Dublin and myself seemed to pick up his vibe and we both instantly mellowed out. As I walked with this fabulously round, quite heavy creature tucked away in my vest, with only his sweet face and beak peeking out, I became overwhelmed by the smell of petroleum. At first I thought I must have walked past a heavily tarred area in the sand, but then I realized the smell was so overpowering, it seemed to follow us down the length of the beach. Suddenly it hit me, and my heart sunk – this little bird was  a victim of an oil spill. Sure enough, when I got him home and pulled him out of my vest, I saw that both of my hands had been completely blackened by the thick coat of petroleum on his underside. I was absolutely sickened that this poor, innocent creature should have to endure this misery because some careless captain, or boater or whoever the hell had spilled this deadly substance into the ocean – this poison that renders a bird’s feathers and thermal protection completely ineffective, leaving them to die a slow agonizing death by hypothermia.

Fortunately, this bird was lucky. I knew from experience that Patagonia, that wonderful outdoor clothing company with a conscience, takes birds and other injured or orphaned animals right at the front desk of their Ventura headquarters. With my bird friend in the back seat, I headed down to Patagonia, nearly suffocating from the  stench of tar infiltrating every nook and cranny of my car. I couldn’t  believe one little bird had absorbed so much of this black poison. When I got him to Patagonia, Kim Stroud, the tireless Director of the Ojai Raptor Center (www.ojairaptorcenter.org), met me at the front desk and whisked him off to a courier who would bring him to Santa Barbara for a special intense cleaning process, and then further on up the coast for rehabilitation. Kim informed me that this bird was a Murre and that these guys live far out in the waters of Channel Islands and beyond, and are rarely seen on the coast unless injured. Evidently, they are so used to living in seclusion that they seem to sense no fear from dogs or humans, and that’s why this creature never once tried to poke my or Dublin’s eye out with his dagger-like beak. When I left him with Kim, he was peaceful, yet still spunky, and ready to get back to the day to day business of being a seabird. It is my belief that he will get to do that very soon.

People, please, if you see an animal in despair, do your best to help it. Don’t convince yourself there’s nothing wrong or that the animal can help itself. If something feels wrong to you,  it probably is wrong. An injured seabird is likely to be mauled to death by a dog, or suffer horrendously for days on end as its system slowly shuts down. Think ahead and store the numbers on your cell phone for the rescue groups in your area that provide resources for injured or orphaned wildlife. The help you can provide one of these fallen creatures, often just by making a simple phone call,  is tremendous. It’s almost always the difference between life and death. And if able to make a conscious choice, I guarantee  you that seabird would choose life. Absolutely and without a doubt.

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