Thursday, October 4, 2012

A real day in our lives

Doing wildlife rehabilitation and exotic animal rescue somehow sounds “glamorous” to many people.  I constantly hear, “I wish I could spend all day playing with wildlife like you do”.  Oh, how I wish that I had time to play with animals all day every day!  This blog will be about a pretty typical day in our lives.  It won’t be as sweet or pretty as other blogs have been, but it will be real.
Our day started out pretty normally.  Getting bowls ready to feed the masses.  Letting Talia and Rocky (two of our permanent raccoons) out to play with the foxes, dogs and cats.  This means we have to keep an eye on them.  Both are very well behaved, but they are still raccoons and can still get into trouble.  You wouldn’t let two 2-year old human children run around your house unsupervised would you?  Usually, when we do this, we wait for them to get tired and put themselves back in their cages.
We perform thorough examinations on our permanent raptors whenever we take them out to an event (which means they get checks usually bi-weekly at a minimum) or monthly if we have a slow month.  Sometimes, circumstances require us to do an examination at other times, this was one of those days.
Changes in weather often bring changes in how animals eat, especially the raptors.  They often will go off their food for a day or two with any major change, including weather change.  This last week we have been watching several of our permanent raptors, to be sure they do not go off of their food for more than a couple of days.  One, our red tailed hawk, Rahl, went off of her food for three days, so we brought her in for a thorough examination.  This is always a challenge as Rahl is a very high strung bird, has been since she arrived here at one year of age, so she isn’t the most cooperative bird during examinations.  But, with her not eating for three days, we felt it was necessary.
To our shock and horror the reason she was off of her food was immediately apparent.  She had broken her beak right at the point that the beak begins to turn down.  We have never dealt with a broken beak like this. The only ones we have seen previously were on rehab birds who came in with partial beaks that were already healed and the birds were still eating fine.  We have read about it in our raptor books and seen many videos on it, but never dealt with it ourselves.  Rahl’s beak wasn’t stable, it was obviously painful and there was no way she could eat with this beak.  Something had to be done to repair it and quickly!
In wracking our brains to figure out how in the world she could have done this, the only thing that makes sense was that we had a storm a couple of nights before.  It must have scared her very badly and she flew into something in a panic.  She’s been through many storms since she’s been here and never hurt herself, but something caused her to do this to herself and that is the only scenario that makes sense to us.
I immediately got on the phone and called all of the raptor people I know to ask what we could do.  Then I called Triangle Veterinary Referral Hospital who agreed to see her.  Dr. Grafinger there is wonderful and has helped us so much with wildlife!  We were at their office for three hours!  Their staff was wonderful and caring, thankfully, since I was totally falling apart on the inside.
As a caregiver who has been entrusted with the lives of these beautiful creatures, the guilt is immense any time something goes wrong!  When it goes this wrong, it is much worse.  Yes, the logical side of me knows “these things happen” and there really was no way to stop or prevent this.  Logic doesn’t really take a big role in feelings, especially when one of your own is badly injured.
Rahl’s beak was broken all the way across the top, from one side to the other, but was still holding very firmly on the inside.  Dr. Graf and his staff cleaned the break and glued it back together and put plastic splints on either side of her beak for extra support.  Home we went with our beautiful girl.
Like I said, this is a high strung girl, so by the time we got home, she’d taken off one of the splints and her beak was more crooked than before. 
I went into another panic and started looking to see what we had here to fix this.  I put in calls to more raptor people, Dr. Graf, and Dr. Leo at Avian and Exotic Vet Care.  We decided to use “5 Minute Epoxy” and fiberglass (something commonly used for beak injuries).  I was as nervous about doing this myself as could be, but Dr. Graf was on his way home after a long day and I didn’t feel it was fair to ask him to return to work and Avian and Exotic was about to close.  So, Vinny and I went to work!
Actually, right before we went to work, we got in a very young turkey vulture with a badly broken leg.  We gave him a quick examination and had to set him aside to fix Rahl’s beak before she hurt it more.
During the entire process, I photo documented every step.  Both for my own notebook of care and for others, as well as to be able to show our vets so they could let me know if we’d done it right.  Thankfully, they explain really, really well!
Once everything was applied to her beak, Vinny sat, with his finger in her beak, keeping it open so it couldn’t epoxy closed, for 20 minutes.  It didn’t cure nearly as fast as it claimed it would.  But, Vinny was such a wonderful sport about all of this!  Really, how many guys would sit with their finger in the beak of a red tailed hawk, let alone an unhappy one?
Once she was settled in, we took a closer look at the young vulture and found he had a horribly broken leg that was broken too high up to fix.  So, off Vinny went with the vulture, back to the vet to have him euthanized so he would not suffer any longer.
While I waited for Vinny to come back and to check Rahl again (I tried not to stress her more by checking her too often), I uploaded the photos to our facebook page, both to show our fans what was going on and as a way to show our vets how it went. 
This entire time my insides were flipping out.  The stress of this was so bad; I can’t begin to explain it.  While I had been assured by everybody who had raptor experience that, even if this didn’t go well, since she was captive, she would live.  But just living wasn’t what I wanted for this majestic beauty!  Her freedom was taken away by a mean person with a gun several years before; I didn’t want her life to be even harder because I might not have done this right.
We had a lot of very positive and caring feedback from our friends on facebook.  This was actually helping my feelings a lot.  Then came the one comment asking if we were taking OUR bird to another raptor center because this person didn’t think epoxy on a bird sounded right.  While I know I shouldn’t allow comments like this to bother me, my emotional state was already so precarious that any amount of wind I may have had in my tattered sails was gone in a flash!  I was devastated!  I knew using epoxy was “the norm” for beak issues such as this, I knew I’d done the very best I possibly could, but being questioned like that hurt like being hit by a large sledgehammer in the gut.
Thankfully, after I explained a little more, this person took her comment down.  But the hurt was still there, piled on my already huge guilt heap.
Thankfully, two of our wonderful vets looked at the pictures and told me I did a great job!  They also let me know what to expect in the weeks and months to come.  I can’t tell you how much this type of support from such wonderful vets means to a person like me! 
We now will be feeding Rahl by hand (yes, that’s right, cutting mice into little pieces and sticking them down her throat) for a while so that there is no pressure put on her beak.  According to one of our vets, who has dealt with a LOT of broken beaks, we will be doing this for about a week or so.  He also says she should be healed in three months.  This all may sound gross or tough to most people, but living with wildlife often means doing things you may find unpleasant or that you may have even sworn you would never do. 
While I am still working on getting my guilt that this accident happened at all under control, I truly believe that Rahl will be fine in the end!  Thanks to a wonderful team of vets, I know we did the very best we could in this situation.