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Szymanski: Finding reason for hope, inspiration in the recovery of a pigeon

It was nearing the end of February, when my husband called me from the front porch where he was installing a new window in our home. I laughed. Who calls someone on the phone when they are just outside the door?

“Look at the camera,” he said. “I have a friend out here.”

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Curious, I clicked the security camera app on my phone to view the front porch. We had installed the camera earlier in the year after seeing someone prowling around our outside sheds and I’d come to love it. There, just feet away from my husband, sat a little pigeon. Even though I hate the cold, I grabbed a coat and headed outside.

The pigeon eyed me when I approached but sat still on the porch railing without moving. As I got closer, I saw why. Dan had put a pan of bird feed and a tin of water next to him.

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“I think he lost a leg,” Dan said. “Look at how he’s hopping.”

I stepped closer and the pigeon hopped away on one foot, only one leg visible.

“Poor thing,” I said. “We should catch him and put him in our dog crate.” I was thinking of predators, especially the black vultures that sometimes sit on the fence posts around our horse field.

Dan shook his head. “We’re not taking care of a bird,” he said.

A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.
A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.(Lois Szymanski)

The next day, I went out to the porch in the morning to check on the pigeon, taking a handful of pelleted chicken feed. She was still there. She turned her head sideways, iridescent purple and gray feathers sparkling in the sun. I think she knew we wanted to help her. This time, she had both legs down. So, she hadn’t lost a leg! I snapped a few cell phone pictures of her and went back inside.

I sent the photo I’d taken to my friend Terri Coppersmith. She and her husband Dave used to run Diamonds in the Rough Wildlife rehabilitation facility. They are retired, but I knew they would be there for advice. Terri wrote back right away with suggestions, offering to take care of the pigeon if we wanted.

“Zoom in on your picture,” she wrote. “There is a toe missing.”

Sure enough, when I zoomed in, I saw that her middle toe was missing. Now I knew why she was constantly tucking that leg up to hop around. It had to be hurting something fierce.

That evening, Dan called me to the porch again. This time he had the pigeon in his hand. “Hold her while I get the dog crate set up on the back porch.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I thought we weren’t going to take care of a pigeon.”

Dan shook his head and said something about how we had no choice. He’d seen the neighbor’s cat stalking the pigeon.

I fell into a routine, feeding the pigeon, cleaning out the cage, putting down new straw and fresh water daily. I started calling her Pat. Since I wasn’t sure if she was really a girl, I thought that was a safe androgynous name!

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A few weeks later, it was near time for me to leave for the World Horse Expo. I’d be there five days. Dan let me know that, while he’d take care of my horses, he was not going to take care of the pigeon. So, I called Terri.

Sure, she told me. They would take the pigeon. While I was at work the next Day, Dave picked up Pat the pigeon. Terri sent me a photo that evening. Dave was holding the pigeon and had spread out her wings to show me how short the left one was, compared to the right wing.

“In addition to losing two phalanges at Digit 3 (the middle toe and a tiny bit more, but not the entire toe, fortunately) she is also missing all 10 primary flight feathers on the left side,” Terri wrote. “They’ve already begun to grow back. Her weight is good too. You took good care of her.”

A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.
A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.(Lois Szymanski)

Terri told me they believed Pat was a girl, because of her weight. She and Dave thought she’d likely been hit by a car, since all the damage was on one side. “A cat or hawk attack usually involves ripping and tearing, she said. There’s no indication of that. There’s no wound, and no fracture in that wing, so that’s good,” she said.

I headed off to horse expo, while Dave and Terri took amazing care of Pat. Since they had a flight cage, I knew when the time came, she would have a full evaluation before being released.

From time to time, over the next weeks, Terri would send a photo. I thought of how sweet the pigeon was, how she didn’t struggle when we caught her or held her and how, although she was shy, she seemed to know we were safe. I prayed for her to heal - and heal she did!

On Monday, Terri sent a photo of our sweet little pigeon walking in the grass.

A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.
A pigeon, missing a toe and some feathers, apparently having been hit by a car, recovered with a little help from the author, her husband, and a couple who run the Diamonds in the Rough wildlife rehabilitation facility.(Lois Szymanski)

“I just wanted to let you know that we released the pigeon this morning. She came out of the coop into the grass, then took to the air, did one large circle to get her bearings and took off to the north toward Bowman's like an arrow. She flew high and fast, a joy to watch.”

My heart soared as I read her note, and I have to admit, I was a little bit teary. Out of all the bad stuff we are all going through today, Pat the pigeon offered a ray of hope. Knowing we have angels like Terri and Dave among us, doubled the feeling.

So now, every time I feel down and out, I picture that pigeon, soaring high in the air, free and healthy once more and that brings a good feeling. I hope you are all finding reasons to stay inspired, too, despite it all.

Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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