Guest Post by Shae Irving
On a clear morning in May, Elizabeth sent an email to a group of Palomacy volunteers in the North Bay: A woman had unexpectedly passed away leaving a flock of doves with no one to care for them. Palomacy was too full to bring them into foster care, so could somebody please help the family transport the doves to the Marin Humane Society?
My afternoon was open so I raised my hand to help out. When I arrived at the woman’s home, I met two concerned cousins, each doing everything they could to handle a sad and challenging situation, including making a responsible plan for the nine ringneck doves who had been, in the words of one cousin, the woman’s whole life up to the time of her death.
The doves seemed healthy and well-cared for but I was shocked to discover that one of them was blind! Before heading out that day, I had asked Elizabeth if I should let her know about any special needs and she said no—that I should secure them and transport them and alert MHS to anything unusual.
“We just can’t rescue them all,” she said.
I understood this. Palomacy is over full with 140 birds in our foster care and already caring for a great number with special needs, and resources are limited. To keep this work going and to help more birds like these sweet doves, the organization needs more adopters, fosterers, volunteers, and donors. Knowing this, I took a deep breath and reinforced my determination to simply do what I was asked: Pack up the birds and get them safely to the shelter.
I loaded nine doves (in six carriers!) and one cousin into my Subaru wagon, the little blind dove riding in a cage on the cousin’s lap. This dove—no one knew her name or the names of any of the other doves but one, an aggressive male named “Muffin”—was missing one eye and blind in the other and she had a big bald spot on top of her head. My guess was that she had been injured early in her life in a fight with another member of the flock and then housed by herself, with the woman as her primary companion. She was very quiet on the ride, gathered completely into herself and moving very little.
The truth is, at first I could hardly look at her for fear of heartbreak. I knew almost nothing about her previous life but it was enough to understand that she had just lost her world and that she wasn’t likely to survive at the shelter. It was highly unlikely that a maimed, blind bird would be deemed adoptable. I imagined she might be euthanized before the day was done and I was trying (not very successfully) to avoid becoming attached.
At MHS, we placed all the birds in their carriers and cages in a holding room. On my way out the door, when I thought I was turning my back on the blind dove forever, I heard an insistent coo. Muffin, the alpha male, was getting all worked up in his cage. None of the other doves responded to his outburst except the blind one: She suddenly stood up straight and let out a series of enthusiastic coos and a “laugh” that I wouldn’t have thought she had in her. Then she started to preen. Tears sprang to my eyes.
I sent Elizabeth a text and a photo:
“Oh, Elizabeth, all these doves look great except this old sweetie who is blind and nearly immobile – but still laughing and preening. Hard to leave her here (hard to leave ANY of them here) but is there any other choice?”
Elizabeth never got that text, nor did I get a message saying it failed to go through. While I thought I was waiting to hear back from her, we went ahead with the surrender paperwork at the front counter. I had to keep looking away from the desk because I didn’t want the kind cousin to see me crying. I was trying to get it together. She had just lost a family member and was working so hard to help. I was supposed to be the strong one here!
Finally, I sent another text to Elizabeth. In this one, I sound resigned, but really I wasn’t at all:
“Okay, they’re all checked in . . . the little old blind one will be assessed and hopefully deemed adoptable. I’m all teary.”
Then came the text I expected:
“I didn’t know one was old & blind! We’ll take that one. Can you reach out to MHS & let them know ASAP?”
I flew into action:
“I’ll bring her home and we can figure out where she’ll go from there. Honestly, I didn’t think you’d want me to leave an old single blind bird here.”
“You were right. Sometimes the only thing we can do is help one more.”
That’s why Palomacy is so special! And that’s how Palomacy and I met the dove I soon named Liberty — or Libby for short.
Here is Libby’s blind but otherwise uninjured eye . . .
And here is the side that got so badly hurt . . .
When I brought Liberty home, I had four pigeons of my own in outdoor aviaries, plus I was bird-sitting a charming indoor ringneck dove named Lucky (also a Palomacy rescue). I have a fair amount of experience with these coo-birds, but being with a blind bird was brand new to me. For guidance, I turned to Elizabeth (of course!) but also to the mysterious, tiny being beside me. She might not be able to see or use human-speak, but I knew she could tell me a lot about herself and what she needed.
Knowing she was used to a woman’s voice, I talked to her in soothing tones. I hoped that hearing my voice would help her relax and begin to get oriented. Indeed, her hearing was very sensitive and she quickly clued into wherever I was in the room. When I was nearby, I would be sure to speak to her and let her know what I was doing: “Hi Libby, it’s just me, sweetie. I’m going to open your cage door now, okay?”
When I reached my hand into her cage to gently stroke her neck, I was amazed by her response. She leaned into my hand as soon as she sensed it, perking up and clicking her wings. Again, it became obvious that there was a lot more life in this little girl than I could see with my two good eyes. I could feel that she wanted to step right up onto my hand. Lifting her up while protecting her with my other hand, I drew her close to my chest. From there, all she wanted to do was snuggle or, at other times, walk up the front of me and nestle into my neck or hunker down on my shoulder. (I would let her do the shoulder balance only with something behind us, like the back of the couch, to avoid unpleasant surprises. I had no idea if she could fly; for her safety I had to assume that she could fall.)
When Libby felt social and safe, she would begin to coo — and then she would coo and coo and coo and coo. I said to Elizabeth, watch out, this bird will knock the love socks right off you. She is absolutely irresistible and I wished I could have kept her with me forever. Right now, she’s soaking up the wonderful foster care of sisters Paloma and Vivia and their mom, Dale. They didn’t have her long before they fully understood why I cried (again!) when I left her with them. Everyone falls hard in love with Libby!
Just a few more things I learned from Libby:
1. A stuffed chicken feels kind of like someone’s shoulder, but standing on it doesn’t work too well! (This gave me the idea to make a more stable, shoulder-like bolster for her cage by stuffing a sock with beans.)
2. A log may seem secure at first but it might roll if not supported, giving both bird and foster-care-person quite a surprise. (Necessity being the mother of invention, I fashioned a brace for the log from two small dowels and some masking tape.)
3. Setting a blind bird right in the middle of a big dish of seeds will encourage them to eat because there’s food wherever they turn. (Elizabeth taught me this. It’s good to know!)
4. A glass pie plate filled with about an inch of water and set on the floor makes an acceptable bathtub. (Libby took one big bath in the time she was with me, raising one wing at a time and leaning into the water, then ducking in breast first like any other bird would, shaking water all over the room.)
5. Some time spent in natural sunlight is important for good health and might even stimulate regrowth of lost feathers. (Another excellent tip from Elizabeth.)
Libby was also great at letting me know when she did and didn’t want to be held. Sometimes she was clearly excited to be picked up and sometimes she ignored my hand when I offered it to her, letting me know she preferred to rest. But I know she always listened to me when I came in and out of the room and that she truly seemed to like and rely on the sound of my voice. After she was gone, I missed her so much that for a little while I kept right on talking to her.
Hey, Libby, I hope you’re doing well at your new foster home. I know they’re going to love you and take good care of you.
Hi, Sweet Liberty, thank you for letting me get to know you.
Okay, Libby, I’m going out now, I won’t forget about you!
Most of Liberty’s friends are still at the Marin Humane Society and AVAILABLE FOR ADOPTION. Please visit this link and enter “Bird” in the search box to view all the doves and pigeons at MHS.
Shae Irving has loved pigeons and doves since she was rescued by a king pigeon way back in 1993. She’s been a Palomacy adopter and volunteer since 2011 (she helped Elizabeth set up this very website) and she currently belongs to three adopted pigeons: Gem, Haiku, and recent widower Yuzu. Shae works as a writer, editor, and social media manager and she lives in Fairfax with her husband, Stewart. You can follow her (and her bird friends) on Instagram @shaeirving.