(This 1191st Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on January 19, 2014.)


Dawn Mazierski carefully holds an unhappy owl


The great horned owl was not enthusiastic about being held. He was like my son getting his first haircut. As his handlers washed his wings, he frowned his eyes half closed and clenched his feet into tight fists. I could just imagine him thinking what my son said many years ago: "Let me out of here."


Then with Dawn Mazierski continuing to clasp the belligerent owl's legs with one gloved hand and hold his wings tight with the other, Dr. Karen Moran carefully forced food into its mouth with forceps, pushing open that threatening beak for each bite. As she worked, I was tempted to stroke the soft feathers covering the owl's feet. Fortunately, I knew better. Those feathers hid inch-long talons that would dig deep into my hands if I did.


I was watching just one more event on a normal day at the Erie County SPCA for the many staff members and volunteers who work there with injured wild animals. I had been invited by Beverly Jones and Jean Alden to visit the Ensminger Road facility and learn more about their rehabilitation activities.


The owl they worked with that morning was brought to the SPCA because it had lost its sense of balance. An X-ray showed no broken bones, but the bird was clearly incapacitated. The staff diagnosis was a concussion suffered when it flew into something, one of those head injuries we hear so much about among football players. They would care for the owl in hope that it would over time recover. If it does, they will release it near where it was found.


Most of us know the SPCA as a place where pets may be adopted and indeed on that morning the background music was a canine chorus. I was shown the many dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and even turtles that were up for adoption and I was sorely tempted. There were two dogs in particular that I would love to have taken home. I knew, however, that I could get no animal past my wife.


But I was not there to adopt a pet. I wanted to hear more about the activities of this staff. Here are just some of those they shared with me:


A loon lay for five days in a local ditch, having crash-landed there in a storm. It had been assumed to be dead, but finally rehabilitator Marianne Hites found it and brought to the SPCA. It was in terrible condition: emaciated, dehydrated and near death. The staff nursed it with care and as soon as it gained enough strength they let it swim in a bathtub. They had to learn from local anglers how to net pails-full of minnows to feed their patient. The loon would quickly catch a dozen or so shiners thrown into its bath and it quickly learned to announce with one of its strange hoots that it was ready for more. Successfully rehabilitated, the loon was released in the Niagara River.


Two beautiful milk snakes were brought to them. One had gotten stuck in a glue trap set out for mice. It took great care to release it and then the snake was kept until it shed its injured skin before it could be released. They received the other snake too late to save it, but in death it produced eggs. These the staff was able to raise and release.


A bittern and a mallard were brought in, each with a broken bill. To repair them the mandibles had to be bound up. Two tubes had to be inserted, one for breathing during the operation and the other for feeding afterward. Both operations were successful and the birds released.


A homeowner was delighted to observe fix kits playing at a den in her backyard. But then the mother was somehow badly burned. Elise Able trapped the fox and the SPCA staff cared for it. The temporarily abandoned kits were fortunate: the homeowner fed them until their mother returned.


I salute the Erie County SPCA for their humane work with and for animals. For more about the society including how you might join their over 500 weekly volunteers (80 in the wildlife department) or donate in support of the work of the wildlife department, see their website.-- Gerry Rising