Today an old friend reminded me that we once tried to rescue a baby pigeon. We found it alone and forlorn on a busy Astoria sidewalk. It was tiny, still fluffy, and looked very disoriented. Our hearts went out to it, we couldn't just leave it there to die. There were alley cats and stray dogs and taxis and rollerbladers and bike deliverypeople and cruel young men with big boots. We scooped it up and carried it back to my friend's apartment. We found an old shoe box, made a bunch of holes in it, big enough to see in and out of, and set the shivering creature inside while we figured out what to do next.
Sitting at my friend's laptop, I spent about 20 minutes on a bird-care educational blitz. I searched the internet on how to care for baby birds. We read a bunch of great stuff - there is a lot of excellent info out there. We even called a veterinarian who specialized in birds to ask advice. All my sources told us that it was highly unlikely the chick would survive, but I had to make a go of it. I just had to. My friend and I named him Lucky, hoping for some good fortune.
We went to a petstore and bought a cage, some baby bird food and a special tool to feed him with. I consulted at length with the store proprietor, who kept birds himself. He demonstrated how to use the feeding tube, to simulate how the mother bird deposits food into the tiny animal. I practiced using it, and took everything back to my friend's place.
Lucky didn't seem any more comfortable in the cage than he had been in the old shoebox we'd setup for him. he didn't make a sound though, just looked around, his tiny heart beating in his fuzzy breast. I was sure he was terrified. I crooned to him softly, spoke to him, tried to make soothing sounds. It was hard to tell if he even really knew I was there.
I took Lucky back home with me, and I managed to get a meal into him. He was quiet. I was worried.
I set the small birdcage on a quiet table and put a shallow saucer of water in the cage. I know that birds can have heart attacks from stress. I didn't want to leave him. I didn't want to go to sleep. I knew this was the test - if he survived the night, he might survive long enough for me to take him to a vet and possibly find a way to either release him to someone else or give him a home myself. But I knew his chances were slim. I was scared. I felt so driven to save this poor little thing. I placed a towel over his cage, and said goodnight. I tried to give him a quiet, calm, undisturbed night.
When I woke up the next morning, Lucky was dead. His eyes were closed, and he was lying there, on the bottom of the cage. My stomach felt sick. I was so sad.
Did I make his last hours on this Earth better, or worse? Everyone agreed that if I had left him we we found him, he wouldn't have lasted the day... but did I terrify him with the activity? He seemed to appreciate the food. Maybe at least I was able to quell his hunger? Or was he so sick or injured that he didn't feel hunger? Did he feel anything? Did he die peacefully in his sleep? Or did he die terrified?
I didn't know if I had done the right thing. This adorable, fuzzy, innocent creature was dead. I tried my best, but it died.
I'm not one to rescue animals. Usually they are better off left alone. I don't know why I did this one time.
I remember it took me days to stop feeling sick inside, to stop grieving the loss of something I barely knew. I cried, not just for poor Lucky, but for my failure to save him. I prayed for forgiveness, wondering if I had done something wrong, if his death was my fault, if it was silly hubris to think I could help him, if my ineptitude had hasted his demise or prolonged his suffering. I prayed for all lost creatures, knowing that in many ways I was one myself. Eventually I forced myself to think of other things, and the memory faded.
That was six years ago. Today I was reminded, and the feelings all came back.
Who was I really trying to save? Does that justify what I did?
Did I do anything wrong?
Will I ever know?