I had a thought provoking comment on my blog about Dove Spirit Animal today from a fellow who was moving across the country and took a wild mourning dove with him. After three days in the car together, the man released the dove in a completely new habitat. You’ll have to read his story as well as my response to see what path that leads down. Through his question another thread spoke to me in the form of a memory I try not to recall very often.
This stirred up, unsettling memory is from a time when I found a helpless wild duckling along the side of a road.
A Trying Duckling Rescue
My father and I were at the start of a three day road trip to my mom’s house in central Washington from our home in Colorado. We were headed up Clear Creek Canyon with my young yellow labrador retriever in tow. I think this may have been his first road trip. There were numerous gravel shoulders along the road, one of which we choose to stop in to let the dog out.
Our dog Buckwheat was famous for being run by his sense of smell. On this day, he jumped right out of the back of my dad’s white Blazer and went straight into the brush, nose first. Out came waddling and peeping a small, downy, yellow duckling. My first thought, was “Oh! How cute!” and my second thought was “Oh great. What now?”
I knew this was not right to find a duckling wandering about along a busy highway with a large river right by. The duckling should have been out on the water with its mother. My concern was immediate as was my sense of being stuck with no options. I knew that we were too far along in our drive to turn home and search out an appropriate wildlife rescue center for the duckling. I felt that I couldn’t just leave him there especially now that his hiding place had been unveiled by my curious lab. Heaven forbid that the duckling amble out in front of a car or paddle aimlessly down the river wearing himself out. Already my heart was splitting in two. And he was so stinking cute.
After searching for the mother duck without success, it was clear that I was now on a duckling rescue mission. I lovingly collected the duckling up in a towel and returned to the passenger seat. My dad knew it was hopeless to tell me to do nothing. He could hear the distress in my voice and I’m sure was pained to see me so unhappy.
With my dad’s help, we decided the best thing to do was to take the duckling to a forest station that was 30-45 minutes up the road. I was sure those stewards of the wilderness would know what to do. I was young still – 15 years old or so – and my naivety was fresh. I idolized people who worked as naturalists. They were superheroes to me.
I had everything I could do while my dad drove the windy canyon road to keep patient with Buckwheat. He tried over and over again to climb into my seat and be on top of the duckling and I. I don’t know how many times “get back!” came out of my mouth. Buckers was bubbling over with excitement over our new peeping passenger. I shared his enthusiasm. The tiny bundle of yellow nestled into my lap had captured my heart. To this day, I have an overwhelming mothering instinct when it comes to baby animals.
Searching for Help
We pulled off the highway, drove into a small mountain town and went in to the ranger station that was along our route. I diligently carried the duckling inside, my dad holding the door while leading the way in. The man behind the counter turned us away almost before I could tell the story. I can’t remember another conversation so brief. He just shook his head. I think he did say he was sorry for all that helped my situation.
I didn’t have the heart to try and convince my dad to turn back and go to the original spot where we found the duckling. It didn’t seem like it would make any difference at the time and I wasn’t prone to causing too much trouble. All I could do by then was follow my dad’s idea to release the duckling in the river behind the forest service office. It was quieter there and there was more vegetative cover, but the duckling was definitely all alone. It was the same river we’d found him along, but it was many miles away. I hoped beyond hope that his mother might find him. I felt awful driving away.
To this day wish I could have done something more for the duckling. I still wonder now if I was any help at all.
My Call to Be a Wildlife Rehabilitator
This experience and regret that stemmed from it fueled my decision to work at a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation organization. My encounter with that one duckling led me to help hundreds of other wild creatures in need.
Has it been amazing to hold so many beautiful wild animals in my hands? Of course. Was this some of the toughest work I’ve ever done? Yes.
We released many animals and many more didn’t make it. Being a part of an organization that specialized in the care and rehabilitation of wild animals was satisfying in that we had the tools and knowledge to do the most we could to help injured and orphaned wildlife. So often we knew what to do and found success. At times, we were clueless and met failure. Such is the nature of life and death. That duckling wasn’t my first broken heart.
The encounter with that one duckling was the start of my efforts to help raise awareness about the plight of wild animals who find themselves all too often in conflict with human civilization. I never would have guessed it would have brought me here to this work as a shamanic practitioner and to writing this story to you today.
How You Can Help with Wildlife Rescue
For you, I recommend finding where your closest wildlife rehabilitation center is because you never know when you might need their help. Please don’t try to rehabilitate a wild animal on your own or keep them in your home. Besides being ill-advised it is illegal. Every animal needs a specific diet and a quiet, uninterrupted natural enclosure to recover. A wildlife rescue center can provide exactly what the animal needs along with important medical care. These centers also have the mandatory federal permits that allow them to have the animals in their custody.
Rather than have the weird hope of finding an injured or orphaned animal someday so that you can be a part of a story like this, please get to work now by donating or volunteering at your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.