Hopeless Cases and Speed Bumps

This is a tough time of year for me. I get tons of “hopeless cases” calls. The goose who can’t fly and is left behind on the lake, the fox with broken bones who’s been hit by a car and the birds with broken wings. Today was a goose and chickadee day.

With the goose, the only thing I can recommend is to move them down to the bay or a river where the water stays open in the winter. Even if I was allowed, I don’t have the facility to care for a dozen geese over the winter or for the rest of their lives.

Bird bones are hollow, that’s what allows them to fly. They rarely heal well enough for flight without surgery. I can’t do that. Everyone wants me to try, but then I put in all the time and effort and almost always end up with a bird that can’t fly. I can’t keep them in a cage the rest of their life. The bird suffers, I suffer, it usually ends badly and I need to put the bird down or if I release it , it get’s eaten by something else pretty quick. Better to leave it and let that happen naturally in the beginning or put it down mercifully before it suffers. People think I’m cruel for saying that.

All I can do for the fox is put it down. An adult fox, especially when injured is a pretty nasty animal. They don’t know you are trying to help them. They are in pain and will lash out with very sharp teeth. If I can get a cast on one, it will chew it off and sometimes the leg. Again. It ends badly for both of us.

Sometimes though, with a very young animal, I try.

I got a call this spring about a tiny fawn that was hit by a car, but there didn’t seem to be any broken bones. They badgered and pleaded until I agreed to take it in.
It arrived, barely conscious and covered with blood. The legs and large bones were fine, but it was obvious that it had a skull fracture. I worried that the eye that was swollen shit would be blind. Blind deer don’t last long.

I spent days dribbling formula into its mouth and treating the head wound and road rash. At the end of many sleepless nights and against all odds, he survived. He had to learn to walk again and I would put a towel under his belly to support him. The concussion caused him to circle to the right and I had to force his brain to shift to the left till he could walk straight.

We called him Speed Bump. He had a kind of wonky eye, but good sight in it. Being a swamp buck, he was three shades darker than the others and his legs tapered to black near the hooves. He was my most aggressive baby and demanded to be fed first. I worried about my sliding door as he would rise up and kick it if his bottle was late.

I knew from the start that he probably would not make it long in the wild. We joked that there “Was something just not right about that boy. Regardless, he thrived.

The gates had been down since the first of October and the two boys spend much of their nights in the wild. They would always be at the door though looking for a bottle or treat, twice a day. That’s where he was yesterday morning, beating at the door (literally) for his sweet feed.

All four of them were underfoot most of the day while Jimmy was working on his new shed and I was doing all the pre-winter stuff that I never seem to get done before it snows.
About three, I happened to look across the fence in Levi’s yard. There was a deer lying still in the grass. It was Speed Bump. He’d been dead for only an hour or less and I ran to him. I stroked his still warm side and soft ears. I looked for any marks of injury or any indication of how he died. There was no blood, no broken bones, the ground was not disturbed as if he struggled.

He simply died.

I will never know why.

Somehow that makes it harder. There are many scenarios…a stroke, compression from a malformed skull, did something chase him and he made it back to the yard only to die of shock or heart attack? Or did death simply come to reclaim what I took from it?

I had the boys take his body out to the woods. Let him be food for other animals instead of rotting in the ground. I went off and sat for a while. I thought about all the problems he had with the initial injury, a bad stretch of scours, and a tough case of worms. He was never meant to survive from the beginning, but we fought. Even with all this, he had a great little life. Never hungry. Other fawns to play with. A safe space. And then….the taste of freedom.

People don’t understand the toll these little deaths take on me. Even the chickadees take a tiny part of me when they die. I question myself, my abilities, whether it is even right for me to have interfered in the first place. I wish I could explain that, when they call with a hopeless case. I wish I could tell them that I’m running out of pieces to give. A heart can break only so many times.

Tonight, I watched the other three fawns playing in the yard. I gave them extra scratches and peppermints before they left for the night’s frolic. I watched the bob cat play in the leaves and listened to Roomba settling in for the night with his grumbles and heavy sighs.
I thought about the thousands of hours I put into these animals, the thousands of dollars. The suffering and pain that I can do so little for. The ones that make it…and the ones that don’t.

Then a mourning dove came and landed next to me. I know him. He was freshly hatched when he came, but is sleek and beautiful now. He just sat with me for a moment, as it to say, “It’s ok. I understand”.

Maybe he does. Maybe somewhere deep inside I understand too, but tonight, it just hurts.

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