Animals, Dogs, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Pets, Uncategorized

Saving Baby Bird


“Jill! Can you come out here?”

I closed my laptop and shouted, “Coming!” as I hurried toward the back door.

“I can’t believe I didn’t step on it.” My handyman, John, was looking down at something near the bottom of the porch steps, under a large hedge in between the side fence and the stairs. He grabbed a soft cloth towel out of his pocket and carefully picked up a baby bird that he’d found there. It was not moving.

“Is he alive?” I asked. My heart began pounding. It was so small and from the look of his wings and the dampness of his feathers, it looked as if maybe one of the neighbor’s outdoor cats had gotten him. His skin was dark pink – I didn’t see any blood, but he looked injured to me. He barely moved.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“I can’t believe I didn’t step on him,” John said again.

I hurried inside the house to grab my phone.

“Pennie will know what to do.” I called my next-door neighbor and thankfully she picked up. I asked her what to do since it was after 6 pm and the vet was closed.

“Take him to UGA.  They’ll take care of him. We’ve brought squirrels, birds, other wildlife there.”

“Thank you!” I hurried inside and grabbed one of the shoeboxes in the bonus room. John put baby bird (as I began calling him) into the box, still wrapped in the kerchief.

“Will you be here in an hour?”  John had been working most of the day and I knew he had planned to stop pretty soon. He didn’t have a key to lock up and I had to pay him for his work, too. He said he would and I took off. Baby bird didn’t seem to be moving at all.  As I scurried down the driveway, (my car was parked on the street), I said to him, “Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”

Baby bird wrapped safely in the towel

I knew there was no point in speeding – it would only endanger both of us. If we got pulled over for a ticket, that would not help, either.  I stayed calm and kept in mind that as long as we got there safely, that was the most important thing. But, as I drove down the freeway (UGA is about 13 miles from the house), I kept looking over at baby bird – and I realized that all the grief of losing Lizzie and Reggie was right there at the surface, right there as if I’d just lost them. I didn’t realize it, but I knew – I knew then why I don’t want another dog – why I can’t have another dog. Not now.

Looking at baby bird, I wasn’t sure if he had died, he was so still. I couldn’t bear to lose him, this baby bird I’d met 15 minutes ago.

I couldn’t bear to go through losing any more animals.

That is the real reason I am not ready to get another dog – even if I had the money to pay for the needs of my dog – even if I wasn’t getting my house ready to put on the market – if anything happened, I could not go through it again. Not yet.

And that’s the thing – I don’t want a puppy. I don’t believe in that – everyone wants a puppy. I don’t believe in buying from a breeder – though my mom did it with her two Shih tzus and I don’t judge her for that.

But, that’s not me. If and when I get another dog, (hopefully when), I am going to rescue a dog that is not a puppy, and I will know – just like Toby “told me” we were meant to be, when I meet the right dog – and it will be a dog that is not very young, it will happen.

The thing is with adoption of rescue dogs – there is a risk involved.  And it’s not just rescue dogs, either. My first experience with having a dog of my own was tragic. It didn’t last long because the dog, a Shih tzu puppy that my mom bought from a pet store, died a few weeks later. He was black and white. I named him, Jack.  For Jack and Jill.  I know, silly, but I did it.

Jack got very sick and stopped eating a couple of weeks after I brought him home. The vet said Jack had a blood disorder. He wasn’t producing enough red blood cells and there was nothing the doctor could do. He told me if I let Jack go on like that, he would suffer.

So I let Jack go.

I’d never put a dog down before. I made a huge mistake. I didn’t stay in the room. I let Doc (as we called the vet) take Jack away and put him to sleep. I didn’t even get a paw print, or an urn…nothing.

I was in my early twenties. What did I know?

I should have known more.

It was a long time, not until I adopted Toby in 2001, before I was able to try again.

My mom’s younger brindle Shih tzu, Chip, died at age 4. The doctor thought he had an abcess in his foot. He treated Chip over and over for that abscess for several weeks.

It was not an abscess. It was cancer. Doc had misdiagnosed him.

He was only 4. Mom had bought him from a breeder. The same breeder that sold her the black Shih tzu that she let Barry name Cowboy.


It was July 2, 2000.  My mom called me from Los Angeles (I was living in San Diego) and told me right before she was about to have Doc put him to sleep that she was letting Chip go.

I never got to say goodbye.

Cowboy(on the left) and Chip (on the right)

Cowboy lived to be 10 years old, which was still very young to lose a small dog. When he was 5, I came home to my mom’s house (my childhood home) one afternoon and found Cowboy lying in the middle of the den, not moving, but still alive. The carpet was covered with vomit, foamy saliva and diarrhea.

I rushed Cowboy to the vet where he was diagnosed with Parvo virus – a very serious illness that is usually fatal.

Cowboy was hospitalized for several days, and it was touch and go, but he survived. Doc told me if I had come home an hour later, Cowboy would have died.

It blows my mind when I think of how close we came to losing Cowboy, and for years, I couldn’t get over what a miracle it was that I found him in time.

Sadly, even though Cowboy miraculously survived the Parvo virus, he lost 5-6 years of his life and died young.  Cowboy lost his sight two years before he passed away in his sleep from a heart attack. My mom found him in the morning, and the only consolation, for all of us, was that Cowboy had not suffered.

Only my immediate family, and my college boyfriend, Tony, know about Cowboy, and how close we were – I bonded with Cowboy immediately, and in many ways, he was my dog as much as he was my mom’s. Whenever I came home to Los Angeles to stay with her, Cowboy and I were inseparable – so much so, that before I adopted Toby, my mom gave Cowboy to me because she knew how much I wanted a dog of my own and how much I loved him.

Cowboy was miserable the whole weekend. He moped and wandered around the apartment as if he’d lost his best friend.

I called my mom and told her to come back and get him – don’t ever think that dogs don’t bond with one human, as their special person. They do. Even in a family – where I thought Cowboy was as attached to me as he was to my mother – Mom was Cowboy’s human and she could not be replaced. As soon as Mom came to the door, he was his happy self again – wagging his tail, barking, upbeat.

That’s what led me to find Toby – which was one of the best things I’ve ever done – adopting Toby.  He was meant to be with me, and Cowboy was meant to be with Mom.

Toby and me in UTC Xmas 2006


Toby giving me a kiss

Toby and I were something special. He was my first dog – when I think about all the dogs I had before – even the dog Mom adopted while I was in her womb – it isn’t the same. Toby was mine, and I was his. I was his human, and he was my baby. Before I met my husband, Audie, Toby was the love of my life, and in many ways, he still is and always will be. We shared 10 years together (he was 8 when I adopted him) – not nearly enough time – but they were filled with so many memories, it felt like 30 years. He saw me through some of the toughest times in my life. When I was single and dating, when I was a teacher, when I met Audie, and Lizzie and Reggie.

I don’t know how I survived losing Toby – I often thought I wouldn’t. People worried I wouldn’t – I loved him so much.  Toby died the week after Audie left for Georgia, and if it hadn’t been for Audie and Lizzie and Reggie, I don’t know how I would have gone on, except they needed me – especially Lizzie and Reggie. They were counting on me, so I kept going, and I got through it.

Toby and me in La Jolla

I had 7 years in between losing Toby and Lizzie, but only 3 1/2 months in between losing Lizzie and Reggie this past year. I’ve written about that experience, as my regular readers know, and the impact it has had on me, particularly at this time in my life.

What I didn’t know was that I was burying the grief, negotiating with it, hoping it would morph into something I would not have to deal with, so that I could bargain for some sense of contentment without them.

Baby bird proved to me, it isn’t working.

Baby Bird in the car


As you can see from the photo, baby bird perked up a little bit somewhere around Exit 6, and you can imagine my relief that he was still alive!

“Hold on, baby bird. We’re almost there. Hang on, we’ll be there soon!”

Here’s what killed me. Baby bird started chirping, and looking up at me, opening his beak, asking for food. And the way he looked at me, right in the eye, when I talked to him, I felt it – he thought I was his new mama. He kept opening his beak and chirping and looking up at me, watching me…I couldn’t get a photo of baby bird with his beak open, but once we got to a red light off of exit 7, in addition to stopping at the lights on College Station Road, I was able to capture his beauty, his sweetness – and our new bond.

Baby bird looking up at me in the car

As we got closer to the street where you turn right into the parking lot, baby bird grew quiet again and nestled back into the towel. I worried that he wasn’t going to make it as soon as he did that. But, as I took the shoebox out of the car, he got nervous and started chirping frantically.

“It’s okay, baby, they’ll help you. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay,” I told him.

I headed straight for the front desk (being there was so eerie – I hadn’t been there since 2018 with Reggie or Lizzie).

“I found this baby bird in my yard. He’s injured.”

The young lady called for someone to take him, and I asked when the vet tech took the box from me, “What are you going to do?”

I was very worried about what was going to happen. They’d given me a wildlife donation form to fill out, and I wondered if he was going to be used for animal experiments for the students, or if they were going to nurse him back to health in a humane way, or what. I knew what happened to lab animals, and that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with Audie – he fights against that. He uses human bacteria, no animals – in fact, I know someday Audie is going to be one of the pioneers in building one of the first labs in university level pharmaceutical research that eliminates all animal testing. Audie taught me that results are much less accurate in animal testing, than they are with human bacteria cells, and he works to educate other scientists in that respect.

In any case, I had not even finished filling out the paperwork when a different person, a student, brought baby bird back and told me that the best chance he had to survive was to return him to a high place, where he came from, so that his mama would find him. The young student told me his mother was much more likely to come back if I returned him home because they could not give him the same chance in a caged environment. I was very distressed because I did not know how to take care of a wild bird, and there it was again, that fear that I was going to lose another pet.

I protested, politely, but the student insisted baby bird would almost certainly not survive if I left him with them. She said he looked like he was doing well and I should try to get him back into a tree.

I won’t tell you where that conversation went, but let’s just say I had to explain to her why it was not possible for me to climb a tree. In any case, even with a ladder, I did not see how that would help since I’d found baby bird by a bush. The nearest tree was 50 yards away, and there was nowhere to safely stick a shoebox.

I relented quickly and sulked all the way to the automatic sliding doors. As I exited the building, I apologized to baby bird – telling him I did my best.


Baby bird kept looking at me as I talked to him


On the way home, I did not feel anxious like I did when I was driving him to UGA, but I felt numb. I was preparing myself for the grief I was sure would come from losing him. For I didn’t see how I would be able to save him now. He began chirping again, and opened his beak for food a few more times. I remembered the girl had said something about giving him warm water from a syringe if I had one. Strange that she didn’t send me home with any. I didn’t have any left – I’d donated them all after Reggie passed away – but I did have a couple of empty bottle droppers from Lizzie’s cyclosporine drops.

You’ll never believe what happened when I got home and told John what they said because it is simply a miracle – at least, I think so.

I relayed my story to John, but he was hopeful because…he’d seen a cardinal flying around the larger hedge on the other side of the fence in the front yard and…he suspected it could be the mama bird. He said he even heard another bird chirping from inside the hedge.

“Let’s take a look,” he suggested.

Baby bird and I followed John to the hedge. He worked to separate the thick branches apart. They were knotted close together and the leaves were difficult to separate.

Lo and behold – once John was able to break through to the center – he found a nest.

“There’s another baby in here, come look.”

“Really! You found the nest!” I was so relieved. What had started out as a distressing experience earlier now changed to one of incredulity and joy!

“I found it. Do you see the other bird?”  John was sticking his head through the branches.

I could not see anything, but it didn’t matter.

“Can you get him back in the nest? Do you think his mother will come back for him?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But we can try.”

John carefully removed baby bird from the towel inside the box, reached through the tangled branches and packed-together leaves, and gently placed baby bird in the nest. I could not see any other birds, but maybe his brother or sister had disappeared by hiding in the bottom of the nest.

Baby bird was home safe. We’d saved him. Or at least – I chose to believe that we did. If nothing else, he had a chance now. We’d done our best – baby bird survived his ordeal.


The next morning, I didn’t hear anything as I passed by the front yard hedge. I was afraid to check and see if baby bird was there, but I thought about him in the car on the way to the podiatrist’s office. John and I had been in disbelief when it became clear that somehow baby bird had made it through the fence and into the backyard all by himself after falling out of the nest.  We weren’t sure if one of the cats had gotten to him, at the foot of the hedge, tried to eat him, and then jumped the fence before dropping him at the foot of the stairs, but whatever happened, baby bird had survived a harrowing experience and we were amazed he’d made it at all.

While I was in the patient’s chair, Dr. Niknafs asked me if I had gotten another dog. As you may recall from my post, “Ask Forgiveness Not Permission,” I brought Reggie, riding in his stroller, to my previous doctor appointment, two days before we put Reggie to sleep. I was touched that the doctor remembered Reggie’s visit.

I told Dr. Niknafs that I hadn’t – and I told him why. Dr. Niknafs listened to my story of the adventure with baby bird and he understood – it was too soon.

“Yes, it’s too soon. I’m not ready. Someday. I’m not ready to take a chance if something happens, I am still hurting too much from losing Reggie and Lizzie. I can’t lose another pet. I can’t adopt another dog until I’m prepared for whatever could happen. It probably would be fine, but you never know. I’m just not ready.”

Dr. Niknafs shook his head, in a good way. “You’re such a nice person. You’re soft-hearted, Jill.”

I was surprised he got so sentimental – I’m not used to that from doctors, but I appreciated his kindness so much.

I know he’ll always remember Reggie, too.

January 30, 2019: Reggie’s visit to Dr. Niknafs office


And I’ll always remember what a blessing it was that we found – and saved – baby bird.