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Home » 2009 - Issue 2, Issue, Making a Difference

Dealing with the Intensity of an Emergency Rescue

By Tim Lacy


The Executive Director and Founder of the Healthipet Network Corporation in Anderson, Indiana, gives us an insight into the world of rescue and rehabilitation

Rescue work of any type can be intense and stressful, but when an emergency rescue comes up, the intensity and stress level can often triple or even go beyond that.  I’ve been working with birds for over 30 years and the call for an emergency rescue still gets my adrenaline flowing and my heart racing.  You know it’s a race of you against time, and time always has the better odds.

That would definitely be the case with our most recent emergency rescue here at the Healthipet Network Corporation.  We received the call on 1st December.  The lady told us that her father-in-law had passed away and had left notice for his birds to be placed at our rescue.  He was a breeder of zebra finches and cockatiels.  She thought there were about 60 birds in all - quite a few more birds than we were normally used to rescuing at once, but at least they were all smaller birds, and we thought we could handle it.

Her call was full of surprises like this, and she wasn’t done yet.  The birds were all being housed in outside aviaries with no heat or power.  She informed us that they were in Alabama, about 8 hours drive from us here in Indiana.  Although we were not happy about the long drive, the thought that they were further south and still had warmer weather was a welcome relief.  Their nights were still in the 40’s and finches could usually survive in temperatures as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but any lower on a regular basis could prove to be deadly.

Then came the worst of her news.  Since birds are considered property here in the US, the probate judge would have to release the birds to us before we could pick them up.  The judge was not expected to make his ruling until mid December or later.  By then, temperatures would surely drop, even down south.  Time was of the essence, and all we could do was wait.

We finally got the call on the afternoon of December 15th.  The judge had ruled to release the birds to us.  As luck would have it, we were expecting a major ice storm late that evening and early the next morning.  There was no way we could chance driving in that weather.  We called our contact in Alabama and found out that they were not expecting their cold front to come through until the 18th.

I decided that we should try to head out on the 17th after our ice storm and before their cold front hit.  With the holidays approaching, I knew it was going to be difficult to round up any volunteers to assist in the rescue, especially at such late notice.  It proved to be even more difficult than I had imagined.  Practically everybody was either already out of town or had family in for the holidays.  Our Director of Human Resources and Volunteer Services, Robert, and Shelter Volunteer, Debbie, were the only two that would be able to go with me.

The 17th of December was a Monday.  Robert had to work that morning and Debbie had classes.  So we had to wait until early evening to make our start.  I called our contact to tell them the plan.  We were planning on leaving here around 6:00 pm and arriving there at 1:00 am our time, or midnight their time.  Our contacts insisted on meeting us in town so we could follow them to the site.  It was way out in the country and they said we would never be able to find it on our own, especially in the middle of the night. I began to gather up our rescue gear as I awaited Deb and Robert’s arrival.

I should have figured that our bad luck was nowhere near over yet.  Robert got stuck at work because of the holiday rush and was over an hour late getting here.  We finally got the van packed up and headed out, or at least we thought we were.  We got from the parking lot and down the alley to the street and the van died.  It wouldn’t even turn over.

Robert thought it was the alternator and if so, our trip was over before it ever got started.  There was no place open that late to get it fixed.  I had him bring the car around front to try and jump it so we could at least get it out of the alley.  He hooked it up to the cables and it started right up.  We decided to pile in again and head out to get gas and check and top off all of the fluids.  Still no problems.  So we went ahead and ran to the store to pick up some drinks and munchies to avoid having to stop and eat along the way.  The van started right back up and we felt like it was an omen that we had to complete this rescue tonight.  So we were finally on our way to Alabama.

I called them to let them know we were running very late.  They said no problem, as they had taken off work the next day since they knew they would be up late that night, and said just call when we got there.  What a relief!  I drove through Indiana and into Kentucky.  Then Robert took over driving so I could rest.  I had taken all of the directions over the phone and written them down.  Deb was our navigator.  I ended up falling asleep and they ended up getting lost.

They woke me up to tell me the good news.  They said we were at the junction we were supposed to rendezvous at, but they could not find the building we were to meet at.  They had been all up and down this highway looking for it and it simply wasn’t there.  I had them call our contacts and ask if we were in the right place.  He told us with a smile in his voice that we weren’t even in Alabama yet.  Wow!  Were we ever embarrassed?  Apparently, when I gave Deb the directions she did not realize there were two sheets of directions and she was only using the top one.  No big deal!  We were close now and had only driven for about an hour out of the way and wasted only who knows how much gas.

A half hour later we were at our rendezvous.  We arrived about 3:30 am and decided to go directly to the aviaries to pick up the birds since it was only 21 degrees outside and certainly not healthy for them.  We called Scott, our contact, and he was there within 15 minutes. We followed him in the darkness through what seemed like endless twists and turns, finally arriving at our destination a mere 15 minutes later.  There is no way we could have found this place on our own. Thank God Scott had insisted on leading us there.

Of course, it was still dark out at this time of the morning. So armed with flashlights and nets, the three of us began our mission. We immediately noticed that some of the babies had succumbed to the cold and had not survived. We knew that the speed of our rescue was vitally important. The thought of our three bodies thrashing seemingly aimlessly around in these open aviaries attempting to catch speedy little finches and cockatiels must have been a sight for sore eyes.

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