By Dr. Amanda Rainey
It had been unusually warm for Christmas Day that year. We had seen quite a few trauma patients at the UT-VMC ER due to pets playing outside. Several dogs had been hit by cars with the coming and going of relatives for holiday festivities and that coupled with working on such a family oriented occasion had me and my students feeling a little bit of melancholy as evening arrived.
Soon after nightfall, we received a phone call from the front desk letting us know that some gentlemen were on the way in with wildlife they had found outside their home. This isn’t really out of the ordinary for us, as we often take in abandoned or injured wildlife and work with our exotics service to care for these animals.
Within about an hour the page came over the intercom alerting us that someone had arrived. I sent the emergency student up to assess the situation and he soon returned, looking a bit flustered and concerned.
“What’s going on up there? Is everything OK,” I asked while I finished securing a splint to a current patient’s fractured forelimb.
“Well, it’s an interesting fellow and I think I need a little help getting the animal from him.” The student answered honestly. I patted him on the shoulder and we headed toward the reception area together. I was truly surprised by what arrived up front.
A man was standing in the lobby holding something quite large in an old flannel shirt. He began speaking loudly to me, claiming he’d found the most amazing new pet and gesturing to what was wrapped in the shirt. I was a young vet then, but knew enough to tell that this gentleman was quite intoxicated. He begged me to fix his new pet with tears in his bloodshot eyes. I had to step back from the wafting odor of alcohol that filled the air between us. I suggested to the student that he go retrieve a large box for us to put the creature in for transport back to the exotics ward, having still not visualized exactly what the man was holding. I tried to reassure the well-meaning individual that we would do our best to treat and rehabilitate the animal if possible, but did inform him that he could not have the animal returned to him, as it should be released to the wild. Tears were streaming down his face now, but he nodded in agreement.
“He must be free! Freedom is the present I can give him,” the gentleman shouted and suddenly thrust the shirt and unknown animal at me. I instinctively reached out to catch it, but just at that moment a large red-tailed hawk emerged from the shirt and tried in vain to fly. He flapped his obviously injured wings and grasped at the air with his talons, ultimately landing about 10 feet away on the lobby floor. The man saluted me and the wide-eyed front desk staff and marched out the front door.
We then the spent the next half hour trying to corral the hawk, as it shuffled along the shiny floor, just escaping our attempts to place the box over him. He was finally safely captured and placed in the exotics ward, a present for our wildlife experts. It wasn’t exactly the gift any of us were expecting for Christmas, but was certainly a memorable way to spend the holiday!
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)