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August 22, 2012

The Healing Ground, Page 5: Sweet Release

Returning an animal to the wild is the reward for a job well done

All Animals magazine September/October 2012

  • Chewbacca, aka "Chewy," the coyote. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

by Michael Sharp

Over three days in June, over 13 acres in Ramona, life juggles strides, setbacks, and surprises. The fight for survival, for a return to the wild, is constant. It’s everywhere—every animal in a different chapter, every animal facing his own journey home.

A little skunk recovering from a broken leg is out of the medical center, introduced to another pair in an outdoor pen. They feel each other out with a unique dance—grunting, lunging, retreating. Beyond the bamboo siding, coyote pups crash through palm fronds in their new enclosure. And in the medical center, the surviving bobcat kitten sleeps alone in her incubator, her temperature rising auspiciously back toward normal.

On the same morning she discovered the kitten’s dead brother, D’Amico will walk into the large flight enclosure, armed with a net fastened to a long pole. She’ll help flush the birds back and forth. She’ll help find the juvenile red-tailed hawk marked with the No. 96 leg band for identification.

A volunteer will then drive the hawk 13 miles west of here, near the shores of Lake Poway, where 19 days earlier a motorist had seen the bird sitting by the edge of the road. Whenever possible, staff like to return animals to the location they were found, and on this day, ranger Annie Ransom—the first to find him floundering in a bush, wings extended, shivering in the rain—has the honors.

39 Lives: The cats of San Nicolas Island are a Wildlife Center success story »

“Oh, this is a different bird,” she says, admiring the results of his recovery as he’s lifted out of a cardboard carrier. She walks down an empty parking lot, gloved left hand holding his legs, right hand resting gently on his back. She bends slightly, and with a slight boost, she lets him go.

The hawk takes off, banking to his right, landing halfway up a nearby tree. “I can’t describe that feeling,” Ransom says afterward. “… It’s a pitter-patter in the heart.”

Somewhere in the distance, a thick marine layer sits heavy on the western horizon. Residents here know it as the “May grey” and the “June gloom.” But from this parking lot, through these trees, the eye can see only blue skies—and as the hawk lifts off from his branch, the promise of brighter days. 

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