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The Owl Angels

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I get the unlucky ones, the ones that fly in front of cars.

This young Cooper's hawk had a badly broken elbow. I met the people who found him at a pet shop in Marietta, which is the only place people in my town can find to take injured wildlife. That's a sad state of affairs, but it's what we're left with in depressed areas where nobody can afford to set up a wildlife rehabilitation center. In Ohio, the rehab centers are in the big cities, and that ain't us. We've got more woods and more wildlife than practically any other county in the state, and nobody for two hours around to take care of them when they get hurt.  I washed the wound and disinfected it. I didn't think there was much hope for him, jumpy nervous accipiters being the worst patients at best, but who am I to make that call? I have to send them on to someone who can. 

You see, all the birds that come to me in winter are raptors, and all of them are broken. I try not to let it break my heart, but it does. I can't fix them. On the rare occasion I can support and feed them until they're stronger, but when there are broken bones I must get them to expert veterinary care. Which is 2 1/2 hours away. 

The calls keep coming in, and I keep trying to help. Josh called, using his aunt's cellphone, to tell me he'd found a barred owl in a cemetery. It couldn't fly. So he picked it up and brought it home and started making calls to try to find someone who might help. I was probably the sixth person he tried, and I was not going to re-route him.

It seemed tame, docile, willing to let him do anything. I told him that's how barred owls are, especially when they're hurt. Over the phone, I told him to be careful and secure its feet, and asked him to feel around its breastbone, to see if it was emaciated. He said it was nice and rounded out, like a chicken's. 

I told him, as I tell everyone, not to offer it any preserved meat. No hotdogs, no jerky, no bacon. You'd be shocked how many people give hotdogs, ham or lunch meat to raptors, and how very bad the salt and nitrates are for them. But too often, it's the only thing people have in their house that resembles meat.

"I have wild game in the freezer. Squirrel. Would that be OK?"

"That would be exactly what the owl needs. With fur, if possible."

So Josh gave it some squirrel, and it ate well that night. He said it was about 1 in the morning before it ate, but he called everyone he knew to tell them, he was so excited.

A few days passed, and there came the time for our rendezvous in town, when my Owl Angel, Lee Hermandorfer, would come to pick the bird up and take it to Columbus, to the Ohio Wildlife Center. 
Lee is an artist and a respiratory therapist (note scrubs). This Christmas Eve, she was on her way to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

"I don't have kids of my own, so I figure I'll take care of them so the people who do can be with their children." Let's just let that statement speak for itself. Said, I'd add, with a smile, and not a whiff of martyrdom.

Please also note license plate, and Lee's modification of her Mazda's emblem. She used reflective tape, so her  owl's eyes glow back at you. Oh my. Whooo thinks of doing that??

Lee also loves clouds as much as I do, as much as Bonnie, who gave me The Cloud Collector's Handbook, does. And she takes amazing photos of the skyscapes as she drives back and forth from our corner of southeast Ohio to Columbus. 

Back to the owl. While they were waiting for me to arrive, Josh and Lee talked about how he'd found it. He told her that his family was at the cemetery to inter his grandmother, and they saw the owl huddled next to a sign by the roadside. 

You could go anywhere with that. Owls and cemeteries and signs. And somehow, the right, gentle young man arrives to bury his grandmother, and then to wrap his coat around a hurt bird and take it to safety. And he has squirrels in his freezer, and is more than glad to care for it until he can meet Lee and me in Marietta.

My first look at the bird took my breath away. It radiated calm and trust and an ineffable dignity.

It sized me up. It was clear that Josh is the person it trusted. He asked it to step onto his glove so I could examine it.

And it did, this wild bird. No flapping, no panicking, just acquiescence. Trust.

It allowed me to stretch its left wing, where I found a break near the wrist joint. It gave me the slightest nibble with its golden bill when I found the bad spot, to tell me that it hurt. Oh poor creature. If I could wave a wand and fix you...

 I couldn't resist digging my fingers into the deep, incredibly silky soft feathers on its head and giving it a little rubdown. I have had a barred owl push back up against my caress just like a cat. It didn't do that, but it didn't seem to mind, either.

I was filled with admiration for this young man, whose car was badly battered and needed a muffler, who called me on a borrowed cellphone, who had cared for this sweet bird for four days, then brought it to Lee.

I purely hated to take it from him. 

Lee drove off with the two birds in her Owlmobile, and delivered them to Kristi, who stayed late to wait for them, at Ohio Wildlife Center on Christmas Eve. 

These people are my heroes.


Once again, I'm tearing up from one of your posts. But good tears; I am just so grateful that there are people like you, Josh, and Lee around. People who are willing to go out of their way to help a poor, hurt creature. I hope that the Owl Gods have taken note of this young man and take care of him for the rest of his life! He certainly deserves it; not many people would have even noticed the owl, let alone that it was hurt. And noticing, even fewer people would have done something. He is a hero!

Posted by Anonymous December 30, 2014 at 4:17 AM

Thank you, Josh. Thank you, Lee. Thank you, Christie, and thank you, Julie! It's so nice to hear this story and know there are still good people in this world.

What a daybrightner! Thank you Julie for the triage and the tale. Thank you Josh and Lee for caring and taking action.

I can't begin to tell you how much I love this post.

Truly beautiful people.

Posted by Gail Spratley December 30, 2014 at 6:11 AM

It's true. This story proves that it's true. Angels walk among us and Josh is one. Lovely story of 2 rescues. Please share with Josh that he is my hero.
It's amazing that the owl was so docile in his hands.
Love this story. Just.LOVE.It!

You are, hands down, one of the best storytellers I know. Finding the good stuff, seeing the good folks, and weaving it all into a tale that leaves you with a lump in your throat and a swell in your heart. I could read your stories every day and still not get enough.

Might I just add that the Ohio Wildlife Center is a 501-C-3 nonprofit. Anyone inspired by Julie's blog to donate can do so at

And, though gas is relatively cheap right now, remember that volunteers like Julie -- who frequently makes the drive to Powell with injured animals herself -- do so on their own dime. Bless her generous heart!

Barred Owls are among my favorites of all birds... and now everyone can see why. How you get that much beauty, dignity, majesty into brown, gray, and white I don't know, but you do!
Wonderful story for the holiday season!

You all rock!

I shared this on Facebook, and a friend read it and said she would have her 7th graders read it. They just finished a unit on heroes and she thought they would like this example of everyday heroes!

Julie, this post was so touching. And I was wondering if you would be interested in letting any of your blog readers (who are interested in doing so) take up a collection for Josh, the owl whisperer with squirrel in his freezer? I would definitely send in a donation. It really breaks my heart and also does it good when I see people with so little do so much. It inspires me and takes me down several notches! Thanks for all of YOUR good work.

As so often happens, you leave me with both a tear and a smile !! :)

Posted by Anonymous December 30, 2014 at 9:29 AM

Josh is an angel indeed. As is Julie. Another wonderful Blog Julie. However I must make one correction. I am a respiratory therapist not a nurse. I work as a team with the wonderful nurses at Nationwide Children's Hospital caring for the babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I am so lucky to work with angels and everyday heroes in all facets of my life!

Posted by Lee Hermandorfer December 31, 2014 at 10:29 AM

This is a wonderful post, so uplifting and perfect for the last day of the year. It's full of hope and kindness. The very best of human beings taking care of these injured birds. Thank you. Thank them.

A wonderful reminder of the good people out there working to help in many little ways. Feel blessed to read about Josh and Lee. Thank you for ending my 2014 on such a lovely note.

This story warmed my heart so. What a wonderful young man Josh is! I also would make a contribution to thank him for his kindness, time & effort to help this beautiful bird.

Posted by Robin F. January 3, 2015 at 5:29 PM

Great story. That is my son's hospital so now I know there are more good folk there. Well, I guess there are good folk everywhere...

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