The goose sat in quiet dignity as we drove toward her release site.
Two weeks earlier, she had come to the wildlife hospital covered in sticky, dirty oil, unable to fly or care for herself. An open bin of oil at the ferry maintenance dock is not a healthy place for a goose to fall.
I’m writing about this goose release, one of the most amazing stories I was part of during my time at West Sound Wildlife Shelter, because I have releases on the brain.
You see, sadly for me, this will be the last column I write for the shelter (the columns will continue with a new author). After eight wonderful years at West Sound Wildlife, I’ve decided to take on a different challenge. You might say that I’m releasing myself.
Also, my baby boy’s first birthday is next week. It’s made me realize that my wife and I have completed one-eighteenth of our childrearing job, that in 17 years we’ll release our boy into the world. As I write this, he’s sitting in his highchair “eating” oatmeal and pureed apricots by smearing them all over his face. I hope we can break that habit before he’s released. But I digress.
The oily goose had been brought to us by a big-hearted ferry worker. Try to picture the scene as we worked meticulously to clean thick oil off of this goose, a scared and confused animal with a powerful five-foot wingspan. Being smacked in the face with an oily mop of goose feathers is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me; but it’s close.
Thankfully, underneath that oil, she was uninjured, albeit malnourished and dehydrated. After two weeks of care, she was healthy and ready to be released.
Patient releases are the highlight of our work. More than 6,000 patients have come through the doors in the last eight years. Our staff and volunteers couldn’t save them all, but they did their best, and even in the face of dying patients, they maintained compassion and hope in their hearts.
We pulled up at the goose’s release location next to the ferry maintenance dock. It was a sunny, warm summer day. As we slid her crate out of the truck, we saw a sizable flock of geese just offshore. Perfect, I thought. Maybe we got lucky and this is actually her old flock.
Placing the crate about 10 feet from shore, we quickly opened the front door and backed away. The goose stuck her head out, craning it around on her agile neck. Seeing that the way to the water was clear, she stepped out of the crate, stretched her wings, and waddled towards the water.
She honked tentatively, almost like she was afraid of what she would hear in response. The flock offshore lackadaisically honked and cackled a few times in response. This went on for about a minute until, suddenly, there was an eruption of honking from the far side of the flock.
Immediately, “our” goose’s calls became urgent, almost desperate. Then a frantic-sounding goose took flight and flew toward us, landing in the water just offshore. This goose honked madly, churning the water in its efforts to get to “our” goose; I truly thought he might have a heart attack.
In a rush of sound and feathers, the two geese met up at the shoreline. They intertwined their necks and heads, ecstatic to have found each other again. You see, Canada geese mate for life. We’d just had the privilege of watching the reunion of a family who thought they’d lost each other. A beautiful sight. I had tears in my eyes.
Because of experiences like this goose release, I have a heavy heart as I release myself from West Sound Wildlife, I’ll miss getting to know our wild patients, not to mention missing my friends, the phenomenal staff members and volunteers.
I am thankful, though, that unlike the other patients, prior to my release I didn’t have to eat dead mice, frozen crickets or squirming mealworms. Nor did I have to pass a flight test or need anyone to help me pee and poop by rubbing my belly.
As for my baby boy, I guess he has a long way to go prior to his release. For now, he’d be perfectly happy shoving some crickets or mealworms in his mouth, and I know from first-hand experience that he is very pleased to pee on me while I rub his belly.