Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM Todd Enrico, Guest Post on Palomacy: It's Pigeon Diplomacy
May 2021

To think. Someone else would have euthanized him, preventing the common bond that brought strangers together across the internet, preventing the wonderful family in my home that I described above. All because he’s a pigeon?

Pickles just rescued: His right eye was destroyed, and he had two puncture wounds on his crown. One of those wounds broke through his skull and damaged his brain.

My name is Todd Enrico. My wife Kate and I were recently given a severely injured pigeon to care for. His right eye was destroyed, and he had two puncture wounds on his crown. One of those wounds broke through his skull and damaged his brain. We think a bird of prey closed his head in its talons, as that would match the damage pattern. Miraculously, this pigeon somehow tore himself free from the jaws of death. With his mobility seriously compromised due to the damage to his brain, he still managed to get himself to the nearest doorstep, belonging to the two ladies who chose to save and shelter him for a few days while they found someone to care for him. That ended up being us.

His legs and wings are perfectly strong. However, the brain damage has skewed his sense of balance. He cannot walk straight, so he doesn’t try to. He keeps his head lowered to the right side, allowing his remaining good eye to see and avoiding the vertigo he gets from lifting his head fully upright for too long. He stays immobile most of the time.. He is unable to eat or drink for himself. We hand feed him formula with a crop feeder, multiple times daily, along with antibiotics for his wounds. He may need to be hand fed for the rest of his life.

We named him Pickles. Many who hold a negative taboo about pigeons would have chosen to euthanize Pickles. Indeed, pigeons with less severe injuries have been euthanized by those who don’t place much value on their lives. That is never an option to us. We heal them and get them to a release flock if they can be fully rehabilitated, or a special needs flock if they are permanently disabled somehow, such as with a broken wing.

Pickles requires more care than even a bird with a busted wing, which our closest special needs flock is not set up to provide. That was perfectly alright, because we fell in love with Pickles immediately and decided to permanently adopt him within the first day.

We cared for a dove with similar brain trauma to Pickles in the past. She lived a full life despite her disability. She became fond of us, she liked to be held and cuddled, something very rare for the famously stubborn dove species. Similarly to the dove, Pickles understands how in need he is, and the fact we want to help him. It makes sense. Pigeons are just as stubborn as doves. His stubbornness is why he refused to die under circumstances that honestly should have killed him. Now he has people who are ensuring he survives, just like he wants. We are being stubborn together with him.

Pickles likes his jaw and head rubbed. He closes his eye and smacks his beak contentedly when you do it. He’ll fall asleep with his head on you if you hold him and pet him. He likes being cuddled by us, just like our dove did.

We stitched the wounds on his head, as my wife is a veterinary technician with some expertise in animal sutures. We were giving him antibiotics and a pain med. He seemed like his life was set, despite his disability.

Unfortunately, he faced one more challenge. He aspirated because we didn’t have the proper tools to feed him at first. His head and neck positioning make getting medicine and food into his crop an even more delicate process than a baby bird’s. I immediately rushed him to an avian vet, who put him on oxygen and nebulizer treatments over the weekend. I was filled with dread and anxiety. My precious boy might not make it. The liquid in his lungs would either clear or not, it was a matter of if I’d gotten him in too late or not. He was mouth breathing and wheezing hard when I took him in, which is usually a very bad sign for any bird.

We had enough money to pay for half of his estimated bill, but not the other half. Out of desperation, I did something I’d never done before, no matter how desperate I’d been. I started and posted a gofundme for the other half of Pickles’ bill. My life and needs were never something I’d turned to charity for. But this was Pickles’ life. I threw my pride away in a millisecond for him, and I’d do it again. I would have sold one of my kidneys if need be. Kate and I love him that much. Not only that, he’d fought so hard to survive one life threatening situation. It wouldn’t be fair for him to then die because his caregivers made a mistake. He was counting on us, there was no way I would willingly let him down.

People on Palomacy’s Help Group and some of my close personal friends donated enough to cover the rest of Pickles’ expenses within 24 hours. This was while he was still critical. Despite not knowing whether he’d survive, dozens of people gave money out of their own pockets to help my boy. They cared about him, even though they’d never met him.

Well, he survived. Not only that, the doctor told me on Monday that his breathing was back to normal and he’d already been taken off oxygen and nebulizer treatments. Friends from a local rescue had lent us their oxygen machine in case he still needed it, but Pickles is so strong that he beat his pneumonia completely within one weekend. It could have taken a week or more, the veterinarian told me some cases had needed that long.

I was filled with joy and gratitude. The entire world was wine and roses to my senses. After two days mentally willing him to live, beating myself up for his illness, and hoping like hell, my boy was okay. Hearing the news and picking him up made that Monday one of the best days of my entire life.

We have a proper crop feeder now that completely eliminates any risk of aspiration. He responds well to it. We feed him 3 to 4 times each day, with his meds in the morning and at night. We even started him on gabapentin, because we learned from one of Palomacy’s Help Group moderators about its restorative benefits to brain trauma survivors. The results are not guaranteed, but at the very least it does help with pain and preventing seizures.

Pigeon Pickles
Pickles and Kate

I didn’t go in expecting results for awhile, if anything. But three days into getting that med, I’ve caught him gingerly preening some of his feathers. He has never been able to lift his head well enough to do that since his original injury. His ability to do that is a major leap from where he was. All the folks who donated and followed his story were very happy to hear that. They still care about his well being, they ask me for updates every day, just to see how this bird they’ve never met is doing. They are his saviors. That is the effect he has had on the world, despite the negative taboo placed on his species.

He may yet be able to eat on his own someday, if the gabapentin continues to help him improve. If not, we are more than willing to continue hand feeding him for the rest of his life. Our home is happier than it was before he came into our lives. I see a content, nurturing quality about Kate when she’s with him, beyond how she already is with the animals she works with already for her job. I feel it in myself, too. His company makes me happy. I feel like a father. We don’t have human children, but Pickles is our son. Our home is complete with him. And he is visibly happy to be with us.

Pigeon Pickles sleeping
Sweet dreaming...

To think. Someone else would have euthanized him, preventing the common bond that brought strangers together across the internet, preventing the wonderful family in my home that I described above. All because he’s a pigeon?

Maybe the world would be happier if more of us had pigeon companionship.

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