Five Drunken Pelicans

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A lost dog and five drunk pelicans walk into a bar. Wait, it wasn’t a bar, it was a wildlife center. And it isn’t even a joke, just another Friday at Peace River Wildlife Center.
During a particularly busy day, a gentleman rushed into the office and told us there was a dog loose in the park. He had been fishing at the pier (the man, not the dog) when a boat pulled up, a dog jumped off, the two men onboard were joined by a third, greetings and stashing of gear ensued, and the boat took off again. The desperate dog, watching her people jetting away almost dove into the water after them. She ran back and forth on the dock and then finally enlarged her frantic circles into the parking lot.
With the help of the Hot Dog Lady (no one can resist her treats!) we were able to get a leash on the timid dog and calm her down. Luckily her owner had his name and phone number on her collar, so we were able to call him right away. He had already realized what had happened and was speeding back to pick her up. He claimed that when his son got on the boat in all the hustle and bustle, he didn’t immediately realize the dog had not followed them back onboard. He sounded almost as worried as the dog, who by this time was scarfing down hot dogs and sniffing the smells of raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and all sorts of doggie dream scents in the office at PRWC.
The two were reunited without further incident. While PRWC was thrilled to have played a small part in this happy ending, we aren’t ready to start taking on companion animals just yet. We have our hands full trying to help as many of the injured wildlife as we can. Case in point, the five drunken pelicans.
At this time of year, as the weather turns colder (finally!) the fish in Charlotte Harbor get scarce for the wild pescivorous (fish-eating) birds. The older and more savvy birds continue to find ways to sustain themselves, but the younger birds have a more difficult time. They get hungry and weak and start doing stupid things. Like teenagers all over the country on ill-advised Spring Break bacchanals, they will try almost anything. We had one brown pelican stuck in a crab trap. Another had tried to swallow a large needlefish sideways and it got stuck in his pouch. Many of them tried to eat the fish carcasses thrown to them by well-meaning fishermen after filleting their catch. The bones get stuck in their throats and can cause life threatening damage.
Already weak, the pelicans are even more susceptible to the lingering effects of red tide. The juveniles will eat the dead fish that have succumbed to the algae’s toxins and will in turn suffer the effects—a descending paralysis that, left untreated, can kill the birds. PRWC has had numerous calls about weak and disoriented first and second year brown pelicans. We rescue those that we are able to get to and are usually able to provide support until the birds are healthy enough for release, but the treatment is very labour-intensive.
Unfortunately, there are birds that we cannot get to in time. As frustrating as that is for the public who call about an individual bird, it is heart-breaking for us to hear. But we have our hands full trying to keep the ones in our care alive and simply do not have the time and resources to stop what we are doing at PRWC to travel an hour or more away to try to find a bird that may or may not still be in the location where it was last seen. We have many volunteer rescuers that help with these tasks, but even they have limits. Pelicans are large birds that can be difficult to transport. If the bird is on private property or in an inaccessible location, even our super hero volunteers can only do so much.
We are eternally grateful to the public for being our eyes and ears in the Charlotte County community and beyond. We also service parts of Desoto, Lee and Sarasota Counties. We do not turn away any injured or ill wildlife that is delivered to us. We will try our best to treat and if at all possible release it when healthy again. And while we understand the frustration of the callers when told we have no one available to pick up the injured or dead bird in their neighborhood, it is unnecessarily cruel to berate the underpaid and harried rehabber who is already trying to do the work of three people by herself. And this is supposed to be our slow time of year for patient intake! So, no, we will not be taking on the added commitment of taking care of companion animals, other than to plead—please spay and neuter your pets.

by-Robin Jenkins, DVM