Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bitten by Beasts

by Allison Pang

Okay, well I've had the usual run of odd summer jobs - blueberry packer, fudge girl, t-shirt seller, hostess at a Bob Evans, dorm-room painter, babysitter, bead-jewelry maker, bicycle renter and a very short term lettuce shredder. (Like 2 hours for a restaurant...who never called me back. Who does this? It's not like lettuce shredding is exactly hard core.)

Summer jobs being what they are, most of mine were centered on the island I hung out on - so most of the time it meant lots of tourists, getting hit on and trying to avoid the drunks at night.

But when I got to college, I attempted jobs that actually might make sense for my major or a possible long term position later on. Which brings up the internship. (Fancy term for "we crap all over you and you do the jobs no one else wants do to...and chances are we don't pay you for the privilege.")

Even though my degree is in Marine Biology, at one point I was thinking of going to vet school, so somehow I managed to snag an internship at a wildlife vet hospital. Which was super cool in a lot of ways. (And yes, I got my rabies vaccination before I got there.) We lived at the center itself, so I learned how to raise just about every type of bird on the east coast, as well as most small mammals. Foxes, skunks, raccoons, possums, bats, whatever. Late night feedings and more poop than you can shake a stick at.

I've had the distinct pleasure of having a young grey squirrel adopt me as mom for a few days. (He'd been released a tad too early). And he spent the majority of his time grunting and following me about on my outdoor chores (lots of outdoor pens. By the way, NEVER freak out a turkey vulture if you can help it. They vomit on you when they get scared and that shit does NOT come out. Mmmm. Rotting rat meat puke. Where do I sign up?) *ahem* So little grunty squirrel also had the habit of attempting to run up my legs and nest his way down my shirt. Which isn't as cute as it sounds.

I have also been bitten by just about everything. Red squirrels, by the way, are the nastiest little dickbags on the face of the planet. Even through thick leather gloves, those dudes are righteous asshats.

Which leads me to the lovely afternoon where I was taloned by a red-tailed hawk. Now, tongue-in-cheek aside, I take full responsibility for this. I can say we weren't completely trained (and we weren't), but this was definitely my fault.

We had two red-tailed hawks that were basically injured to the point where they couldn't be rehabbed to be released into the wild. One was fairly tame...the other? Not so much. They did have jesses on, and we had been working with them to get them used to people and what not. (Sometimes we would panhandle on the street with them. I think people would often toss us money just so we would take "those damn birds away."

At any rate, my boyfriend at the time was visiting me and I wanted to show him the birds, so I put on my glove (my left hand, mind) and we headed out to the pen. I managed to snag the bird, though he wasn't too happy about it and he ended up on his back with his claws up. No big deal - since this guy couldn't really fly, he ended up on his back a lot. I had one jess in my left hand and all I needed to do was grab the right one and then I could coax him onto my arm, like I'd done in the past.

Except I used my right hand to get the jess. The one without the glove.

And let me tell you - those talons are sharp. And fast. And after about 3 seconds, they burned like a mother. Because he didn't let go.

I had one in my thumb, and two in my palm.  And he kept clenching and releasing.

My boyfriend was about to stomp its head in because it wouldn't let go, and every time he took a step closer, the bird would tighten up. But you know how in times of great stress, you hear how people kind of go into an odd tunnel vision?

That's what happened to me. I completely disconnected from what was going on even though it hurt and I would sorta scream every time he contracted...but my brain was still functioning calmly. Shock, maybe?

So I did the only thing I could think of. I let go of his left leg and shook off my glove (In hindsight, this was probably about the stupidest thing ever.)  And then I covered up his head with it. (When you cover up a bird's head so it can't see, they forget the outside world exists. You can actually do some surgeries on them this way. It's like if they can't see it, it's not there. Sort of like with horses and blinkers.)

And he relaxed. Not enough to remove his talons, but my boyfriend was able to walk right up and he managed to pry those sucker out of my hand and then we high tailed it out of there. And I went to the hospital and had to answer many awkward questions.

I've got some teeny tiny spots on my hands to show where they went in, though quite honestly, they've mostly faded to the point where even I can't always tell they're there. I was pretty lucky he didn't attack the top of my hand, because that would have been tendon and bone and probably would have caused actual damage.

But there you go.

Notice I'm not a vet. But also keep in mind I will totally call BS any time I see a movie or read a book where the hero or heroine just tosses their arm up and their faithful eagle lands on their arm or shoulder without any sort of padding. Not how it works, my friends. And I've got the scars to prove it.


  1. Owww. I have to admit, though, I'm still kinda jealous. I think I'd suffer the chance of talons in my hand if I could hold a hawk. OMG, the baby squirrel must've been so cute. And yeah, red squirrels are just little asshats. I don't know about the captive ones, but the wild ones will chuck things at you when you aren't looking. Nothing like a crab-apple to the noggin to make you hate the little buggers.

  2. ~rubs hands and winces~

    Still, that has to be the coolest internship. I assure you, internships for English majors aren't that interesting.

  3. There's something priceless about having a story you can end with "and I've got the scars to prove it."

    1. Eh - like I said - they're mostly faded away at this point, but still.

  4. Hey, wow! Bird talons, who knew! We have a wildlife center like that near here. So cool you worked at one. I'll be asking to see those scars at AAD!!

  5. Ouch! Glad you lived to tell the tale!