The red screech that was hit by a car is currently our only guest, and he’ll be headed back to the vet to have that left eye re-examined this week. He finally opened it late last week, and it’s not looking good. I’m guessing he’s going to be seriously vision-impaired in that eye.
This week the goal is to give him at least some limited time in the flight pen to see just how impaired his vision might be. Hopefully it won’t mean he’s nonreleasable, but if that turns out to be the case, given the number of young screeches LWR has seen in the past couple of years, I might look into using him as a foster parent for screech intakes in the future. Basically, his future is still very uncertain and much will depend on his vet visit this week and his actions in the flight pen.
And if you’re thinking, “But nothing’s broken and owls hunt mainly by hearing,” you’re absolutely right. But remember, his right eye looks as if he might be vision-impaired in it, as well, and we still have the head trauma to deal with. He may recover fully and be a little bundle of attitude; he may have permanent brain damage that would preclude release because he won’t have the skill to survive. When you’re at the bottom of the raptor pecking order and seen as a nice snack by your fellow raptors, attitude is preferable to docility. Docile screeches don’t last long in the wild.
Quality of life must also be considered. A screech with permanent brain damage that renders him docile and unfit for the wild could have an excellent quality of life as a foster parent because he really won’t know any better, as harsh as that may sound. A screech with impaired vision might not be as content if the head trauma subsides and he becomes “aware” of his captive condition but can’t see well enough to hunt on his own. These are complicated humane and health issues with lots of soul-searching and paperwork involved and rest assured, no rehabber makes snap decisions about the fate of a bird or mammal who, although otherwise healthy, has brain or vision issues.
We do, however rely heavily on the advice and recommendations of our vets, and this is why I’m exceedingly grateful for the wonderful vets at Smalley’s Animal Hospital, who never give me false hope about any wildlife they treat for me but on the flip side are always willing to do everything HUMANELY (yes, humanely. Think about it.) possible to give wildlife a second chance. I honestly believe that no rehabber can be truly effective without a good working relationship, based on mutual respect and trust, with their vets. I know just how fortunate I am to have that sort of relationship with exceptional vets who are also my friends.