D. E. Larsen, DVM
I launched the drift boat at the Rock Creek Campground boat ramp. After parking the pickup and trailer. The kids decide that they need to run back to the camp for one last item.
“Okay,” I said, “I will pull the boat down by the camp and wait for you there.”
With that, I got in the boat that rowed down the bank, so it was close to our campsite. Now I just waited for the kids to show up.
Time away from the practice was precious to me. It was rare that everything lined up in a manner that would allow us a weekend away. Craine Prairie Reservoir, on Century Drive south of Bend, was one of my favorite places to fish. It held large rainbows and was big enough that you could avoid the crowds. It was also far enough away from Sweet Home that it would be rare for me to be recognized.
When I was away from town, I always avoided any mention of being a veterinarian. Any mention of my profession, even complete strangers, would prompt a long story of their dog, or cat, and their trips to the vet clinic. Being an introvert at heart, I hated such conversations, especially from strangers.
I pretty much only fly fished. There were times when we would fish with bait, with the kids, and when we could harvest the catch. We had learned that the fish out of Craine Prairie tasted like mud this time of the year. You almost couldn’t use enough tartar sauce to make them palatable.
When we were loaded up, I rowed out to Osprey Point and dropped an anchor from each end of the boat. This would keep it from swaying in the wind. I had made fly poles for the kids. I used inexpensive fiberglass rods, 7 and a half feet in length, and rated for line weight of 4. Since kids cannot cast too far, and the most expensive part of a fly setup is the line, I took double taper floating lines and cut them in two. This gave each rod a 33 foot, tapered, fly line. This was almost perfect for young kids
At Osprey Point, there was a deep hole just off the point and large fish for the taking. It was also an area were the kids could fish with their floating fly lines. By using a nymph, about 6 feet under a strike indicator used as a bobber, they could hook their share of fish. This allowed me to fish the deep hole with a sinking line. I would drag an olive Wooly Worm across the bottom of the hole. This made for wild action most of the time.
I always believed that when you were fishing with kids, the action was urgent. The quickest way to sour a kid on fishing was to make them sit in a boat, or on a bank, for hours with nothing happening. We hooked fish in the first 15 minutes or a half an hour at most, or we would go do something else. When a kid asks when do they know they have a bite, you have waited too long before going to do something else.
We managed to get everyone hooked up with a fish in a short time, but that was enough for most of them. We headed back to camp to drop off the kids. Derek was the only one who wanted to fish more. We needed a lunch break anyway.
When I was ready to go back out in the afternoon, Derek was dragging around a little.
“I will wait for you at the boat,” I said as I headed down to the shoreline.
I was standing there leaning against the side of the boat when I noticed the group of boys. There were 4 boys, walking along the shoreline, coming from the direction of the boat ramp. They looked like they were somewhere around 10 years old. They were checking out everything that looked movable as they came along the bank. One of the boys was carrying something.
When they reached me, they stopped, and the one boy handed me a bird he had been carrying. It was a Starling. It had a blowgun dart that pierced through its back just in front of the wings. The wound was days old, maybe a full week. There was extensive tissue necrosis around the dart that extended across its back. Its wings were not functional. Even with comprehensive medical treatment at this point, this bird would never fly again. My impression was this bird would not survive, even with medical treatment.
The larger question was how had this group of young boys find the only veterinarian standing on the banks of Craine Prairie today. Even when I thought I had made a clean escape from town, even when I was as anonymous as it was possible to be, they still find me.
I knell down, so I am talking at the same level as the boys. This was no rag-tag group. These boys were well dressed for a fishing lake shoreline. I would guess they were all from well to do families. They were probably reasonably well educated. If that can be said for a group of 10-year-old boys when they were grouped with their peers.
I point out the extent of the wounds caused by this dart.
“I hope the guy who shot this dart is proud of his skill.,” I said, hoping to still some pity for the bird and to just maybe educate the boys on the ethics of killing an animal. “This bird has been suffering for several days, maybe a full week. You can tell by looking at the rotten flesh around the dart.”
They carefully examine the wound, probably for the first time. I wiggle the dart a bit, to illustrate that the tissue infection has allowed the dart to loosen in the tissue.
“Hunting, and fishing, is something that we do as a people,” I said. “Some people would say this bird should not have been shot, but it is one of the birds that people are allowed to shoot. But to shot the bird and not finish the kill is cruel to the bird.”
The boys have some chatter over those statements. Each one of them sort of repeat their interpretation of what I have just told them.
“I don’t think this bird is going to survive,” I said. “For us to finish the kill would probably be the best thing we could do today. This bird has suffered enough, and we should bring that suffering to an end.”
So now I was in a corner. With 4 boys watching, how was I going to euthanize this bird?
One of the boys who, I noticed now, was wearing a cub scout shirt, took the lead.
“Set him on the ground, and I will get a rock,” the young scout said. “I can crush him with a rock.”
“That might work,” I said. “But you might miss, that wouldn’t be very fair to the poor bird.”
“How should we do it?” the young scout asked.
“I will take care of him,” I said, hoping the boys would continue their exploration of the shoreline.
No such luck, they all stood there, looking at me for the answer. I gripped the bird in my right hand and held it so the body would not respond. Then I took a firm grip on the head with my left hand. With a quick jerk, I pulled the head off the bird. The body quivered in my right hand for a few seconds.
“Oh! He pulled the head off!” the young scout said.
“That was the quickest way to do it here,” I said. “Now, he is not suffering anymore. You guys remember, if you shoot something, you make sure it is dead.”
Then it is over, the boys continue along the shoreline, I toss the decapitated bird into the grass. Derek comes down from the camp about then, realizing he had missed something, but not knowing what to ask.
We loaded up and went out to fish for a few precious hours. Surely, they won’t find me out on the lake.
3 thoughts on “A Few Precious Hours, From the Archives”
Good you could end the needless suffering of the poor bird. They did not see the vet in you, just an adult, who’d be knowledgeable and take responsibility.
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You’re probably correct, but I was always surprised when such things would happen out of the blue.
I’d be spooked by adults coming up to you. But children will just go to an adult if they don’t know how to handle things. But as I know you there probably are stories like this with adults.
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