Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Sepia Saturday 184th: 2013 July 6, Doc Hill and Barney, the Barn Owl

The prompt for this week is a doozy, at least for me:
 July 6th 1885 was when Louis Pasteur successfully treated a boy with a rabies vaccine. This plaque in Arbois is one side of a pillar dedicated to Pasteur and his achievements. Expect to see commemorative plaques aplenty, group portraits, or even mad dogs! Yikes!

I put my thunkin' hat on and thunk and thunk  Finally, Barny, the Barn Owl flew across my mind.  Twas a while ago, and the the photo is not sepia, but it is faded and yellowed.  Not Pastuer, or vaccines, or plaques, but I amgoing to tell you all the saga of  when Doc introduced me to Barney.

Doc Hill with Barney, the Barn Owl;
wing healed and ready to fly
JGH & Roots'n'Leaves Archives
Over the years, my husband, known by his friends as Doc,  brought a number of critters home; strychnine poisoned dogs lay by our bed so Doc could keep them sedated as the poison worked it's way out of their system; similar situation with critters with lockjaw. The line up of critters was heavy weighted to dogs and cats, and the periodic pet goat, but it was Barney, the barn owl, that gave me the most fits. A good samaritain brought a barn owl with a broken wing into the clinic. Doc rarely turned away a critter in need, nor did he this time. Barney's wing was bandaged and he was confined to cage rest until the wing healed.

The problem being, it was fall and elk season was rapidly approaching. Amid stacks of guns,camping gear, stores of food, he deposited Barney in a corner of the laundry room.  Barny was still relegated to cage rest, and  needed to be fed daily.

"Hon, you don't mind feeding Barney while I am gone, do you?"  Sounded like a question, but I knew that it was more of a directive.  Clinic staff did not feed and clean cages of a non-paying patient.  Veterinarian's wives and children usually got that job.  Our kids were grown, so the job was on my plate.  In those days, elk hunting trips were at least 10 days in length, and two weeks, if Doc could get adequate coverage for his practice.

"What do I do need to do for the owl?"  I sqwaked.

"Just clean his cage every day and I put some frozen mice in the freezer," he tossed back off handedly as he continued packing his rig.  "Might want to thaw the mice in the microwave.  Don't think he will he frozen mice."

With such minimal direction given, Doc climbed in his rig and headed out to meet his hunting buddies.  And I was left with the bird, his wing still securely wrapped close to his body.  No, indeed, Barney did not like frozen mice.  Nor did he like thawed frozen mice, or dead mice.  His preference ran to live little critters, warm bodied mice, to kill and crunch upon.  I haunted the pet stores for their supply of baby mice, amidst snickers, "Guess what Doc did this time?"
"He'd better get home soon if he knows what's good for him"
"Doc's wife don't look too happy these days."

Doc came home with meat for the freezer and stories to last till next hunting season.  Barney was still alive.  And I was so pleased to get rid of my feathered charge that I greeted Doc warmly and gave him a run down of my patient's progress.

Soon it was time to  start exercising Barney so that he could be released into the wild.  For some reason, I was still in charge of Barney's recuperation.  Tried flying him on a line attached to a jess on his leg.  Not too successful, as Barney was too fast and strong for the garage bit.  Next, Doc told me to attach  a long fishing line to his jess.  So on Barney's maiden flight outside, he was indeed attached to fishing line.  Doc held  Barney on his arm.  I tentatively held the fishing pole with the line attached.  In my mind, I thought Barney would fly around me in a circle  -- rather like a kid's airplane.  This was not Barney's idea.  When Doc tossed him in the air, Barney took off as far and as fast as the line would let him.  He settled in a tree, quite some distance away.  Obviously, his wing was healed and in good shape.

"What do I do now?," I asked with  the fishing pole in my hand and Barney in a tree, glaring down at me.

"Just wait him out, hon.  When he starts to fly, start reeling him in, slowly."

Finally, Barney took off from his perch, I reeled him in without getting him tangled in any branches.  Barney spent the night in his cage and the next morning, we took the cage outside and Barney marched out the open door, and took flight.

I had the illusion that Barney would come back, fly over our house, and maybe dip his wings in a  show of affection or gratitude. No, that is the story book version.  Our Barney, took flight and never looked back.

 By the way, a couple of years later, when cleaning out the freezer, I found a package labled, "Mice."  Such is the freezer of a veterinarian's wife.  Now  check out what other fare provided by our Sepians.

~ ~ ~ 

 © Joan G. Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. I hope you're not still finding mice and the like in the dim, dark recesses of the frezer.

  2. No frozen specimens still lurking, but it did take years to get some very unusual things out of our freezer, i.e., the snake with a partial digested rabbit, the chicken with special feathers for fly tyeing; a road kill that one child or another was going to use for a school project. Just the run of the mill type freezer things.

  3. What a wonderful story, and so well told. Now, I really must go and check the contents of my freezer.

  4. Loved your story. We had a neighbor across the street who took in injured birds & one time I was elected to feed some while she was gone on vacation. The birds had been deserted babies in a nest & had grown enough to be released, but they still came back to her clothesline to be fed some sort of mash with tweezers. I was around 14 at the time, I think, & I loved doing it. Maybe that's why I've loved so many parakeets over the years?

  5. Wow, I'm glad to be married to a banker. However, we never have money in the freezer. Great story~

  6. I enjoyed your story very much. Your description of him attached to the fishing pole is very vivid. I was hoping for the Hollywood ending but for his sake I'm happy Barney got on with his life.

  7. Wonderful story. I am sure you have dined out on it a few times...the story that is.

  8. Great story and you have sure generated some witty replies - a great read all round.

  9. Great story! Barny is a perfect name for a barn owl.

  10. Cage rest - sounds cute; made me smile. Great story!


  11. I can relate to the freezer thing: one of our beloved housecats died in the middle of a Maine winter. The ground was frozen solid and covered with a couple of feet of snow; we wrapped the cat in freezer paper and wrote: "This is NOT a pork roast," and tucked him in the freezer. We buried him that summer...

  12. Your thunkin' hat works well! Great story!

  13. Having seen a 'tame' barn owl in an aviary and having had the chance to get right up close to it I can understand your problems with Barney. Glad he got back into the wild OK. Beautiful birds.

  14. You're a wonderful story teller and a great vet's wife.