Owls, Turtles and Groundhogs Galore

by Lucky Garvin

Sometimes wildlife rehabilitation can put you into some amusing situations.

Sabrina got a phone call. It seems a Great-horned owl was down but still feisty enough to give the two large callers pause. They had it cornered but not captured. They respected those deadly talons too much to get close enough to put him in a box for transport. Sabrina went out to help them. The two men, two-hundred pounds plus each, were keeping their distance from the ten-pound bird. Sabrina put on her hawk gloves and began to move forward. One of the men stopped her. “You’re not gonna try to catch him, are you?! That’s a Great-Horned; he’ll tear you up!”

Sabrina reached down and skillfully scooped up the raptor. “Oh, he’s just a little one. We took one in yesterday twice this guy’s size.” She drove off, leaving two large, sheepish gentlemen in her rear-view.

But her adventure wasn’t over.  Driving home on a four-lane road, she noticed the traffic was veering as if to avoid something: a turtle crossing the lanes; a four inch by six inch box turtle. He had made it past one lane; only three to go. I know the story of the tortoise and the hare, and how the turtle won. Sabrina felt that life was not going to re-create art. Can anyone spell s-q-u-a-s-h?

The traffic was whizzing by; Sabrina made an illegal U-turn and headed back. Suddenly a vehicle behind her began to flash police lights. An unmarked car. “Oh great!” Sabrina thought; “You try to do a good deed…”

Just then, the officer lowered his window, smiled, gave her a “thumbs up”, and hollered out, “I was just on my way to pick him up myself!”  So, bottom line?  One owl and one turtle rescued; she met three good-hearted people that day, and, by the way, she didn’t get a ticket.


I have withheld telling this story for about six months. The occasion of my reticence is I didn’t know if he would survive the winter. Were I to have written a full-length story, I would have called it “Smidged.” Sabrina and I were ‘Smidged.’

Smidge. Smidge Garvin. The last of the groundhogs brought to us last season. Too late to join any other g-hogs we were rehabbing, this smaller-than-usual guy had to go it alone. So it was with great trepidation we set him in an outside, tarp-covered pen, fully enclosed, with 24” of dirt in it to hibernate in safety.

But what a winter it was! Not a day went by we didn’t stare out at that cage and worry the little guy wouldn’t make it. Then, as Spring began to slowly depose Winter, it seemed to Sabrina that the surface of the dirt in the covered cage was scuffed. [G-hogs will briefly break hibernation, come into the sunlight, then return to their sleep.] Could it be that he had survived?  We put some fresh hay in the cage so he could re-line his burrow. It disappeared. Once the weather broke, we opened his cage, but still, we never saw him.

Then we thought we detected a subtle trail to a nearby raised cage, so we put food out. Still, no sign. Then, one day as Sabrina knelt down to set food and water out for him, she felt a brush on her ankle. There was the Smidge-miester! He grabbed a carrot, sat down on Sabrina’s foot, and began a contented munching, paying no attention to her whatsoever. She put out a tentative hand to pet him. Ever mindful of the duties a sovereign owes the lower orders, this he permitted. [She had brought him food after all.] For the next few days all went well; we bought food, he ate, we scratched his ears.

Then, sometimes he would appear; sometimes not. Had he changed burrows? Yes. We found his new home about ten feet from our front porch under the shelf of a large bay window. There was much celebration at the Garvins’ that day; oxen were fattened; brewskies uncorked. [Okay, it was ice tea and a few potato chips, but you get the point.]

One day Sabrina came storming through the house. “The deer are eating my new geraniums off the front porch!” Rascally deer!

Later, I noticed our munchkin cat, Burglar, staring fixedly out the glass storm door. I moved close to see what had so captured her attention. Next to the glass on the outside sat Smidge, studying her. But what was he eating? A stalk of geranium. Oh well, it’s the price you pay.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.

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