By Zachary Snowdon Smith
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Lauren Berry wheels patients from A to B at Norman Regional Healthplex, but this was the first time she’d had to transport a patient in a cardboard box.
That morning, Berry’s coworker, Gilbert Shepherdson, had been walking near the Healthplex’s pond when he saw a young Canada Goose. Geese nesting around the pond are a common sight, but this goose had a broken wing.
“I saw her dragging her wing,” Shepherdson said. “I reckoned we could catch her, I just didn’t know how. I never tried to catch a goose before.”
Shepherdson returned with Berry and a possé of four or five other hospital workers. They armed themselves with nets used for pond maintenance. But even with a fractured humerus, the goose could hold its own.
“She figured out what we were trying to do and wasn’t having any part of it,” Berry said. “I was trying to come from behind with the net. …We would go one way and she would go the other. It was a wild goose chase.”
After half an hour of frantic pursuit in the 90-degree heat, Berry and Shepherdson knew they were beaten. That afternoon, one of their coworkers managed to sneak up on the goose and stuff it into a supply box. It fell to Berry and Shepherdson to drive the goose to the WildCare animal shelter in Noble before it could peck its way out of its cardboard prison.
“They told us initially that we might have to euthanize her,” Berry said. “But they called us back later to tell us there was a veterinarian in Oklahoma City who would be willing to amputate the wing and take her to his farm.”
That veterinarian was Dr. James Bixler of Oklahoma City’s Companion Animal Clinic, a modest but orderly facility nestled between a loan office and a strip mall. Bixler has made a second career out of treating injured wild birds for free. He took Berry’s goose, fed it, gave it antibiotics and bandaged its wing to keep the bones from dislocating.
“These aren’t tame geese,” Bixler said. “They come from having the strict instincts of migration and feeding to basically being in a wheelchair, so it’s an adjustment.”
Bixler takes birds to convalesce at his farm in nearby Jones, where ponds offer flightless geese protection from the coyotes, bobcats and domestic dogs that would otherwise devour them on sight of injury.
“It’s not like there’s a recovery time in nature,” Bixler said. “You got a little bit of time, but if you take very long, you’re going to end up inside of somebody’s gut.”
Bixler has had more than 150 avian guests at his farm since 1997, he said, and has even installed aerators in one pond to keep it from freezing during winter.
“I’m a bad farmer because a bad farmer is a good wildlife manager,” Bixler said. “They like the corners that you didn’t mow and the wheat that’s still in the field and the spilled grain. So the sloppier you farm, the better it is for the wildlife.”
Bixler said he didn’t know if the bird flew into a power line or was hit by a car, but, if it hadn’t been caught, its goose would have been cooked. Now, its prognosis is getting better; depending on how its healing progresses over the next few days, an amputation might not be necessary.
However, this goose isn’t the only animal Berry has helped rescue over the past few weeks. Berry also volunteers at the impromptu animal shelter set up at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman after the May 20 tornado. There, Berry feeds, cleans up after and walks some of the dozens of dogs and cats separated from their owners by the storm.
“I have a huge soft spot for animals,” Berry said. “There are a lot of volunteers who are ready to help the people, and I just wanted to make sure that the animals didn’t get overlooked.”
Unfortunately, less than 15 percent of the approximately 200 animals brought to the fairgrounds had been tagged with identifying microchips, Berry said. So many are still without owners.
“We really push for disaster preparedness for pets, just like you’d have for your family,” said Justin Scally, national director of emergency services for the American Humane Association. “That way, if there is a tragedy that strikes your community, your pet’s prepared as well. … People should make sure that their pets are microchipped and tagged.”
An adoption event will be hosted from 1 to 6 p.m. today at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, Scally said. All of the animals up for adoption have been spayed or neutered and microchipped, he said.
For now, Berry and Shepherdson continue with their duties at Norman Regional Healthplex and await news of their favorite patient.
“Ultimately, I would like to see her come back to the Healthplex and be reunited with her family,” Berry said. “I feel like she’s going to have a happy ending.”