11 August 2012

Final homecoming

We can rescue them from abandonment, cruelty or neglect. We can save them from the devastating impact of a predator's assault, from injury, ailment or even congenital flaw.

Indeed, we can even endeavor to deflect the very damage caused by others of our own species. Tragically, wildlife rescuers undertake this all too often.

Prairie dogs - native North American ground squirrels with a highly social nature - are special creatures of the earth. They thrive in an unseen, underground metropolis that is ever-diminishing throughout the American West. And their rescue historically has not always been a popular prospect there.

In 2003, the symbol of their struggle emerged from a burrow on an East Coast beach. This gentle female was pulled from the unlikely New York setting 9 Augusts ago, almost to the day of this writing. An unexpected media star who illuminated the unrelenting genocide against her species, Fire Island Philomena, as she came to be called, was embraced as well in pet-rescue circles. A transplant to New York via the retail trade, she was an exotic pet who shared the pain of her more conventional brother and sister companion animals: Her entertainment value had clearly run an almost fatal course with the humans who had purchased her. They dumped her on a grassy Atlantic barrier beach just beneath a busy hawk migration flyway.

Her detection and triumphant rescue 18 months later made headlines. And so, for a time, did the politics of wildlife persecution itself. But the rescue ultimately fulfilled its most private mission: Fire Island Philomena spent the next 9 years living back underground, at least in spirit, in a burrow of quiet anonymity with others of her own kind.

She had no issues, no trauma, no complications from her ordeal. She simply went forward into her life. This is, after all, the essence of wildlife rescue: to restore the future that is every animal's birthright.

But even rescue has its endpoint, as do the lives of these squirrels which, on the prairie, rarely extend past 5 or 6 years. There is no dispensation, then, when days become months and months become years. The body becomes weary even if the spirit still soars.

Tonight her spirit soared. There is no rescue from the cycle of life and, perhaps, no need for it after all. This gentle creature, grown too old for the earth that once sustained her, has gone home again.