One of the hardest things to hear is one of the things that my Dad used to say to me on a regular basis. If something died – an animal on a vet programme or a bird in the road – he would look at me and save “you can’t save them all.” It made me want to do the impossible and prove him wrong. It made me want to become some kind of animal superhero that could swoop down in the nick of time and save absolutely every single one of them. Sadly – my Dad was right.
A couple of years before I opened the rescue I was walking the dogs and I found an adult woodpigeon lying on the pavement. It looked dead. As I got closer it moved slightly and I realised it must have been swiped by a car and ended up knocked onto the path. I thought fate had sent me out for a walk right then because I was meant to save it.
Strangely, at that time I was actually a little afraid of birds. They flapped alot and looked so fragile. So, I raced home and got my Dad to pick it up for me. Looking back it’s almost laughable given the number of birds I’ve actually handled – but at the time I was certain he would be able to cause the bird far less pain because he’s always been so sure of everything. We carried the bird home and put it in a carrier on the table outside.
It was a Sunday evening, around 8pm in the Summer and my Dad said the bird was probably in shock and to find somewhere safe to put it and leave it to recover. It wasn’t shock – I think we both knew that. Unsure who to call I phoned a large animal welfare charity and asked for some help. I spent a long time on the phone explaining to the woman what the bird was, what colour it was, what I thought was wrong with it – answering all these questions that just seemed unimportant given the dire state of the bird.
They promised me that someone would be with me in the next hour and to keep the bird contained.
I called the bird Joseph and I sat at the table talking quietly to him for the next several hours. Several hours because nobody came to help!
In the end I took him inside and went up to bed. I decided to take him to a vet first thing the next morning and to cancel my monthly donation to the charity who had failed to come out to any of the calls I had made to them over the years.
The next morning Joseph had passed away.
I remember sitting next to the carrier wondering if I could have done something differently. I had no idea where to start back then. I thought phoning for help was the only thing I could do.
“You can’t save them all,” my Dad muttered as he walked passed me.
And he was right. I couldn’t save Joseph. I couldn’t save the others that have passed away since opening the rescue. The little gosling that an eight year old boy swung by the legs and gave spinal damage. The duckling someone dropped a brick on. The birds with canker, cat attacks, road traffic injuries….. the list goes on.
What we can do is save some of them – a lot of them and that has to matter. Every loss is felt and every loss feels like a failure. Sometimes the successes don’t seem enough but they are. We raise tiny babies that don’t have a Mum, we splint broken bones and we treat infections. We do the best we can and even though it will never feel like enough – it does count. We give comfort and safety even when we can’t always save.
So – what I’m trying to say is that we can’t always win but losing isn’t failure – losing means you gave it your best shot. You can’t save them all but you can damned well try.