This extraordinary tale of love, hope and healing is told by Jeff Guidry, a member of the educational team at Sarvey Wildlife Center in Everett, Washington.
Every day at Sarvey Wildlife Center we witness firsthand the incredible battle for life that our animal brothers and sisters go through. This is a story of one Bald Eagle’s magnificent spirit and sheer will to live.
It was mid-summer when a call came in reporting a fledgling Bald Eagle had fallen out of a nest on a Seattle golf course. Our very own Crazy Bob went to the rescue and transported her to the Center. She arrived with two broken wings. When asked to take her to the vet, I jump at the chance.
When I load this hurt and terrified baby into the car, she neither whimpers nor fights; she can’t even stand. This is not a good sign; she is obviously in very bad shape. As I drive to Sno-Wood Veterinary Hospital, I constantly look back to check on my very special passenger. She stares at me with big beautiful brown eyes, her mouth slightly agape. I drive a little faster—this Bald Eagle must live!
She is operated on and has both wings pinned; they are now immobile. Back at Sarvey we lay her in the bottom half of a huge carrier filled with shredded newspaper for support.
The fight for her life begins.
Twice a day a tube is pushed down her throat so that food and medicine can be pumped into her. A week goes by with no change; she still cannot stand up. At three weeks, there’s a slight change, but it’s for the worse. I’m getting scared for this young Bald Eagle.
Working at the Center, you begin to recognize a look, a look that indicates death is winning. This bruised and broken Bald Eagle was losing the battle but not her dignity. The struggle for her life was not over.
Every chance I get I talk softly to her, telling her to hold on, to fight, to live. Why I felt such a connection to this particular eagle, I do not know.
Four weeks go by and she is still on her belly. There is nothing so heartbreaking as seeing the life force of this majestic bird slowly slip away.
At five weeks we are approaching the end.
Sarvey Wildlife Center believes in giving every soul that comes in a chance to live; but when it is painfully clear that death is the only way out, the decision is made to let that particular spirit continue on its journey. We were at this juncture; this beautiful baby eagle was given one week to see if she could, or would, stand up. This was a crushing blow. Every day that next week I checked to see if she was up. The answer was always the same . . . “No.”
On the following Thursday I could barely face going to the Center. As I walked in not a word was spoken but everyone wore a huge grin. I raced back to the young Bald Eagle’s cage, and there she stood in all her glory!
She was standing! She had won. This girl had cheated death by a mere 24 hours. She was going to make it. She was going to get her second chance.
After another week the pins in her wings were removed. Her right wing was perfect, but her left was not. She couldn’t fully extend it. We tried physical therapy and hoped a little time was all she needed, but there was no significant progress. Her wing was too badly damaged. She would never fly, never soar the skies with her people. At least her life was saved, but for what? Was she doomed to live her life in a cage? Not exactly, for this was a special soul.
Bald Eagles normally want nothing to do with humans and will go to great lengths to get away from them. This girl liked people; she wanted to see what you were doing, to follow where you were going, and to see whom you were going with. She was very curious.
About this time our director suggested that I try to glove train her. She had the right temperament; maybe she could do educational programs. Wouldn’t that be something? Very few eagles are able or willing to be handled, much less remain calm in front of large crowds. The work began.
I started getting her used to the glove, a little at a time. At first she was thinking, “OK, I’ll step on your hand but only with one foot.” Then, “OK, I’ll use both feet but only for a second.” Later, “Yeah you can take me part way out of my cage, then I’ll jump right back in.” And finally, “OK, I’ll let you walk around with me on your arm. Hey, this is fun!”
At this point, every day a volunteer would take this Bald Eagle out for a cruise around the clinic. It was time for her final test—jesses, the leather straps that attach to the ankles of birds-of-prey to give control to the handler and to protect the bird from injury or escape. I put the jesses on her—a piece of cake. It was as if she were born with them on. This was certainly a very mellow Bald Eagle.
Now it was almost time for her first program, but she needed a name. None that we could come up with seemed right, and then Paula, a volunteer, said, “Hey, what about Freedom?” That was it; that was her spirit and her spirit was why grandfather sent her to us. She was ready.
Freedom is now four years old and one of Sarvey Wildlife Center’s premier ambassadors. She clearly enjoys our programs and really knows how to turn on the charm. She is a star. Freedom has been on national television, on the front page of major newspapers, and is known across the country.
She is also one of the great loves of my life. She will touch her beak to the tip of my nose and stare into my eyes. At that moment our spirits are one.
I am the luckiest person on Earth.Thank you, Freedom.
Jeff’s story doesn’t end there. In another account, he added:
In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing eight months of chemo. Lost the hair—the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again.
Fast -forward to November 2000, the day after Thanksgiving. I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all gone after eight rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone. Yahoo!
So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn’t said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don’t know how long. That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird.
On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power course through his body. I have so many stories like that.
I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedom.
I like how the editor on Sarvey’s website described the “magic moment” between Jeff and Freedom:
When Jeff took Freedom out of her flight, she did something she had never done before: She extended her wings and wrapped them around him.
The circle of healing was now complete.
For more of Jeff’s inspiring story, click here to order his book, An Eagle Named Freedom: My True Story of a Remarkable Friendship.
Click here to view all my posts about dealing courageously with cancer.
Click here to view all my animal-related posts.
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