Charlie the cat thought he was in charge at our house. In fact, he preferred that we call him “Chuck”, because it sounded tougher to the neighborhood cats. He tried very hard to be the center of attention as much as he could.
I remember bringing a new girlfriend over to the house and while we sat in the living room he walked along the kitchen counter knocking dishes onto the floor. He never seemed to do that unless a stranger was in the house.
He just looked at the new woman in the house and hissed at her. This was his house and he made it very clear. Chuck thought he was the biggest and baddest cat in the neighborhood.
His only competition was Kasey the Sheltie. She was Daddy’s girl. When I brought a stranger to the house, she would stand next to me and stare at the new person. As with most Shelties, she would run in circles to try and herd the people. If someone was too loud or rambunctious, she would nip at them.
At that time I was a State Game Warden and was stationed in a very busy district. It was one of those jobs that was more like a lifestyle than a mere job. I worked nearly every holiday and all weekends, so I was used to having my days off during the week.
On this particular day it was the middle of the week and I was relaxing at home. As I sat in my recliner, the telephone rang. I answered and it was the sheriff’s department dispatcher. She told me that someone had found an injured owl and didn’t know what to do with it. I told her I would handle it and got the address.
Owls are protected by both state and federal law. They are very important members of our ecosystem and really cool animals, so I didn’t mind being interrupted on my day off.
Since the animals are protected by law, it is unlawful for members of the public to posess them. Besides, most folks have no idea how to care for an injured bird such as an owl. The state, therefore, has licensed wildlife rehabilitators who we could take injured animals to. The rehabilitator could care for the animal until it could, hopefully, be released back into the wild.
I scrounged around the bedroom, found my uniform, and dressed out for the trip to get the owl.
As I got ready to leave, it suddenly occured to me that I didn’t have anything handy to put a large owl into. The bird was supposed to be a great horned owl which can be rather large.
I didn’t have a pet carrier that was tall enough for a large owl and I couldn’t find a box that would work either. In my frustration I began stomping around the house trying to find anything that would work. As I walked down the hallway, I glanced in the utility room. Sitting next to the washer was a tall blue plastic hamper for keeping dirty clothes in.
Of Course! This seemed to be the answer. It was plastic and therefore washable. It also had slots for good ventilation on the sides and was deep enough for a large owl to stand in. I dumped the dirty clothes on the floor of the utility room and ran out the door. If anyone asked, I would claim it was a highly specialized piece of wildlife equipment.
I got in my state truck and radioed the dispatcher to get the address again. I had forgotten to write it down when she called me. After getting the address again and writing it down this time, I took off on the 30 minute drive to the place where the owl was being held.
It was late in the afternoon when I got to the house in the country. The people told me that they had been out walking and had found him in the ditch. They said he appeared stunned and didn’t seem able to fly. They had put him in their garage because they didn’t know what else to do. Come to think of it, I never did ask them how they got him in the garage. I could just imagine them running across the yard chasing the owl yelling “Here owl”, “Here Owl”.
I told them not to worry because I had my wildlife capture equipment with me in the truck. I went to the truck and got the dirty clothes hamper out. It was at that point I realized that I forgot a critical piece of equipment: The Lid.
I searched the truck for something to put over the top and all I could come up with was a coat. The people then let me into the garage. There were windows, but it was still dark in several places.
The interesting thing about owls is that when they are stressed and not out in the woods, they don’t hoot. They use their large beaks to make a loud clicking sound. The closest thing I can think of is when you snap your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
So there I was in the dark garage.
I sat down the clothes hamper and walked toward the owl with the coat. I tried to act nonchalant and non-threatening, but that wise old owl wasn’t falling for it. He began running around the car that was still parked in the garage. He sort of bobbed side to side as his stout little legs went as fast as they could. As he ran, he kept making that loud clicking sound. “Here Owl!” CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, “Here Owl”, “Nice Owl!”, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK! After the fourth lap around the car I was beginning to lose my cool. “Dang you bird!”, “Get your feathered rear over here, Now!”
As if the owl was going to follow orders.
Finally, in the middle of the fifth lap, the bird made a wrong turn and ended up beside a storage shelf in the corner.
I didn’t want to stress the bird this much, but it was now….. “Me versus the Owl!”
I got up close and threw the coat over and around the owl. The Clicking got louder as he tried to spread his wings. I carefully dropped him into the clothes hamper. I then quickly threw the coat over the top and hoped that he didn’t figure out the lid was not attached.
I left the garage with the hamper full of owl and thanked the people for being kind enough to help the bird. They seemed a bit distressed after listening to the loud brawl in the garage. I explained that my main concern had been his talons, which were very sharp and powerful. By grabbing him with the coat I was able to keep the talons away from me and hold his wings down.
Once he was in the hamper, he calmed down. He stood about 18 inches tall and the hamper was cozy enough to hopefully let him feel secure. I put the hamper in the passenger side seat and ran the seatbelt around it to hold him in place for the drive home.
The couple asked where the owl would go and I told them I had a veterinarian in Topeka who was also a wildlife rehabilitator. He would be able to figure out why the owl wasn’t able to fly. The people seemed very happy that the bird was going to get professional help.
I drove the 30 minutes back to my house with absolutely no noise coming from the owl. By the time I got home it was well after 5 and I knew the vet clinic would be closed by the time I got to Topeka. I decided I’d worked enough time on my day off, so the owl would get to spend the night.
I grabbed the hamper with the coat still covering the top and went inside the house. Chuck and Kasey were immediately concerned with what I had brought into the house. The cat jumped up on the back of the couch and the dog kept sniffing the bottom of the hamper.
The best situation would be a room that was dark and quiet, so I put the hamper on top of the clothes dryer in the utility room. I then turned off the light and pulled the door closed, but I didn’t latch it. You could still just push the door open if you wanted to.
Having put the owl to bed for the night, I got a large glass of iced tea and relaxed in my recliner. I would relax for the rest of the evening and take the owl to the vet in the morning.
I leaned back in the recliner and turned on the television to watch a movie. As the evening wore on, I began to notice that the animals were very aware that there was a stranger in our house. They were sniffing all around the house. They were normally used to the fact that dad came home with all sorts of funny smells on his clothes, but this had them very perplexed.
From the recliner I could see down the hall where the utility room door was, as well as, into the kitchen. It seemed to be Chuck who figured out that there was something lurking in the utility room.
Normally, the cat and dog didn’t get any closer to each other than they absolutely had to. After all, they were sworn enemies. In this case, however, their shared curiosity seemed to lead them into the same room.
Of course, the reason I put the hamper on top of the dryer was so the cat and dog wouldn’t bother the owl.
I yelled down the hallway a couple times to get the pair away from the door, but finally decided to not worry about it. As I watched, the cat ended up being the one who finally pushed the door hard enough to open it. A few minutes later I watched the sheltie go through the opening in the doorway. I figured they’d sniff around a while and get tired of it and come back out, so I wasn’t concerned. After all, the Owl was up on the dryer.
As I watched the television I was startled by a huge commotion from the utility room. There was a loud cat yowell and hissing, then the sheltie joined in by barking. As this loud melee resounded down the hallway, I suddenly heard the distinct sound of the hamper as it hit the floor, after being tipped off the dryer and onto the floor.
At that point, the fight was on!!! I could hear cat yowells and hisses intermixed with dog barks and the loud clicking of an owl. The sound of bodies bouncing against other objects and items falling to the floor could be heard all over the house.
It sounded like professional wrestling and wild animal kingdom being thrown into a blender together. It was complete mayhem!
Suddenly, out of the dark doorway came the cat. Every hair on his back and tail were puffed out, as though he’d had 8 of his 9 lives scared out of him…..Then right behind him came the sheltie running for her life. If the floor had been dirt I’m sure there would have been a dust cloud from her peeling out to get away.
Both of them screamed as they ran straight down the hall and into the kitchen!
Right behind the sheltie ran the Great Horned Owl who yelled “CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK!!!!” I heard the rumble continue in the kitchen with glasses being knocked off the counter and the trash can and chairs being pushed about.
I sprang up from my recliner and by the time I got into the kitchen, the dog was cowering under the kitchen table behind the chairs. There were several broken glasses on the floor and up on top of the refrigerator was Chuck the cat. He was backed up against the wall, just as far from the beast as he could possibly climb. There was nothing but terror in his face as the owl stood before them flapping his wings and yelling “CLICK, CLICK, CLICK!!!” Which I’m guessing is owl for “Next time I’ll knock the stuffing out of you!!”
I quickly got a blanket and grabbed the owl before he could make good on his threat. He was pretty animated by this time. The dog continued to cringe and the cat meowed in fright.
I took the owl back in the utility room and placed a box over the top. I then shut the door completely while making sure it was latched.
I swept up the glass and went back into the living room. The sheltie jumped up in my lap and acted as though she’d die if I left her. She spent the evening staring down the hallway with a most worried look on her face.
The cat, on the other hand, spent the rest of the night hiding and watching for the “beast”.
The next morning when I was walking out of the house with the owl, the cat and dog stayed in the bedroom. They wouldn’t have anything to do with that terrible beast I had brought into their home.
Curiosity nearly killed the cat……or at least scared the life out of him.