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Monday, November 03, 2008

Wesley the Owl

When student researcher Stacey O’Brien was introduced to an injured four-day-old barn owl at Caltech she could not have possibly imagined that the little bird would change her life forever. O’Brien is an animal lover of the first degree and it was easy to convince her to take on the task of caring for Wesley, as she soon named the little guy, even though she knew that he could never be released into the wild. He would instead spend his extra-long nineteen-year lifespan living in her bedroom and become her closest companion during all of those years.

The unbreakable bond that developed between Stacey and Wesley makes for an astounding story. It is not overly surprising that Wesley, taken in at such a young age, would “imprint” on Stacey to the degree that he came to see her as some kind of mother/mate combination. What might be even more remarkable is how maternal Stacey felt toward Wesley for the entire nineteen years of their relationship, even referring to herself as “mommy” when she spoke to the little owl. In fact, and in every sense of the word, Stacey and Wesley created a two-member family for themselves to such a degree that few would consider Wesley to have been held in captivity. Rather, the two lived side-by-side as equals.

Wesley the Owl is O’Brien’s fascinating account of what living so intimately with a wild creature requires from the human in the relationship. Imagine having to come up with the four or five dead mice a day required to keep a barn owl healthy (a number that O’Brien estimates to have reached 28,000 over Wesley’s lifetime). Imagine having a nocturnal animal just a few feet from the bed in which you hope to get your own night’s sleep. Think about the sheer clean-up involved and the constant vigilance required to ensure that the animal does not mistake any visitor as a threat requiring physical attack. Consider the degree to which personal freedom has to be sacrificed in this kind of relationship, even to limiting other relationships to people who accept your “pet.”

But for Stacey O’Brien it was all worth it. She and Wesley each learned to communicate in the language of the other, verbally and physically, to the degree that they developed a relationship of equals. They cuddled, they talked, they “groomed” each other, they brought treats to one another (although Stacey only faked her enjoyment of dead mice), and they grew together into two adults enjoying a closer relationship than some married couples might experience (including Wesley’s idea of a mating ritual).

For Stacey and Wesley it was all about unconditional love. After all, as Stacey came to learn, that is the Way of the Owl, a code of conduct that more of us than do should strive to emulate.

Stacey the human and Wesley the owl were lucky to find and keep each other for a lifetime. We should all be so lucky.

Rated at: 5.0

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