This is the remarkable story of a young Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo Africanus), called “Pathetic”, that was rescued from a couple of very bad children, who found him on the ground where he was struggling with a broken wing and a broken leg after he was most probably hit by a vehicle. They began kicking him and throwing stones at him, injuring his other leg and wing as well. My carpenter's son saw what they were doing and immediately went to call his dad who immediately ran to the rescue of the poor owl and brought it to me.
After examining the owl, I immediately rushed it to an avian vet in East Londen, as his injuries were too serious for me to tend to. My wife drove the 200 km to East London while I was sitting with the poor bird on my lap, trying to make him as comfortable as one can make an owl with two broken legs and a broken wing. The vet immediately examined him and told me that the broken wing and one leg were old injuries, and that it had unfortunately already grown on again, but very skew. The children however injured the wing and leg again and also broke the other leg. He tried his best to set the newly broken leg, but there were not much that he could do to the other leg and wing. I had to leave the poor bird with the vet for the better part of three weeks before I could go and fetch him again.
When the owl came back from the vet I began calling him “Pathetic”, because he looked so pathetic that one actually felt sorry for him. He eventually got stuck with the name, but believe me, he was no pathetic little owl, but in actual fact maybe one of the bravest and cutest owls that I have ever seen. I however soon realized that he would never have a normal life again and according to all rehabilitation rules and practices, I actually was supposed to put him down, but because of what the children did to him I felt, as a human being, responsible for his condition. I have also worked with a lot of injured animals during my life and normally an animal in his condition would give up hope, most of the times refusing to eat, not wanting to live anymore, but this brave little owl wanted to live.
A week after he came back from the vet, “Uiltjie” adopted him and began bringing rodents to him, feeding him 2 or 3 rodents every night as if it was his own child. This was quite amazing, because “Pathetic” was actually a fully grown adult male owl and normally adult male owls are aggressive towards each other. But “Uiltjie”, the special bird that he is, must have realized that this owl was badly injured and no threat to him and in desperate need of help. Although “Pathetic” was already old enough to hoot, he soon reverted back to the hissing sound that young owlets make to get the attention of their parents when they are hungry.
Once I have seen the eagerness in the eyes of this little fellow when he heard “Uiltjie” coming in with a rodent and then the joy on his face when “Uiltjie” fed it to him, I could not get it over my heart to put this bird down. Who was I to take the life of a bird that wanted to live, that found joy in life and that actually gave purpose to the life of another bird, because all of a sudden “Uiltjie” was in his element. As much joy as “Pathetic” showed when he received a rodent from “Uiltjie”, so much more did “Uiltjie” enjoy feeding him. “Uiltjie” became another bird. For the first time in his life he was interacting with another owl, doing the things that a normal owl should do, having an owl family.
So, to all the people that read this, I also believe that if a bird cannot have the quality life that it deserves, that it must rather be put down than being kept in captivity, because it would normally just slowly fade away. But this bird was in this condition because of human beings and, despite that, he accepted my help and that of Uiltjie unconditionally and he wanted to live; he enjoyed it and so did “Uiltjie”. So you can maybe tell me that I was wrong to keep him alive, but would you pull the plug on your son because he cannot walk properly if he tells you that he still wants to live and that he enjoys life? I personally don’t think so. And what makes an owl different to a human being. Fortunately not all people think alike and believe me when I say that I respect your view if you differ from me on this one, because it was a tough decision even for me to take, but I would not have been able to kneel down in front of my creator at night, telling him that I have decided that Pathetic did not deserve to live and that I had put him down just because I thought that it would be better for him.
“Pathetic”, despite his looks, turned out to be a brave little owl and although he lived only for a year after he was brought to us, he had a huge impact on our family and other people, and of course on “Uiltjie”. This is where “Uiltjie’s” famous career began, and though most of the fame went to him for feeding an injured owl for almost a year, I think that “Pathetic” was actually the one that really deserved the credit, and I think that “Uiltjie” would agree whole heartedly with me.
A few days before his death he stopped eating and did not want to take food from me or rodents from “Uiltjie”, though “Uiltjie” every night still brought him two or three rodents, rubbing them against “Pathetic’s” beak to try and get him to accept one and eat it. Then, the evening before he died, he accepted a shrew that “Uiltjie” brought him and I thought that he was now feeling a bit better and that he was on the road to recovery, but maybe this was just his way of saying thanks to “Uiltjie” for his total dedication, his last supper, brought to him by a true friend. Did he know that it was his last meal and just wanted to say goodbye to his old friend? I went to check up on him at about three 'o clock that morning and found him sitting as if waiting for Uiltjie to bring him another rodent. At first I thought that he was asleep, but on closer inspection I realized that he was dead. Pathetic had died peacefully in his sleep while waiting for Uiltjie to visit him and bring him something to eat.
For almost 3 months after his death, “Uiltjie” still came in with rodents, looking for “Pathetic”, sitting in the corner where “Pathetic used to wait for him, hooting to mourn the loss of a dear and brave friend. Pathetic may have graced us with his presence for a year only, but his friends and "family" would remember him for years to come.