“A little warning before this story. The UK is plagued by Avian flu strains. If you see any wild bird in distress its best not to catch or touch it. Instead, try to corral it and call wildlife rescue. Avian flus are catchable by humans and can be very deadly indeed!”
“Hey, Plum. Come here!” Wade gave a shrill whistle.
The mostly black-and-white Jack Russell lifted his smooth nose from the long grasses. His sharp eyes finding his master with a sparkle of excitement. Yes, the dog was called Plumber. Not to be verbose about it, but on his first day living with the family they had to call a plumber for a leak in the kitchen. The dog got beneath his feet and knocked him flat on his face. That was it, the name stuck and the little Terrier was always known as Plumber – Plum for short.
“Plum! Come on!” Wade called again, determined to stop the dog from getting stuck in rabbit holes along the trail.
“Ruff!” Plumber bounded back onto the path and danced around his master.
“Calm down and walk on, you silly, mutt!” Wade grinned. He loved the adorable dog and there was nothing better than going for a walk with him.
Even a somewhat cloudy day, such as today, couldn’t dampen the delight of a walk in the woods. Wade strolled along enjoying the sounds of the birds, the sight of the occasional squirrel and even the woodpecker hammering grubs from the tree trunks.
Plumber could never stick to the path. He was soon zigzagging all over the woods. His wet little nose worked overtime, sniffing every leaf, twig and rock it came upon as well as investigating every tree and hole in sight.
The walk was perfectly normal and pleasant until a loud crashing noise reached the ears. “What on earth is that, Plum?” Wade said glancing off to the right of the gravel path. The noise had definitely originated from that area.
Plumber agreed, giving one single bark and coming to stand beside Wade with a stiff stance.
What emerged from the undergrowth although normal came as a shock. A pure white mute swan. He was a male. Wade could tell that by the cob on top of his yellow beak.
“Huh, the nearest river or lake is about a mile away. What are you doing here, Fella?” Wade asked as a large waterfowl waddled a little closer, staggering a little.
Plumber growled, his hackles raised with suspicion.
“Easy, Plum. He’s no threat.” Wade stooped and held his collar. Just looking at the swan, he realised it was suffering. There was a rattling, gurgling noise when the bird exhaled. The swan was gaping its beak unnaturally too. Even as Wade watched it sneezed.
Plumber strained to go closer, looking between the swan and his master.
“Sorry, Fella. You’re not going anywhere near him.” Wade took out his mobile phone and performed a quick search online. Finding a local swan rescue he put in a call for help and told the receptionist where he was and what he was seeing.
“Oh, dear. That sounds like bird flu. Don’t you or the dog touch the swan. I’ll send a wildlife officer down to help him.”
“Okay, we’ll wait within sight of the swan,” Wade said goodbye and hung up.
The wildlife officer turned out to be a giant of a man dressed in khaki trousers and a matching polo shirt with the rescue logo on the chest. Going close to seven feet tall with his salt-and-pepper hair and beard, he seemed an imposing fellow. “Good afternoon, you must be Wade?” he called as he strode down the path brandishing a bird carrying bag, net and gloves.
“Hi, that’s me —”
Plumber gave a high-pitched bark. His little tail wagged nineteen-to-the-dozen as he broke forward to greet the newcomer.
Wade relaxed a little, the man had to be friendly to get that reaction. “— And that’s Plum. We’re pleased to me you!”
“Hallo, fella!” The man dropped his knee to make a fuss of the dog. “Good to meet you, Plum. My name’s Bill. Thanks for calling about the sick swan.”
“Of course, we had to do something to help the poor fella. He’s sitting down there in the grass now.” Wade pointed toward the bushes close to where the swan had emerged.
“Oh, yes. I see him.” Bill allowed way to wrangle Plumber. “We’ve been fighting to control an incursion of highly pathogenic avian influenza that’s been creeping into Norfolk for a while,” he explained while approaching the swan.
“Sounds nasty. Is there any cure for it?”
“There is a vaccine the farms give to the poultry to prevent infection and spread of the disease. Once a bird is infected there’s often very little chance of survival. However —” Bill grabbed the swan.
The bird hissed and flapped its enormous white wings.
Plumber snarled. Unimpressed with being sworn at by the swan.
“—This swan, although sick, seems to be quite strong still. He might just have a chance to make it.” Bill continued as he controlled the bird’s wings and eased him into the carrying bag to protect him.”
“That’s good news,” Wade replied smoothing Plumber’s soft head. “I think he must’ve crash-landed here on the way to the river. There are no water sources nearby you see.”
“He was likely exhausted as he flew overhead. The flu attacks the lungs. The crackle you can hear is fluid building up in this poor fellow’s chest.” Bill gathered his gear again. “Thanks again for calling. I’ll race this chap into the vets and see what can be done for him.”
“Cheers, Bill. We appreciate it,” Wade said smiling.
Plumber added a bark of approval as the three set off in different directions.
Three weeks later Wade was delighted to receive some pictures by text message. They showed a very recognisable swan swimming happily within a sanctuary pond. The accompanying message said he was doing nicely. He would remain isolated for a few more weeks before being released back into the wild.
When Wade and Plumber went on a walk that afternoon, they smiled with pride a knowing they’d saved the swan’s life. There was no greater feeling than that.
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