The Tale of Mitchell Cooper the Social Misfit (A.K.A. Operation Dove Rescue)
Introducing Mitchell Cooper
Chapter 1 ~ The Rescue
I remember so clearly the day my son, Max, age 7 at the time, came running in, tears streaming down his little cheeks as he cradled a little featherless grey blob in his hands, promising the little creature that his mum would save it "just like she saved me and my sister; you'll see! She can make anything better, I promise!" he said to the creature in his hands before holding it up to me and imploring "Mum, you have to save him! His mum and dad have rejected him and he is dying! I thought he was dead! He was just lying in the sun on the hot concrete near the palm tree in the pool area, being eaten by ants! Then he cheeped at me and I didn't know what to do so I just grabbed him! He is so little; he hardly has any feathers and the ants are eating him alive! But I told him it's alright, because you'll save him, right mum?"
I thought my heart would break in two.
I was sad for the dove, yes, but my heart was breaking for my child; he was about to discover that his mum was not a magician, and not the super hero he thought me to be, because I was very doubtful that the tiny bird was going to make it. However, my little (little at that time) boy was so distraught that I found myself unable to deny his hope straight up; all I could do was promise that I'd do my best to save the creature, but I warned him that he should not get his hopes up, as it was very unlikely that I'd succeed in keeping this tiny bird alive.
Max has ever "worn his heart on his face" (which makes him rather gorgeous), and the emotions that played across the face of my child, who, like his sister and also myself, had suffered through PTSD for the previous 2 years, triggered the determination I would require.
And so, I set about removing the ants and cleaning him up, then went to the chemist for a syringe to feed him with, and to our local IGA store, which was owned by a South African and happened to stock the wonder porridge, ProNutro.
The baby dove was so tiny and so exhausted from his ordeal that he couldn't eat much at first, and of course, being fed from a syringe held by a giant took some getting used to. He would wear himself out soon after starting a meal, and I realized that if I was going to keep him alive, he would need tiny amounts every 2 or 3 hours. It was going to be like having a newborn baby in the house again for a while.
I started setting my alarm for either 2 or 3 hours depending on how much food I got into his mouth rather than all over his face, and this continued, 24 hours a day of me feeding him, then setting my alarm and feeding him again 2 or 3 hours later, leaving him in his shoe box under a heat lamp in between feeds. For the first few days I could see no improvement (was he getting worse was a constant question crossing my mind). A full week later and I was beginning to despair, as I could not see any change in this little creature who had come into our lives. Yet giving up was not an option, no matter how exhausted I was.
Well enough for a photo
Chapter 2 ~ The Physical Recovery
Then, at some point entering week 2, I thought I could see small improvements. I would hear him start moving around in his box just before my alarm was due to go off. He was also getting better at holding still, beak open for the syringe, and thus, more food was going in his belly and less was needing to be cleaned off his face. He would make cute little cheeping sounds at me when I opened his box, and was starting to waddle around inside it.
Then, a sudden burst of energy and growth. With this his appetite increased, and he was also able to eat more in one go, so I increased his meals to 2 syringe fulls every meal, and he really began to perk up; he started to show enthusiasm for both food and company; he finally got the knack of taking the Weetbix or ProNutro mix from the syringe without getting most of it on his face.
He grew strong enough to perch on a finger, and became more aware of his surroundings, noting that there was a giant dog around who seemed to perhaps want to eat him, and I was happy for him to develop a healthy fear of our wolfhound, Murphy.
Murphy the Irish Wolfhound
Chapter 3 ~ Learning the Ropes
Murphy might have been a friend to all children, extremely fond of and rather protective over the smallest homunculii in our wider social circle, and of course, besotted with his own mini humans and FIERCELY protective of them, risking his own life in heroic fashion to save his two most favourite mini humans from the raving lunatic who had betrayed our trust and scorned our love by subjecting us to increasingly frequent bouts of narcissistic rage and violent rampages, but our heroic canine's gentle nature did not extend to either avian or feline species, so this little dinosaur decedent who had become my ward would need to learn to keep himself safe if he was going to live with us and our giant pooch.
And so it was that the tiny dove my boy had rescued began to come into his own. He grew stronger and stronger every day, and with that strength, his personality grew, too. His feathers grew in and he gained lots of weight, so we started taking him out for short stretches of sun and exercise.
Melter of Hearts
Chapter 4 ~ Social Rehabilitation Fails
After 6 months of flight lessons and attempts at socializing him with other wild doves around the neighborhood, we were despondent about his ever being able to return to the wild.
I am not trying to anthropomorphize him when I say that the decidedly odd behavior that led to complete rejection by others of his species was probably a little too human for their tastes, as was his reaction to these instances of rejection - he would instantly go POOF, puffing his feathers out and turning into a little spherical feather statue who refused to move or even speak to anyone, bird or human.
Mitchell Cooper, the socially awkward, nest rejected laughing dove was struggling in his quest to rejoin his species out in the "wilds" of suburban Perth, and despite my attempts to distance myself from him so he didn't get too attached, he had by that stage well and truly "imprinted" on me and the unfortunate rejection of his human influenced social behavior by all the other laughing doves resulted in his attempting to spend every waking moment with me.
I would even, after settling him on his perch just inside the permanently open door of my backyard home office for the night, later wake from my slumber on the couch behind my desk only to find he had waited for me to go to sleep and then flown down and made himself comfortable either on my chest, or on the cushion I was using as a pillow, mere inches from my face, then puffed himself up, tucked his little face under a wing, and gone to sleep.
Chapter 5 ~ Spiritual Recovery
We had resigned ourselves to the fact that our attempts at rehabilitation, reintegration and release had failed and continued on as we had been; Mitchell was free to come and go as he pleased, and this meant he almost always followed us if we went anywhere on foot, and so it was that he accompanied us whenever we went to visit "the tree camp," which was a round the clock camp of hippy type activists and fringe dwelling volunteers who took rostered shifts guarding a 400 year old Banksia tree that was one of only a handful in the local area and thus ESSENTIAL to the survival of critically endangered red tailed black cockatoos.
And so it was that Mitchell Cooper caught the eye of an equally socially awkward (read "utterly dysfunctional) but very pretty little mourning dove (I say "little," but she was in fact noticeably larger than Mitchell, although he was only 6 months old and probably on the smaller side of average sizes for laughing doves due to his difficult start to life).
I'm happy to report that it didn't take Mitchell long at all after that to endear himself to his new feathered friend and vice versa, and within days they had become inseparable, and despite the union attracting curiosity and speculation from each of their respective species' local populations, they stood together in solidarity and defiance against the scrutiny of the wider majority of the local populations of various dove and pigeon species and instead grew their own blended family of misfits.
The Less Frequent Visitor
Chapter 6 ~ A New Social Paradigm
Mitchell's blended family at times included a one legged and rather scruffy looking seagull who we came to call Harry, a young albino Magpie we called Pinky, and a pair of best bird buddies comprised of a kookaburra and a crow, who we called Mork and Mindy.
We kept expecting another odd couple we knew of to show up at the Banksia Tree commune; a precocious pelican, Paddy, and his ever present wingman, a diver bird we named Dusky, the two of whom we almost always saw together on our fishing expeditions on the Swan River, but they never did appear.
It might sound like I am weaving a tall tale or engaging in an over the top case of wishful thinking, and indeed, if I had only seen this all happen with my own eyes without also getting to share the journey with others, the process of making the same or similar observations and confirming/ reassessing each other's impressions, deductions and conclusions, I might have struggled to accept it all myself, essentially denying my own reality.
Instead, I got to embrace what we were seeing as the unusual but comprehensible result of an unlikely set of events and circumstances, and thereby enjoy the novelty of the experience.
It was interesting to note that the social interactions between certain pairs of odd couples and the obvious and admirable affection and commitment to each other within that handful of rarely before seen monogamous and perhaps life long interspecies pairings was mirrored, if to a lesser extent, in the extended interpersonal relationships between individuals and mated pairs of what became a veritable rainbow of a blended community/ family.
The avian politics of the collective was equally fascinating and eye opening and ironic. The right group of people could have documented the evolution of that complex social network and produced a hit reality TV show styled docuseries.
The Path Forger
Chapter 7 ~ A Happy Ending
And so it was that Mitchell Cooper flew the metaphorical coop, found his soul mate, and together with her found a place in an unusual blended family of social misfits like themselves.
This rainbow spectrum of social misfits appointed as their headquarters a giant gum tree near the Banksia tree camp where their human equivalents gathered for months pending legally protected status for the beloved Banksia tree, and Mitchell and his wife, Molly, would always greet us enthusiastically from their designated branch, serenading us with a duet of mournful coos and laughing warbles as they quivered and flapped their little wings in excitement.
They seemed to be permanent residents of the tree and that park as they could almost always be seen on their well positioned branch observing activity at Banksia tree camp, chatting with the other avian misfits who somehow seemed drawn to the colorful and noisy base of Save the Tree operations, something off-putting to the rest of normal avian society, meaning the group of hippie birds could socialize and speculate in peace and safety.
My kids and I were so captivated and fascinated by this avian phenomenon and discussed at length the parallels with the fringes of human society. How blessed were we to witness this paradox of nature?
We were filled with grief when the Banksia Tree Camp completed Operation Save the Tree and human and avian tree huggers wandered off to find new sources of soul food, because Mitchell and Molly disappeared, too.
It had been some time since we had seen them, and acceptance and fond memories had tempered our grief, then, one sunny morning I was standing waiting for the kettle to boil when my M&Ms came running in, falling over themselves in excitement. "Mum, come quick! They're here and you HAVE to see what they brought with them!"
"Curioser and curioser" I thought to myself when I saw that despite their excitement, both of my mini mes seemed to be on the verge of tears. Then I went outside and what I saw made everything fall into place. There, on a little patch of grass in our pool enclosure, two proud parents watched on anxiously as their two scruffy little nest treasures eyed our wolfhound, Murphy through the pool fence.
Mitchell Cooper, nest reject, social misfit and fringe dwelling path forger had brought his family home for a visit like all proud dads do. When he saw me, he flew up and landed on the pool fence in front of me, quivered his little wings in excited greeting, turned to look at his wife and kids, then turned back to me, cocked his head to the side and warbled to me in a voice that sounded like a strange mix of his and Molly's coos, and all I could do was laugh and say "I see, and thank you for your wonderful way of saying thanks, Mitchell Cooper."
The End (of that particular tale)