The Lesson a Little Sparrow Taught Me About Compassion

                      About a month ago, I was walking home from the grocery store and right outside of my house I saw a little sparrow that appeared to struggling.  He was underneath the neighbor’s car.  The closer I got to him, the further away he tried to get.  He was scared, unable to fly and appeared to have 2 broken legs.  He was only able to scoot himself along and kept trying to fly.  I decided I needed to do something. I ran into the house and looked for something that I could scoop him up into to get him out of the street.  I grabbed a bucket and a dust pan.  When I came back out he was at the far end of the car making his way into oncoming traffic.  After chasing him from underneath the car and guiding him to the safer side, I was eventually able to scoop him up into the bucket.  Now what? I thought. I brought him in the house so I  could get a better look at him and to be able to think for a minute about how to handle this.  His legs definitely did not look good. Instead of his legs being directly underneath him they were out to both sides of him and he was laying on his belly. I called the vet to see if they had any advice for how I could help him.  I didn’t want to call animal control because I was pretty sure they would just euthanize him.  The vet said that they don’t handle birds and if we brought him in they would probably just euthanize him as well.  The nice man on the phone however, gave me a few numbers of avian vets that I should call.  One place said that they would take him but I would be responsible for all of his medical bills and its a 75.00 fee just to walk in the door. I would be willing to do that for him, but I kept looking for options to see what other services might be available.  I was committed to finding a place that would actually help him and not be a death sentence because they didn’t have the resources to give him the care that he needed. After calling around to about 5 other places, I finally got somewhere.  I was told about a place called the Wild Bird Fund whose mission is to provide medical care and rehabilitation to injured, ill, and orphaned wildlife of New York City and to release them back into the wild. Bingo! If any place would be able to help my new friend, it would be them.  I called them and they were happy to take him in. They work completely on donations and if his condition could be fixed they would treat him, rehab him and release him back to the wild, where he belongs.  I figured that they would give him an honest assessment and a chance at life.  They are located in Manhattan on the upper west side which is about an hour and a half subway ride for me from where I live in Brooklyn, but I felt it was worth it.  So I put my little friend in a large container with holes punched in the top of it and we went on a trip.  Not many sparrows can say that they took a ride on the subway.  He was a little scared, but he did ok.  When no one was around I would talk to him and tell him that everything was going be alright and we were about to get him the help he needed.  After a little while it almost seemed like he understood me.  When we arrived at the Wild Bird Fund there were all kinds of birds that were chirping in the office.   This seemed comforting to my friend and he began to chirp back.  I filled out a form and they said that they work completely on donations.  The suggested donation was 50.00.  When the vet finished working with a couple that had brought in a pigeon, he called us in.  He picked up my friend and looked at his legs.  He said that his legs were not broken after all. He had “splayed legs”.  He said he wished it was a broken leg because then they could do something. I asked what splayed legs meant and he said that it is a kind of deformation.  Sometimes it is caused by birds being  sat on for too long by the mother in the nest and it causes the legs to form incorrectly.  He could also have broken hips from this.  Or have been squashed in some other way when he was a baby.  He said his legs wouldn’t be able to be corrected because he was too old.  If they put a brace on his legs to keep them from splaying apart they would go right back to the way that they were.  Apparently he lived like this for a long time.  His little belly was beginning to get a sore from him scooting around on it and that being the only way he could move.  He told me that it is not a good quality of life for him and that they recommended euthanasia. This was really hard to hear and I couldn’t help but cry.  I kept trying to fight getting emotional around this vet and looking ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it.  After all I did just meet this bird, so why was I crying?  He saw how affected I was and said that if I wanted a second opinion he would have the other vet look at him.  She eventually came over and had a look.  She gave the same assessment.  Oh, I was so sad.  Part of me felt like this bird was beginning to feel the same hope that I was for him.  I felt like I was betraying him.  I brought him there and spent the whole day trying to do all that I could for him and in the end he was dying because I intervened.  I said to the vet “I just wanted to help him and I’m so sad that I couldn’t.” She said “You did.  You found him the way he was, because he was suffering.  He has sores on his belly and his fate if he was released back into the wild would most likely be that he would be eaten by a cat (there are a lot of cats that roam our neighborhood) or hit by a car.  Here he can pass peacefully.  Know that you did the right thing and if there was anything that we could’ve done to help him we would have.” She then asked me if I wanted some time with him.  I said yes.  Before I brought him in I was afraid to touch him because I didn’t know if that was safe.  After I saw them both handling him easily without gloves, I thought it was ok.  I began to stroke his little head.  It was incredibly soft.  I apologized to him over and over.  He seemed peaceful to me and like he was beginning to trust me. After some time I gained the courage and I said my goodbye and turned him over to the vet.  It was so hard.  But I know I had done all that I could do for him.  



                     I dedicate this blog to my sparrow friend. I don’t believe in coincidences. And I find it interesting that the day after I decided that I wanted to begin doing a blog about compassion towards animals, I found him in front of my house.  He is a reminder to me that we have a responsibility to make compassionate choices and to do everything in our power to help our animal friends…because we can. We are not compassionate in order to become successful.  We are compassionate because we are one.  Compassion is not passive and it is not always easy.  But it is always, always, always worth it!

For information about the amazing Wild Bird Fund in New York City click here. 


I encourage you to leave comments/ short stories below about the animals that have touched your life that inspire you to live compassionately.  


9 thoughts on “The Lesson a Little Sparrow Taught Me About Compassion

  1. Jim Dawson

    But if people really pay attention to their everyday lives, they will discover that magic moment. It may arrive in the instant when we are doing something mundane, like putting our front-door key in the lock; it may lie hidden in the quiet that follows the lunch hour or in the thousand and one things that all seem the same to us. But that moment exists–a moment when all the power of the stars becomes a part of us and enables us to perform miracles.”
    ― Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

  2. Rita McMahon

    Hello Vanessa,
    Your story brought tears to my eyes. Compassion is when we truly feel for the other ,as you did. Thank you for saving this little guy from a most unpleasant end. Rita

  3. Sandra Dee Gawel

    You are the kindest sweetest most gentle God filled woman I have ever encountered … I too try to save everything .. I have even tried to Dave ants when I find them in water and I now know that even if they appear dead you CAN see movement in there thoracic area . if that is evident even for a flittering millisecond they might be OK. I literally sat with one two hours and was overjoyed to see it get up… What a miracle it was to me. (And bugs are NOT my fave…but its not their fault . I have saved many animals and lost many too. You are my new inspiration to keep trying. God bless you and your husband. You are angels in human skin. God bless Penelope….Leopold and the kitties. And Gid bless this precious sparrow who awaits you at the Rainbow Bridge… As he has told our God your whole story and they both await your arrival hopefully many decades from now. you and your stories have moved my soul. Thank you. Sandra Dee Gawel


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