I foster cats and was affectionately known as “the cat lady” in my former town, where I had founded a nonprofit cat rescue based in a network of foster homes. I was on good terms with the animal control officer, Steve, who occasionally showed up at my doorstep with some kitty in need. But one day was different. I opened the door to Steve who had a bundle in his arms, and we met each others’ eyes and laughed. There was a different element in Steve’s laugh than usual and he caught my questioning look. “You’re never going to believe this,” he said. “I know it’s crazy to bring it here to the House of Cats, but I didn’t know what else to do and thought you could help.” He unfolded the blanket to reveal…a pigeon! Yes, he brought a BIRD to the cat house! That says something about my sucker status, right? That the dogcatcher brings a bird to the cat lady’s house?
The full-grown pigeon was injured, with multiple bloody wounds on his back, feathers missing from his left wing, a bum foot, and an inability to fly. “What in the world am I going to do with a pigeon?” I fretted. I’d fostered baby birds before, and unlike with cats, I never had much luck with them. I’d never tried to foster an adult bird before, although I’d had pet parakeets way in my distant past. I accepted the bird, and told Steve he owed me. On his way out the door, he stopped, and uncharacteristically asked, “What will you name him?”
“Maybe Steve,” I joked. “Unless you have a better idea.”
“Did you ever read that book about the seagull? What was it called?”
“Jonathon Livingston Seagull! Yes, I know the book. So Jonathon? Jonathon Livingston Pigeon it is.”
The nature of Jonathon’s wounds left me to believe that he was likely the victim of a cat attack, so it seemed somehow fitting that I try to nurse him back to health, no matter how crazy it seems to do so in a house full of cats. I researched pigeon food and set him up in a large cage with water, popcorn, oats, and an assortment of peas. After letting him build up his strength for a few days (evidenced by his docility in hands morphing into aggressive pecking), I started taking him outside daily. I had no desire to tame this bird, and wanted only for him to get better and fly away. However, in the first weeks, all he did was hop around dragging his bum leg, a picture of Pathetic ™. Gradually, though, he began using his bad leg, and then experienced his first flight at our house, motivated by a cat stalking him. Unfortunately, he flew up the stairs to the front door, which made me worry that he’d consider our house home when he was well, which would likely guarantee that he’s end his life as a cat’s dinner. Each day he improved a little more, but the front door was always, without fail, the destination at the end of his short flights.
Just as he was really about to take off with his rehab, I was scheduled to go on a 3 week long trip out of state. The lovely animal shelter manager (and my good friend) agreed to take Jonathon Livingston Pigeon into his temporary care at the shelter, with the provision that he either come back home to me when I returned or go to someone with fostering experience, if he did not fly away first. I received a call around 2 weeks into my trip that an experienced animal rescuer had seen him at the shelter and took him home. As interesting as it had been to foster a pigeon in a house full of cats, I was quite relieved to hear that Jonathon was now with a bird-lover who lived on a farm.
A couple of weeks after Jonathon’s big move, I got word that he had flown away. Success! Jonathon Livingston Seagull wanted to learn to fly, truly fly, and Jonathon Livingston Pigeon learned to fly again, too. Oh, and one more thing. Jonathon Livingston Pigeon? Turns out he’s a girl.