Volume 17 • Issue 26 | Nov. 19 - 25, 2004


Free bird: Animal rescue has Cornelia St. aflutter

Terry J. Allen

I know, I know. It’s only a pigeon. But there it was gray and ordinary as crumpled newspaper, at eye level on the building across Cornelia St. from my apartment. On second glance I realized it hanging upside down like a bat from the cornice between the fifth and sixth floors. Pretty cute trick. And standing over it as if appreciating the acrobatic performance was a black pigeon jerking its head, pacing back and forth, and peering down as all of a sudden the gray pigeon flapped its wings. It was instantly clear that the bird was trapped, helpless, its feet tangled in some wire netting set out on the top of the cornice. It was swaying slightly in the wind.

I know, I know. People are dying by the hundreds in Iraq, by the tens of thousands in Darfur, but the sight of the pigeon was not only wrenchingly pathetic in itself, but in these post-election days, it felt like a terrible metaphor for something grim, desperate and all too human. It did not bear close examination.

It demanded action — even at the risk of appearing like a sentimental girlie girl. To bat away that miserable image, I grabbed a fireplace poker the snag the wiring that trapped the bird and a towel, to hide the poker — Who would open the door to someone carrying a poker? — and to put over the bird so I could disentangle the wire if I could reach it. I went down my five flights and managed to slip into the building across the street as someone was leaving. Then up to the sixth floor where I knocked on the door of the apartment with the window closest to the pigeon. No answer. Down and over to the next building; same scenario.

I went and consulted my neighbor Alice, frail and tenderhearted as Bambi. She looked up at the dangling gray bird and the pacing black one, and we decided to risk ridicule and call the A.S.P.C.A. The man who answered was very polite, but said there were only two officers. He would add the distressed pigeon to a list — getting to it right after hell freezes over, we suspected. And who could blame him? It was only a pigeon.

As Alice and I sat there wondering what next, we called up the childhood storybook image of “our friend the fireman” rescuing a mewing kitten from a sun-dappled suburban tree. What the heck, it’s not an adorable kitten, but you never know.

I trotted over to the station, the one on Sixth Ave. and Houston St., to tell my tale. “Really, I’m not a nut,” I began, trying not to sound like a nut. The firemen listened. One of them, Sgt. Kevin Lynch, suppressing a smirk, not a mean smirk, but an impossible-to-repress good-natured smirk, heard me out. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m no pigeon lover, but yeah.”

After they gave a tour to some school kids, they would be over, Lynch promised. And they were, hook and ladder and all. Chad Marrone, followed by Shreko “Shrek” Savic climbed the ladder to the sixth floor as the trapped pigeon’s black companion fled to the other end of the cornice. Marrone snagged the bird, which fluttered briefly in his hands and then went still as he disentangled it. From my fire escape perch across the street, I saw Marrone look down at Savic and say the single word, “shredded.” Then Marrone laid the limp bird back on the narrow ledge and climbed down.

You want a happy ending don’t you? Me too, but for more than an hour the dingy pigeon lay motionless on the ledge. The black bird stood at a distance and finally flew away.

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