Barbara Chepaitis
Telling the Old Stories, and Making Up the New Ones
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    November 8, 2010


    Yes.  We did it.  In the first snowstorm of the season, I drove Mitch from his USDA quarantine in Newburgh to Berkshire Bird Paradise, outside of Troy, NY.  Mitch was agitated when we loaded him into the rented SUV at Newburgh  (I usually drive a Civic, but they don't fit eagle kennels), but he got a good St. Francis blessing from Father Macken, which we needed badly given the road conditions.   There was press all around, but I had a moment to just look at this eagle I'd worked so hard for.   And here's the thing about raptors.  They don't look at  you.  They look into you.  Through you.  Of course, though intellectually I know Mitch is wondering if I have food, or am food, the impression is that he's reading my soul, considering what he reads.  In this case, the result was, "Oh.  It's you.  And will you get me where I need to go?"

     I certainly hope so, as I drive past half a dozen cars off the road, and come to halt for a jacknifed trailer tractor.   

    Let me mention something here.  If you haven't read Feathers of Hope  (and you should!)  you don't know that every bird rescue I've ever attempted ended badly. My karma is riding with me as I make my way through icy rain, then downright sleet, then snow, on my way to bring this bird home.  All along the way I have visions of accidents, of Mitch breaking his neck because I can't brake properly, of anything that can go wrong doing so.    I don't think my knuckles have ever been this white.

     But in the back of the SUV Mitch is calm.  Occasionally I hear him moving about, but only to adjust his perch as we round corners.   And we do make it.  

       By the time we pulled into Berkshire Bird Paradise, a sort of hysteria set in - 137 days, and two hard hours in a snowstorm, but we're here, where it's safe, with Pete Dubacher, who knows everything there is to know about taking care of birds.  I feel like those people who go to Cesar Milan with their dogs. I have made it to the bird whisperer.   This bird is home.

      Alright, I'll admit it.  I cried.  The Pretenders are singing Hymn to Her on my IPod, and I can finally say I accomplished this task, did right by the young men who saved this bird, and for the first time in my life, saw a rescue to completion.   This, I think, is a big karma shift.  This, I know, is good.

      When we bring Mitch into his new home, Pete has him set up in an aviary with Helga, an older, placid, blind eagle.  He says that raptors feel more comfortable with others like them around, and who can blame them?  I mean, how would you feel if you'd lived in a world of eagles, and suddenly saw a human.  Pretty happy, I'd bet.   

    But Mitch immediately turns his back on Helga, and goes to the back of the aviary, beats his wings against the netting there.   "Oh,"  Pete says,  "I think he wants to be with Eddie."

    Eddie is an eagle in the area beyond the netting.  He's from Buffalo NY, and he was shot there by someone who wanted to sell his feathers.   Mitch apparently feels sympatico with him.  He states a clear preference and Pete responds, opening the area to him.   Right away, Mitch hops in, and cozies up to Eddie.  They are instant Best Friends.   

      And here's the thing.  We don't imagine that birds have a preference in such things.  We don't think of them as aware enough, conscious enough, to make such choices.  And we're wrong.  They do.   Mitch settles his feathers, and he and Eddie perch together as if they've known each other forever.  

      What a bird.  What a day.   What a joyous and strange life.

      Thanks to all who followed this story, and please do continue to support Mitch by either buying Feathers of Hope  (a portion of proceeds go back to the sanctuary, and you can share the story with others)  or by donating to Berkshire Bird Paradise, and buying Mitch a frozen rat or two.   

Donate here:

Buy Feathers of Hope here:  
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Nov. 4, 2010 CONTACT: Barbara Chepaitis 518-356-8182
Petersburgh, NY     Nov. 4, 2010        

   After 137 days, the eagle is landing - but it took the help of Senator Schumer, The World Conservation Society, the White House and the US Department of State.
   Eagle Mitch, a Steppe Eagle, was rescued by US Troops in Afghanistan after he was shot in the wing. The young servicemen healed his wound, built him a cage and cared for him for months.  When realized he would never fly again they contacted Berkshire Bird Paradis, a bird sanctuary in Petersburgh NY, to get him to the US and provide a permanent home for him.  Sanctuary owner Pete Dubacher, who began his bird rescue when he was in service during the Vietnam war, sought the help of author Barbara Chepaitis.  She had recently released the book Feathers of Hope, which is about the sanctuary.   
    "I was amazed at how many people told us this couldn't be done - and how close they were to being right,"  Chepaitis said.  "We had to enlist the help of some pretty big powers to get Eagle Mitch through the red tape, but we did it."
    Initial objections from Federal Fish and WIldlife and the USDA, along with the difficulty of completing export papers in Afghanistan were just some of the larger obstacles to be overcome, but Chepaitis was able to secure the help of Senator Schumer's office and the White House Office of Public Engagement to get the job done.  
      "My stance was that these young men, in a war zone, had taken the trouble to show compassion, and we have to applaud that.  We spend a lot of time complaining about what's wrong with the world.  It's important to also support what's right."
      Eagle Mitch arrived at a military base in Virginia in early October, and was flown by the rescue group Pilots N Paws to a 30 day USDA quarantine in Newburgh New York.  He is doing well in his quarantine, described as "Proud and Perky."   
     He is scheduled to arrive at Berkshire BIrd Paradise on Monday afternoon, November eighth. 
     Dubacher said, "This is a tribute to what good things can happen when people pull together. He'll be here for Veteran's Day, and that seems right all around."
  -   30   -
The Eagle Has Landed!

     It took 107 days, and this final week was packed full of logistical nightmares.  Mechanical failure in the plane bringing Eagle Mitch to the US from Afghanistan delayed that repeatedly, while we kept trying to arrange transport from Virginia, to Newburgh, NY, where he'll stay with USDA for a 30 day quarantine period.  But we did it, and now I can actually use the phrase, 'the eagle has landed,' and mean it.  Of course, there's one more leg to the journey because after his quarantine he'll go to his home at Berkshire Bird Paradise 
    He'll arrive there just about in time for Veteran's day, appropriately enough, and if you visit their website, your donation can help keep Mitch in 'ratsicles.'  
      To get Mitch into his new digs, I had the help of the amazing Pilots N Paws where regular men and women volunteer to be heroes for animals that need rescue, and the people who are trying to rescue them.  Pilot Jerry Sica responded to my call right away, and stayed with us through many shifts of schedule.  Then, like a real hero, when the schedule shifted to a time he couldn't make, he helped me find someone who could get the job done.
    John Williams, also part of Pilots N Paws, delayed his motorcycle vacation to get up way too early and be in Norfolk at 6 am.     
    At 5 am, when I called down to Norfolk for a status update, they were a go for NY.  And for the first time, I got to actually speak with the Navy SEAL who cared for Mitch.   
      "I just had to hear your voice,"  I said.
      "Yeah,"  he said.  "We've had lots of emails, but no talk."
      Our conversation was less than a minute, but I realized how worried I'd been for him as well as Mitch, and how very much I wanted this to turn out well for all concerned.
      When I left my house, the sky was dark and full of stars.  By the time I got to the Berkshire Spur the sky was getting rosy, and mist curled over the land, illuminated and pearly in the dawn.   Yeah.  A good day.
      At the aviation terminal in Newburgh, I got to see the plane touch down, and ran out to help John and his friend C.M. Funk unload the crate that held Eagle Mitch.
     I could hear him hopping around, and took a peek in.  He stared back at me, not at all worried or confused.  Maybe a little truculent, as if he wanted to know why dinner was delayed.   "You're a very handsome bird,"  I told him, which was redundant.  Clearly, he already knew that.
        The ride home was filled with light.   Sunlight, after days of rain.  The light of leaves turning gold and orange and brilliant yellow.  The lightness of flight, possible only when you've hollowed out your bones through hard and good work.  
       I have a million thank yous to say, and will say them all in the next few weeks.   For now, to all those who helped, those who cheered, those who took part in any way, you know who you are, and I am grateful to you.
      Of course, I'll be writing a book about it all, and I'd love to hear from you.   This story had a lot of moving parts for me, some quite complex, but I'm curious to know what it meant to you, why it mattered, what your thoughts are.   Please do leave a message on my guestbook letting me know. 
      Below are some photos from the day.  

Pilots N Paws is a group of volunteer pilots who transport rescue animals where they need to go. I'm glad they had a beautiful day to fly.

If you read my book FEATHERS OF HOPE, you know that I've always wanted to see a bird I rescued fly.  I guess this is one way of doing it.  

It's not the greatest photo in the world, but the smile is one of my happiest.  I kept seeing the Navy Seal who cared for Mitch, running with his dogs on the beach, home at last, after saving an eagle.