The HSUS touches the lives of billions of animals every year, through our policy work and corporate reform efforts and our initiatives designed to educate people about making the right choices to help animals. We’re also proud of our direct care programs to heal and help thousands of animals in crisis, including at our three wildlife care centers. Every day, our dedicated staff members heal injured and orphaned rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and all manner of other mammals and birds.
Sue cared for many wild animals, like this baby raccoon.
Overseeing such an enterprise, it may not seem like saving the life of a single pigeon is any big deal. But empathy for every living creature is the essence of our work. Each of these little lives matters, even as we are aware that billions are at risk every day and we get on with the task of building a new moral and legal framework to prevent any form of cruelty.
So, as I was driving back to my apartment on a Saturday evening down a busy Washington, D.C., street in September and spotted an injured pigeon hobbling across a busy four-lane road, my heart seemed to skip a beat each time a car whizzed by the bird, barely missing her. I hit the brakes, then stopped traffic, and shepherded the wounded animal to the sidewalk. There my fiancée, Lisa, collected the pigeon, who was unable to fly and barely able to walk.
We took the bird home but worried about her internal injuries. I made a lifeline call to my colleague and friend Sue Farinato, an experienced wildlife rehabilitator. I knew that Sue, who worked in our companion animals department, always stood ready to help. At Sue’s invitation, I brought the pigeon to her home an hour away from me, and she greeted me outside, taking hold of the cat carrier and then gently removing the pigeon. Sue scanned her body, cleaned her wounds, and later decided to administer antibiotics. All the while, Sue conveyed a sense of confidence that the pigeon would get focused attention and the best of care.
Lisa and I drove home, wondering if the bird would last the night. I stayed in regular contact with Sue to check on the animal’s progress, and the reports were positive. Lisa and I felt such relief that the bird was slowly improving. At some point, Sue seamlessly started referring to her as “Geraldine.” No one could guarantee a full recovery and release, but with a name now designated, she was all but guaranteeing she’d do everything humanly possible to put the pigeon back together and return her to a flock of her kind.
Sue died, unexpectedly and suddenly, on Oct. 25 at her home, probably not long after she had tended to other little creatures she worked to heal on her volunteer time.
I met Sue, and her husband Richard, more than two decades ago in South Carolina, where she had formed a nonprofit animal advocacy group, Peaceable Kingdom. And though she and Richard moved to Washington, leaving her group and eventually coming to The HSUS (you can see a short video of her at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch), Sue worked to create a peaceable kingdom wherever she lived. She embodied the best principles of our movement: dedication, selflessness, and compassion, and like so many of those within the HSUS family who worked alongside her, I have had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s gone.
We can’t see Sue now in the bodily sense, but we all feel her spirit. And we know that there are so many little lives scurrying and flying about because of her. She left life in her wake.
I didn’t know that my exchanges with Sue concerning Geraldine would be our last. That little bird, and how Sue handled her, reminded me of the remarkable gifts of human empathy and compassion. It’s a small comfort in a sorrowful time, but I will be forever buoyed by the thought of Geraldine flying free on a patch of land and space near a Lutheran church right near Sue’s home.