Once upon a time, in a former life, I was the director of a wildlife rehabilitation hospital.
Along with my husband, we were at the beck and call of the general populace 24/7.
On any given day there were about 50 "patients" in the clinic, double that in baby bird season. On this particular day, in the dead of winter, I had a new volunteer coming in for training. Remember that, it is going to be a key point to the story.
It had been a particularly harsh winter on the Cape. Colder and with Nor'easters left and right. We had birds coming in that one doesn't normally see around here. They had been blown off course and were weakened and malnourished. Northern Gannets, those magnificent, white, blue-eyed, insanely large, sharp-beaked birds came in by the dozen that year. We even had a Razor-Billed Auk come in, personable little chap he was.
One afternoon, rangers from Sandy Neck beach brought in a pair of swans. They had been frozen in the ice and they actually cut around them and brought them in ice block and all. They were clearly a mated pair and they were very weak. We de-iced them in the bathtub, gave them fluid to rehydrate them and put them in a warm, dark, quiet room for the night. When I went to check on them in the morning, the male was dead, lying in the shelter of his mates wings. Though it broke my heart, I had to separate them. That female hated my guts from that day forward.
Having large birds in the clinic made for a real mess. We had three swans now and they were kept in one of the larger rooms. Three times a day we would have to go in there, shoo the swans out, rinse and refill their kiddie pool, remove the sheets on the floor to shake out and wash and refill their food. Every single time I walked in, that swan would grab my hand in her beak and savage it. Now birds don't have teeth but they do have hard ridges and after awhile it would get to really hurting. My hand looked and felt awful, bruised and scabbed. I didn't hold it against her, but this was getting old!
Enter the new volunteer, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Starry-eyed at the romantic thoughts she'd no doubt conjured in her head about helping the poor, helpless wildlife. Well, I didn't have time for a grand tour that morning, nor my usual rousing speech so I just told her to shadow us while we got going. Obediently, she followed along quietly while my volunteers and intern and I began the morning clean ups and feedings. In we went to the swan's room, and as she did every day the swan reached her long neck over to give me the first bite of the day and so help me God, to this day I don't know what came over me. I drew my hand back and I bitch-slapped her right across the face. Taken slightly aback, the swan decided to forego the ritual and on we went to clean the room.
I hadn't noticed the new volunteer leave in horror but I remembered her when she called later to give me her opinion of the clearly psychotic behavior I had exhibited. She went on and on and on and I finally handed the phone to a volunteer and told them to never give me the phone again if it was her on the horn.
I'll tell you one thing, that swan never bit me again.
The swan re-mated with one of the two males that had been with her over the winter and was happily released in the spring with her new love.