The Loss of Equus and Meeting Dan Cozza

I entered today in a completely stunned and horrible place. Sunday night, at 2am, our 11-year old cat Equus jumped from where he was cuddled on our feet at the end of our bed. I saw him slink across the living room and got up to see what had spooked him. When I got to him, I instantly knew something was horribly wrong. I took him into the bathroom and woke Sean up. Over the next half hour, Q had 3 grand mal seizures. We immediately took him to the Emergency Vet hospital where they sedated him and took X-rays. He was in perfect health as far as x-rays and blood work showed. At 7am, we transferred him to our vet of 8 years and good friend Dr. Bruederle (Dr. B.) at the Burnham Park Animal Hospital, 4 blocks from our house. We had to put Q down at 4pm that day, Monday. Although we will never know for absolute sure, Dr. B., the emergency vet and we all thought Q had suffered a massive stroke or brain embolism. I can say that when I touched him that first few seconds after he jumped off the bed, I knew he was gone. His body was still moving, but Q, my friend and a cat I knew better than I know most people, was already gone. He never came back, so it was a mercy to put his body to rest as well as tragic as it was.

Q and Me Enjoying the SunElijah Sleeping in the SunI have never been closer to an animal in my life than I was with Equus. Q’s brother, Elijah, died last year of liver cancer. He was very, very close to Sean. We adopted our boys from Harmony House in 1995, three months after I’d moved to Chicago and in with Sean. Their litter had been abandoned by the mother and all of the kittens were in very, very poor condition. In fact, some of them died. We knew that our boys might not live to be 18 or 19, but we gave them every bit of extra special care during the years they were with us to maintain maximum health and happiness.

Sean and I have never been without our boys. This is going to take a long, long time to recover from, I think. We are still grieving very heavily and will be for awhile. As I’ve said before, deep grief comes because of deep love and I will never regret how close Sean and I felt to our two boys and how deeply loved they both were.

So, honestly, I was about as depressed as I’ve ever been when I trudged to the garage on Tuesday morning. As soon as I got there, I gave a silent “thanks” to Mary Hennen for inviting me to be part of the falcon project. Watching those beautiful birds in flight gave me much needed respite from my grief – just a little bit of an uplift, enough to go on with my day.

Max Prepares a CardinalAnd then things got even a little nicer. As I was watching Max take a cardinal into the nest, my cell rang. The caller was Dan Cozza from the EPA, which has offices in the building immediately to the west of the garage. The building, in fact, oft mentioned in this very journal as the “skyperch.”

He and a couple of workmates were looking out the window and saw me up there. Mary had given Dan my contact info, so he rang and then came down to watch falcons and chat. We had a great conversation and I made new EPA friends!

Inside of Nest from Dan Cozza's OfficeAs I started to pack my things in order to leave for the museum, Dan asked me if I’d like to come up to the EPA offices and get a look down into the nest. My God, yes! I’d wondered daily what the nest looked like! He took me up to the 15th floor. Later, we went to the 19th floor. For the first time, I gazed into the peregrine inner sanctum. Unlike I’d pictured it, the niches were not connected – both top and bottom were heavy grates. You could see where Max and Herc were caching prey in several of the niches, but the nest niche itself was, literally, full of feathers, droppings and other debris. The pictures I took were terrible, since they were taken through polarized glass. Near the end of my visit, we actually saw a chick near the back of the nest. My first sighting of chicks! Or, rather, chick! Dan said that they’d counted three, maybe four, chicks.

Even in my stellarly low mood, I was elated. I can thank Dan, the EPA, Mary and peregrines for that much needed boost. As I was up there, I got to meet many of the EPA workers who watch the birds. Everyone was amazingly nice and I was shown pictures, drawings and other renditions of the jailbirds that the EPA folks had done over the years. What a treat.

Finally, it was time to bid Dan and co-workers farewell and toddle on into work. New friends are very cool.

Max Prepares a CardinalOne of the many things Dan Cozza and I talked about as we stood on the garage top watching the falcons was how peregrines hunt. As I’ve mentioned before, I have beyond a weak stomach when it comes to animal suffering. I mentioned to Dan how very efficient peregrines seem to be and how I’d hardly ever seen either of the MCC adults bring in live prey. Dan asked me why that was the case.

After giving it some thought, I noted that the only times I’d seen either Max or Herc with live prey was when they caught the prey opportunistically. “That may be the reason. At least, that’d be my guess, but I don’t know for sure. I’ll have to ask Mary what she thinks,” I said.

In my observations, the normal prey catch is as follows: Peregrine spots prey bird far below. Peregrine tucks into a dive of alarming speed. Peregrine hits prey bird with forceful impact, killing it instantly. Peregrine deftly plucks prey bird from the air. Peregrine takes the very dead bird to a perch to eat.

I’ve seen it a number of times and written of it here a number of times.

The opportunistic prey catch is as follows: Prey bird flies through the air mulling over some problem or entertainment rather than watching where it is going. Peregrine flies through the air on a perpendicular course, attention similarly not on current air traffic. The courses of prey bird and peregrine intersect. Prey bird looks shocked, puts on the brakes and reverses course in one spastic movement. Peregrine looks stunned that it almost collided with something and wobbles awkwardly as prey bird speeds off. Peregrine finally gives chase. A wild, zig-zagging pursuit ensues. Peregrine manages to catch prey when prey does something stupid, like run into a skyscraper. Peregrine takes very/mostly/not very live prey to perch and summarily bites its head off, still looking a bit shocked at the events that just transpired.

“This,” says me, “is kind of rare, from what I’ve seen. Usually it’s just live bird, bing-bang-boom, dead bird.”

I got this email from Dan late in the afternoon:

“Steph — It was nice to finally meet you this morning. Please let me know if you need to gain access to the EPA building floors in the future. One thing that we talked about on the garage was that you said how the peregrines usually kill their prey instantly so there is very little pain to the prey as they do not know what hit them. Right before my lunch today, a coworker and I were looking out over the prison plaza when from E-W, the male flew right past our window and landed on the board of trade building to the immediate west. It was holding a still flapping pigeon. Max made a crude landing on the board of trade and was immediately joined by Hercules, who took the still flapping pigeon from Max. The pigeon made a fuss for about 2-3 more minutes while Hercules tried to keep it steady, but it made her hop around the roof top a bit, as it tried its futile attempt to escape. Finally, Hercules had her way with it and dispatched it by placing her left talon on the pigeon’s head while ripping out its neck and chest. This was great to watch right before I went to lunch — Dan.”

Huh.

Just a personal observation. If I were a prey bird, I’d be opportunistically killed by a peregrine. I’m just that kind of space cadet.

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~ by Steph on June 6, 2006.