By Chris Jennings
It was a different kind of bird, but a bird nonetheless. Feathers on her mind, Zoe, a six-year-old black lab plunged into a small pond after an American avocet on her owner’s command. The injured avocet dove like a scaup several times, but Zoe’s experience in the field chasing downed waterfowl was too much. Retrieving the bird to hand without even a feather ruffled, Zoe had done what most waterfowl hunting labs never have – she rescued an injured shorebird.
Zoe’s owner, J.W. Rocky Lewis, Ducks Unlimited trustee emeriti and past Oklahoma State Chairman, walked down his driveway in Broken Arrow, Okla., one day to see two people chasing down an American avocet.
“I saw some cars parked around the pond and when Zoe and I walked down there, we saw two people who looked like they were trying to catch the avocet,” the 64-year old Lewis recalled. “One had a towel and the other had a fish net with an eight-foot piece of PVC on the end of it. Every time they got close, the bird would just flutter across the little pond.”
The two people trying to catch the bird were John Kennington, Tulsa Audubon Society president and Gail Storey, TAS vice president, who rehabilitates injured birds. They had been called about the obviously-injured bird by several people in the area.
“I just walked up and asked the guy if he wanted me to get that bird for them,” Lewis said. “When he said yes, I just sent Zoe, and I knew she would bring it back safely.”
Onlookers who had no idea about well-trained waterfowl dogs believed the labrador was going out there to eat it. They had never seen a good waterdog in action.
“You should have seen the look on [Storey’s] face when I sent Zoe,” Lewis laughed. “She thought Zoe was going to kill that bird. I guess she hadn’t been around many hunting dogs in her time.”
Lewis, with more than 30 years as a DU volunteer and an avid waterfowl hunter, identified the bird for Kennington and Storey, and then handed it to them. For Zoe, it was just another bird to add to her more than 300 waterfowl she had retrieved in the field.
Zoe was praised by everyone around and Kennington and Storey were thankful for the assistance. Lewis was happy to help, but it was not that big of a deal for him.
“She retrieved 30 doves when she was 5 months old, she’s been in the pheasant fields, and obviously she goes with me every time I go duck hunting. She’s a very special dog,” Lewis said. “She’s probably the most natural lab I’ve ever owned as far as her instincts and ability to learn.”
The bird was taken to a nearby veterinarian who performed an X-ray to determine the avocet had a broken wing bone. With two wing bones, one acting as a splint, the veterinarian decided the wing would heal itself and the bird was to be released. Storey released the bird at Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Oklahoma.
“They were very gracious for Zoe’s efforts,” Lewis said. “Another lady that was there has been telling all her friends in the neighborhood about what a great dog Zoe is. For me, that means more than anything.”