Wildlife rehab is a satisfying job – but rescuers rarely get feedback or thanks from the animals they’ve saved. One great horned owl made an exception this week – and the photo of her hugging rescuer, Doug Pojeky, has been published around the world. Their heartwarming reunion captures a rarely seen moment and had special meaning for Mr. Pojeky, too.
GiGi was nearly dead when she arrived at the nonprofit Wild at Heart Rescue, located just outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. According to rescue founder and director Missy Dubuisson, the great horned owl was suffering from a variety of afflictions and was not expected to survive. GiGi was described as being “at death’s door” by rescue staff and was suffering from a respiratory infection, crop infection and head injury. While the rescue was not sure she would survive, they made a valiant effort to save her life.
Navy retiree, Doug Pojeky, worked with GiGi during her treatment and recovery. It was an uphill battle, as the giant bird was in very poor condition and struggling with multiple ailments.
Speaking to the New York Times, “Of all the animals I’ve rehabbed, I did not think she was going to make the recovery.”
Wild at Heart founder, Missy Dubuisson, who calls animal volunteer Pojeky “the bird of prey whisperer,” describes GiGi as one of the most severe cases she had ever seen. Pojeky cared for the bird and helped her go from being unable to stand to perching, and from having to be hand fed to eating on her own.
The amount of time, dedication and care provided by Pojeky established a powerful bond between bird and man, according to Ms. Dubuisson:
“In all my years of working with birds of prey, I have never seen someone with such a bond with these magnificent birds,” Dubuisson said.
As GiGi improved, Mr. Pojeky left the rescue to spend a few days on a trip to Michigan to see family members. When he returned, he received a surprising and heartwarming welcome from GiGi.
“The first morning I was back, I got the bird out, and instead of kicking and trying to scratch, she kind of just curled her feet up and went into my chest really easy,” Mr. Pojeky said, speaking with the New York Times.
The giant bird preened and bobbed around, and then rested her head on her rescuer’s shoulders, draping her wings around him. This affectionate feathery embrace was captured on film by Missy Dubuisson and has been shared thousands of times on social media and in the news.
Shortly after the now famous photo was snapped, GiGi said goodbye to the rescue; she was well enough to be released back into the wild. Before soaring away, she circled the sky and looked back at her rescuers one last time. For those in wildlife rescue, snatching a beautiful creature from the jaws of death is enough; GiGi’s rare hug brought joy to all who helped her and to those watching around the world.