Harold Abell usually walks his German shepherd every morning at Mercerdale Park, but on Jan. 11 he switched their trek to Homestead Park.
It’s the first time the pair has ever hoofed around Homestead and it made for a memorable experience. As rain fell at about 8 a.m. in the empty park, Abell noticed something stuck in one of the soccer nets. Man and dog were standing about 30 feet away from the net when Abell phoned his wife, Kellee, and asked her to bring some scissors and gloves to the site near their Island home.
As they inched closer, Harold noticed that a great horned owl was wrapped up in the net.
Harold said he figured it was an owl at the onset, but didn’t want to get too close and stress it out. They jumped into action by first calling the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who weren’t able to send anyone out and asked the Abells to call PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society) in Lynnwood. PAWS employees couldn’t make it to the Island at that moment, either, but said if the Abells could transport the owl to Lynnwood, they could tend to it.
After talking to his friend at Fish and Wildlife about how to handle the situation, Harold — wearing leather gloves — cut a large circle in the net around the owl to make sure its wings wouldn’t be impacted. He lifted the net at both ends — never touching the owl — and placed the owl in a box.
“It was pretty calm, and once I put it in there, calm as well,” Harold said. “The owl did get a little excited once I actually picked the box up and started moving it to the car. Then once I got the owl in the actual car, the owl was very calm.”
The Abells drove the owl to Lynnwood and handed it off to employees, who took down their information and have been giving them updates on the owl’s status.
According to PAWS, the owl was treated with some pain medications and anti-inflammatories on Jan. 11, and after being examined by its veterinarian team the following day was found to be strong and flying well. Another veterinary check and blood draw is planned, and PAWS is cautiously optimistic that the owl will make a full recovery and could be released back on Mercer Island soon.
“They said they get a lot of owls but not so many great horned owls as they can be quite elusive and aggressive. They were impressed with how well she was transported from tangled soccer nets to their care,” Kellee wrote in a Nextdoor post.
“It was quite an exciting morning for our family. Our family named her Hedwig and we are thrilled she will be OK,” added Kellee. Hedwig is the name of Harry Potter’s pet owl.
It was not the way Harold expected his morning to go. The Amazon employee let his boss know that he had an owl situation to attend to, and he also called his friend on the Mercer Island City Council to say that one of the soccer nets now has a hole in it. There was no other way to rescue the owl, Harold reflected.
It was a full-circle situation for Harold, whose thoughts drifted back to when he was a child growing up in Oakridge, Louisiana. At the age of 6 or 7, his dad noticed that an owl and its offspring were nesting in one of his wood duck boxes he placed up a tree. He called Harold over to see the owls.
On Jan. 11, Harold phoned his dad and sent a photo while he tended to the Mercer Island owl. After taking a business call, his dad texted him back with four words: “Use gloves, protect wings.” Dad has been excited about the rescue ever since.
Like the owl, Harold said he was calm the entire time. He was laser-focused and confident that he could complete his task for the day.
“I feel like it all happened really fast,” he said. “I remember when I was telling my wife when we were driving back, I was like, ‘Hey that felt really good,’ but I almost wish that I would have enjoyed, maybe even looked at the owl more. I mean, the eyes were so beautiful, you know, the big yellow eyes.”
It was a good way to start the week, said Harold, whose daughters saw the owl before they went to school and now they’re hooked on owls.
He figures it was serendipitous that he became bored with his walks to Mercerdale and headed over to Homestead that morning. He later told his wife that they’ll probably never get a chance to be that close to a great horned owl again.