PORT TOWNSEND — Despite a downpour of rain that kept a steady drumbeat on the roof at the Marine Science Center’s visitor center Saturday, by 2 p.m. it was packed with children and adults, who knelt on the floor and lined the walls to hear Jeff Guidry speak about his unique kinship with two unusual animals.
As most in the room were aware, Guidry, a volunteer at the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington, which tends to sick and injured wild animals, is the author of a 2010 book, An Eagle Named Freedom, which chronicles his love for the 14-year-old injured female bald eagle, who was brought to the wildlife center in 1998, sick and emaciated with two broken wings.
Guidry, a blues guitarist, forged a bond with the young eaglet, which he guessed had been hurt falling out of the nest.
For awhile, though, it looked like Freedom wasn’t going to make it. Although her legs were not injured, she refused to walk. The decision was made to euthanize her if she didn’t become ambulatory by a specific date.
On her final day of reckoning, however, Guidry was amazed, and relieved, to see Freedom taking her first steps.
But the unusual tale doesn’t end there. Because not only did Guidry help save the eagle’s life, he said she did the same for him.
In 2000, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, an aggressive type of cancer.
During his lengthy and grueling chemotherapy sessions, he said he would visualize taking walks with Freedom. He credits the inspiration and optimism that brought him to his eventual remission from cancer.
On the day he got that exciting news, he said he took Freedom out for a walk, and it was then — the first and only time — that she wrapped him in an eagle hug.
“She would often put her hurt wing over my right shoulder, but on this particular day, she draped her other wing all the way down my back and just stayed there, hugging me,” Guidry said.
On Saturday, Freedom, however, didn’t come out of the pet carrier right away. First, the audience was introduced to Jack, the 4-year-old former sled dog who also has befriended the eagle and now travels with her and Guidry.
Jack was gentle with the children who came up and petted him, and when it was time for Freedom to come out, he lay down patiently.
Guidry held the large, magnificent bird on his arm for the entire 40-minute session, answering any and all questions — “Why is she panting like that?” “Well, it’s a little hot in here” or “Will she ever have babies?” “She could, but she didn’t like any of the mates we introduced her to” — and later signing copies of his book.
For now, Freedom is back at the Sarvey Center, and Guidry is back home in Monroe. But they will be doing more outreach sessions later this summer, he said. Visit www.sarveywildlife.org for information.
News Editor Margaret McKenzie can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5064, or at [email protected]