There were six cockatiels in the cage, five on perches and one dead on the floor.
Mattie studied the other cage-mates. They seemed lethargic, two shivered, one tilted its head, and had difficulty balancing on the perch.
“Old age?” Perry said.
“Wash your hands with disinfectant and put gloves and a mask on.”
In the supply room, Mattie got two extra-large garbage bags, cut them open with scissors and grabbed a roll of duct tape. Back at the cage, she began to encase the wire structure in plastic, taping up all the openings.
Perry returned from the washroom, gloves on, mask in place.
“Listen carefully,” Mattie said. “Soak the exercise pens with disinfectant and bag and seal any debris on the floor without raising any feathers or dust.”
“Then thoroughly spray the pen with disinfectant again, rinse the wire, scrub the floor and wash all the suds down the drain. No splashing.”
Mattie finished sealing the cage, including the bottom, then carefully carried it through the sanctuary to the quarantine room. She closed and locked the door. She began to unseal the cage and noticed her hands were trembling. She took a deep breath. Inside, another bird was dead.
“This can’t be happening.”
She left the contaminated birds in the locked quarantine room, then went to the front of the sanctuary and locked that door as well. Donning a pair of gloves and a mask she went to help Perry.
“Have any other volunteers arrived yet?”
“No, two are coming in at noon.”
“Don’t let them in yet,” Mattie said. “Don’t let anyone in.”
“What’s going on?”
“How many birds are we caring for?”
“Have the mosquitoes been bad in here?” The question was rhetorical.
“Once we’re finished here, we’ll take the birds in their cages and put them in the exercise pen as far apart as possible.”
“Then we’ll need as many of the volunteers as you can get, gloved and masked, and have them clean the living areas in the same manner. Once that’s done, we’ll re-cage the birds in sanitized cages.”
“Is this some kind of contagious disease?”
“I don’t know, yet.” But she did.
A half hour later they began moving the caged birds into the exercise pen. Mattie visually examined every bird. The symptoms were hard to spot. The bird could appear to be healthy and be dead an hour later.
Back in the quarantine room, another cockatiel had died. She placed the three tiny carcasses in heavy-duty zip-lock bags, then wrapped the bag in several sheets of newspaper and placed it in another sealed bag. In the storage room she found a small box, placed the double-bagged cockatiel corpses in the box and sealed it with duct tape. Then she called the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative regional office in Abbotsford. After a series of frustrating prompts someone finally picked up.
“CWHC, Pritchard speaking.”
“Glenda, it’s Mattie Saunders. Thank goodness you’re working.” Glenda Pritchard was an avian pathologist. She’d been a guest at one of Mattie’s lectures, the ideal person to speak to.
“Hey, Mattie, what can I do for you?”
“I’m sending by courier three carcasses of cockatiels that have died in my care.”
“All three of them?”
“What do you suspect killed them?”
Mattie didn’t want to admit it, as if not acknowledging what she already knew would prevent it from happening.
“West Nile virus.”
“WNV? You’re sure?”
“You’ll be the one to determine that,” Mattie said, but she was sure.
“Okay, I’ll give it top priority.”
“How many birds are in the sanctuary?” Pritchard said.
The pathologist was silent. She was probably thinking about the sanctuary in Alberta that lost thirty-five birds to the virus last year, only this could be worse. The victims of that outbreak had been local wildlife rescues, mostly large raptors. The only report Mattie had seen about how the virus affected exotic birds was chilling. Every bird infected died quickly and without apparent symptoms.
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