The sergeant and the wren: it’s about the little things

My badge reads:

Lisa: experienced cat socializer

It has paw print stickers all over it.

I expected to walk dogs when I started volunteering once a week at the no-kill shelter. I saw myself as firmly Team Dog. But they needed help with the cats so I went to help with the cats.

I soon found that I had a knack with the…um…”difficult” cats. The ones who take a chunk out of your arm if you make eye contact. The abused, traumatized, aggressive felines. For some reason, I can touch the cats no one else can get near. I can take the wild-eyed maniacs and turn them into the cuddly lap sitters that everyone wants to take home.

I don’t have very many valuable skills – but I am the Asshole Cat Whisperer.

Last week, I finished my shift whispering at the asshole cats and I was leaving through the lobby. There was an older gentleman standing at the front desk of the shelter, holding a tattered cardboard box, shaking his head vehemently.

“No, I can’t, I have to go back to work.”

I walked over to eavesdrop, leaning on a nearby wall and pretending to read a text.

“Well, sir, because he is wild, we can’t legally take him. He needs to go to the wildlife rescue center. It’s an hour away, so it’s really hard for us to find people who want to drive all the way out there.”

The man looked frustrated as he stared down at the box in his hands.

“What’s in the box?” I piped up.

“It’s a bird. I found him stuck to a glue trap. He’s okay, I think, but he’s got glue all over his feet so he can’t stand.”

He opened the cardboard box for me. A tiny little brown wren lay on his side, breathing hard, but breathing. His feet were a tight, sticky ball of toes. When the bird saw us leering at him, he began to flap and flop around. We quickly closed the lid.

The man looked at me. “I found him in that glue trap and I couldn’t just leave him there. I couldn’t stand to see him suffer. I was a sergeant in Vietnam…I’ve seen enough suffering. I couldn’t leave him there.”

I teared up and thanked him for his service and agreed that I was also anti-suffering. Of course I’d drive the bird to the wildlife center. The man introduced himself and held my hand with both of his.

“You can call me Sarge.”

We needed to put the wren in a sturdier box for transport but the front desk woman said she couldn’t legally touch the bird.

“Can I legally touch the bird?” I asked.


“Okay. Umm. Can you just close your eyes for a second?”

Somehow, the wren ended up in a sturdier box and that box went in my passenger seat.

Bird in a cat box

When we arrived at the rescue center, they were waiting for us.

“Is that our wren?” They asked me.

“Yes, he’s a little feisty,” I said. I explained that he had been flopping around in the box but he seemed to calm down when I played Death Cab for Cutie. I thought that might be helpful information for them.

There are millions of people in the world, doing small, everyday things to stop the suffering. Someone took glue off tiny wren toes. Someone else held open a door for somebody who was carrying a groceries. Or texted just to check in after that doctor’s appointment. Or donated $10 to a cause they believe in. Or decided to not be the first one to let go of a hug. Each individual thing might seem like nothing.

But it’s not nothing.

A moment of compassion is everything.

I put a seatbelt around a box and drove for a couple of hours. It wasn’t a big deal, what I did, but it felt amazing. I did something tangible to make the world better – for one bird, anyway. And when the world feels overwhelming and the challenges feel insurmountable, the small wins become major victories.

Sarge and I worked together and in a teeny-tiny wren-sized way, we helped stopped the suffering.


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32 Replies to “The sergeant and the wren: it’s about the little things”

  1. Simply beautiful! Beautiful actions (written beautifully). (and my cats say “welcome to the dark side, we’ve been waiting for you.” LOL they are cats, it comes naturally.)

  2. I was always a dog person, until I gained a cat, and I have now truly gone to the dark side. I’ve had all three cats from rescue shelters, and for fourteen years they provided me with unfaltering love and affection. I lost two in their old age over the last few years, and the one remaining cat has become my little shadow. Bless you for doing something so kind…

    1. Sorry for your loss. I know how painful that is. So glad you still have a shadow – that’s kind of the best feeling in the world.

  3. From a fellow ACW, I welcome you! I thank you for your kindness and compassion in your thoughts, words and actions… it’s contagious! XOXO

  4. So last month i am cutting the grass of my front lawn at home, and 3 baby squirrels abandoned by their mother fall from the tree with eyes shut. Of course the zoo nor any local organizations want them since they are wildlife. While tempted to ignore, that temptation didnt last long. With colder temps at night they wouldn’t have survived. As my wife teared up looking at them on the lawn, i knew there was no choice. She covered them up in a box to keep them warm and we drove over an hour to a wildlife preserve who accepted them-and yes i also gave the “suggested ” donation of $20 to cover cornflakes which they apparently like and food for other wildlife in need…..

    1. I agree that those little things take on even more meaning in times of challenge. Thanks for reading and for the kind words.

  5. Beautiful. Just beautiful. To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world. You and Sarge were the world to this wee wren, who needed this random act of love, compassion and kindness to survive. I have found that if we can touch those in our life’s circle, the reach is broad. If we all did this, just think of how many lives would be touched by love. I think of it like the spokes of a wheel and I feel the joy you felt in helping a life otherwise helpless.
    We miss what matters most when we ignore the gifts of others that surround us. Every living thing brings something to our life and to create relationship with another, to learn what it can teach us, is the reason for life. To find love in that equation makes it absolutely beautiful.
    Glad to see you are the Asshole Cat Whisperer. I have both canines (3) and felines (2) and truly, the sleek, smart, furry cats rule the zoo. To be able to tame the miniature wild beast is a gift – you may bring them closer to an adoption or a match for life. Isn’t that wonderful!!!
    Great piece Lisa. xox

  6. You make me laugh and cry. I think you need a t-shirt or something with Asshole Cat Whisperer on it.
    At the end of my practices – meditation, yoga, Nia — I say these words, “May the merit of this practice serve to nourish the seeds and roots of happiness. May the merit of this practice serve to dissolve the seeds and roots of suffering.” May it be so…a little at a time.

  7. I laughed at Asshole Cat Whisperer. My cat is an asshole; want to come and whisper to him and make him less of an asshole? Just kidding. He only hates other people and the vet. And other animals. He’s pretty snuggly with us though.
    Thank you for helping Sarge and the wren. It’s nice to know that there are people willing to help others out there.

  8. Hi Lisa, the story of saving the suffering little bird was beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. I recently lost my love and ever-faithful little companion of 15 years, Yoda Mae, a 10 pound mini Dachshund whom I loved and adored profoundly. Her heart was going bad and she was beginning to suffer so I had to do the hardest thing for an animal lover to do and put her down. It hurt so bad and still does after only two weeks. The hardest loss of my life. Thanks for your beautiful story.

    1. Hi John,
      I lost my little love four months ago and it still hurts. Someone told me that the pain we have after a loss is like the receipt – it’s proof that we loved well. You did the most compassionate thing for Yoda Mae and now you get to keep her in your heart forever. I’m not going to say that it gets better quickly – but it starts to be possible to think about the joyful times with a little less sadness.
      take care of yourself,

  9. Lisa this is such a great post, thank you. I was just talking to my sister and she said the same sort of thing, that we all need to keep doing what we do, and it is probably more important, now, than ever. It is the small things. The small things will be what changes the big things. We don’t need to be swallowed up in the fear and mud slinging. We can choose to do something different, which is actually helpful. Thanks, Lisa.

  10. I love this story!! It’s so important to do what is put right in front of us no matter how big or small. How many people miss finding their “tasks” because they are looking for something grandiose and they look past the little wren right in front of them! Kudos Lisa!!!

    1. Absolutely! This is one of my favorite quotes:
      I am only one,
      But still I am one.
      I cannot do everything,
      But still I can do something;
      And because I cannot do everything,
      I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
      – Edward Everett Hale

  11. Lisa, I absolutely LOVED this, thank you for sharing! Hope to see you again at some point, maybe at next year’s Hippocamp, if not sooner. ☺

    XO ~ Michelle

  12. Nice! Do what you can, when you can, where you can. Algebraically Do + (what, where, when) + (you can)…I just invented the arithmetic of empathy. It’s been a good day.

  13. I just think…if not for love and life, then for what? If we don’t use our time, our car, our energy and muscles, our touch, to care for something, then what for? It’s good/important/the answer to take care of what is precious to us, in a tangible way.

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