When kayaker Jim MacDougall of Wading River found an injured swan in the Peconic Bay near Indian Island County Park this July, he thought the bird had a branch sticking out its body.
He paddled a little closer and soon realized why the bird was barely moving — someone had shot an arrow through its torso.
The middle school music teacher trapped the usually aggressive animal between the bow of the vessel and his paddle without much conflict. He used his free hand to call authorities.
“He couldn’t even climb up onto the island, he was that injured,” Mr. McDougall said Tuesday from the Riverhead park. “I got him to that one spot. He was really calm.”
The bird, which was rescued under the County Road 105 bridge, was then brought to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons in Hampton Bays. At first, the prognosis didn’t look good. It couldn’t walk for weeks and though the arrow had missed all vital organs, caretakers suspected nerve damage.
Its rescuers didn’t even name him.
“We’d be too sad if he died,” said Virginia Frati, the center’s executive director.
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But on a sunny September day, nearly two months after it was found, the swan looked no worse for the wear. On Tuesday the bird, who had been completely rehabilitated, was carried to the Peconic Bay in a plastic bin, wrapped in a burlap sack.
Peaking its head out of the container to look at the swarm of reporters and photographers surrounding it, the swan was quiet and docile as it awaited its return to the wild.
The swan, estimated to be about a year old, was freed and it made its way to a marsh off Indian Island golf course. It was finally returned to the waterway, where it will most likely find a lifelong mate and live out the rest of its years.
“You see so many horror stories and so many bad things, people say ‘how can you [work for this agency]‘” said Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross, which is still hunting the swan’s attacker. “This makes it worth it.”
Though this story has a happy ending, Chief Gross noted that two other animals cruelty victims were not so lucky. A turtle found with a nail hammered through its shell in Sag Harbor in July is not faring well and a sea gull that had been hit with a rock in Montauk had died.
He noted the incidents may be related.
The SPCA is still pursuing charges against whomever shot the swan, he said. Animal cruelty is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
The Suffolk SPCA is offering a $14,750 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest in the swan case and $16,000 in the turtle case. The agency is able to offer such a high reward due to a large amount of donations that poured in after photos of the swan ran throughout regional news outlets, horrifying viewers, yet at the same time motivating them to help the investigation along.
Though the swan returned to the wild nameless, Chief Gross had one suggestion for a moniker.
“We should call him Lucky,” he said.