When a swan began breaking through a thin film of ice on Elliot Lake last week, Jamie Hughes-Rywaczuk knew something was wrong.
The South Cariboo resident had been watching the swan, dubbed “Halo” by her daughters, for a couple of weeks. While other swans would come and go, Halo never joined them, continuing to swim around the lake, located five kilometres north of 100 Mile House.
“There would be days where she would just touch her head on her back and coast on the waves. Other swans would fly in, she’d honk at them, they’d leave but she would stay,” Hughes-Rywaczuk said. “Then the pond froze and we started getting really worried about her because she still wasn’t leaving.”
While letting her dogs out of the house on Nov. 1, Hughes-Rywaczuk heard a crashing sound coming from the water. When she investigated, she found Halo trying to break the ice so she could move.
Hughes-Rywaczuk, who has rescued a wide range of birds including barn owls, ducks and robins in the past, immediately called the Second Chance Animal Rescue Society, a non-profit registered charity based in Alberta with volunteers across western Canada. She was put in touch with Williams Lake-based volunteer Sue Burton, who arrived at noon to help her catch the swan.
However, Halo proved spirited. When Hughes-Rywaczuk took her kayak out on the lake – breaking the thin film of ice as she went – Halo wouldn’t be caught.
“We realized then we weren’t going to get it unless we used a fishing boat,” Hughes-Rywaczuk said. “Chad Paterson and my husband Von went out around 4:30 Monday afternoon and caught up with her. Halo was really trying to get away from them and was only flapping one wing.”
Using a net, Von pulled Halo towards the boat so he could grab her by the neck and bring her aboard. By that point, Hughes-Rywaczuk said the bird was exhausted and didn’t even fight. The swan was placed in a crate and spent the night with Hughes-Rywaczuk.
On Tuesday, Hughes-Rywaczuk took Halo to Burton in Williams Lake, who had her checked out at the local Animal Care Hospital. The hospital staff determined her wing was sprained and strained but treatable. Burton said the swan was then flown on Pacific Coastal Airlines to the Burnaby Wildlife Centre for treatment and rehabilitation.
“If the wing had been broken or if she had been too sick or emaciated she may not have gotten the opportunity to be rehabilitated. Because it’s just sprained, Halo is getting a second chance at life,” Hughes-Rywaczuk said.
Hughes-Rywaczuk said the rescue was an amazing experience, noting she had never fully appreciated just how big swans were until they brought Halo ashore. She joked that with how much Halo hissed at them they should have called her Hades.
“The guys rescued her in front of eight kids and this will stick with them, I think. They’ll hopefully carry it forward in their lives and be the helpers in the world,” Hughes-Rywaczuk said. “A life is a life and you have to at least try. Seeing that Halo had the energy and spunk to try to get away meant I couldn’t live with myself if she ended up freezing to the pond or starving.”
Burton said it’s moments like these that keep her volunteering. There are too many people who would have left Halo to her fate, Burton said, adding it’s “really refreshing” to meet someone like Hughes-Rywaczuk.
Hughes-Rywaczuk said she would like to get proper wildlife rescue training so she can do more locally for animals in distress. She also encourages the community to consider donating to groups like Second Chance Animal Rescue Society.