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Bend Couple's Raptor Rehab Takes Flight

By Homa Quazilbash
Published On: Nov 23 2011 06:46:25 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 23 2011 08:44:03 AM CST
BEND, Ore. -

Molding lives by day, saving lives by night.

Raptor lives, that is.

Dr. Jeff Cooney spends his mornings teaching biology at Central Oregon Community College, a position he's held for more than a decade.

Jeanette Bonomo spends her days as a veterinary technician at the Bend Spay and Neuter Project.

But it's what the couple does in their spare time that may fascinate you.

While many have a passion for skiing or sports, Jeff and Jeanette have an incredible passion for birds -- in all shapes and sizes.

"It meshed well for the two of us," said Bonomo. "He's worked with raptors since he was a kid, and I've worked with animals since I was a kid."

"Some little girls dream about horses, this little boy really loves raptors," laughed Cooney. "I think I was born with that feeling. I don't know, maybe I was a raptor in a past life."

And for years, they've been breathing new life into injured raptors together -- literally.

Remember the famous video of Cooney's "mouth to beak resuscitation?"

It wasn't the first time -- and it won't be the last.

"On a little bird like this, we use a tube like this one and insert it into her trachea, and you can breathe right into her lungs through that," Cooney explained recently as he worked on a little owl.

"It's what we do to revive them," he said of the technique he learned in vet school. "Using your own breath is the best way to bring them back."

While complex procedures like this are impressive to the general public, it's all a part of this couple's hobby.

Together, they've rehabbed hundreds of birds -- everything from tiny screech owls to majestic bald eagles -- right from their own home.

"You normally see these regal birds flying and they come in, laying down on their chest and they can't move," said Bonomo. "Then, within a week, they're standing. That, to me, is amazing to see."

Frumpie is a long-eared owl with a broken wing. And for three months, she's called Jeff and Jeanette's home her own.

Every week, she gets laser therapy to help rehabilitate her humerus.

Frumpie will never fly again.

Instead, she'll eventually lead a new life as an educational bird, up at Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton. That way, she can teach thousands about the crucial role birds of prey play in the wild.

"Every bird is its own bird. they're all individuals," Cooney said. "And just when you think you understand a particular species, you really don't."

But while their birds take flight, back into the wild, or take off for greener pastures, back in captivity, the couple's passion will always stay grounded.

"We will definitely always be working with animals for the rest of our lives," said Bonomo. "It's not something you can ever take away."

"It's a loving relationship we have with them," said Cooney. "And we do hate to see them go, but just like with kids, you know in the end, you have to set them free."

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