Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien (Atria Books, $16.00, 256 pages)
“Wesley changed my life. … I wondered if he was actually an angel who had been sent to live with me and help me through all the alone times. He comforted me; many times I cried into his feathers and told him my troubles, and he tried to understand.”
These are words that come near the end of this true love story about an adopted barn owl named Wesley, who lived for 19 years with author Stacey O’Brien. O’Brien was a young biologist, trained in wild animal behavior at Caltech in Pasadena, when she adopted the baby owl with the injured wing, knowing that he would not survive in the wild.
What O’Brien did not know at that time was that she was literally following in the footsteps of her maternal grandmother, who had adopted a barn owl that had been injured by dogs and had named it Weisel. This explained the long-time mystery of why her grandmother had lived in a home filled with owl dolls and figurines.
O’Brien’s story takes us from Wesley’s adoption at a mere four days old to his death from cancer after what amounted to a remarkably long life for a barn owl. Anyone who owns a cat or dog will identify with O’Brien’s discoveries about her “wild animal.” Wesley loves to preen and groom, to tell her about the events of the day, and to attack “prey” such as pencils and film cannisters. Wesley also understands the difference between words like tonight, tomorrow and (in) two hours. Most importantly, Wesley attaches himself to his owner as a lifelong surrogate mate, since barn owls have but one partner in life (although Wesley was often tempted by the wild female barn owls who hovered outside the window of his San Diego canyon area apartment).
Wesley teaches O’Brien about trust, commitment and love; as she puts it, “It’s the Way of the Owl. You commit for life, you finish what you start, you give your unconditional love, and that is enough.”
O’Brien learns, via Wesley’s life and death, that “If all I had to give was love, that was enough.” Her life was forever changed by knowing Wesley, the intelligent and loving barn owl, and the reader is blessed by having access to the story of this very remarkable and very special relationship.