Owner: suzanne kelly, with her children ciara and cian, and cian o'neill, all from st fergal's senior school, bray
Animal: fergal, a young seagull
Background: fergal was found in the school yard, unable to fly
A national school playground is such a busy and noisy place that no right-minded seagull would want to hang around it. So when the children arrived to school to find a seagull strutting around in front of them, everyone knew at once that there must be something wrong.
One of the children, Cian O'Neill, was so concerned about the gull that he went to find Suzanne Kelly, a project worker whose office was right next to the stray seagull.
Suzanne caught the bird by throwing a towel over him so that he couldn't peck her with his sharp beak, and he was put into a cardboard box to bring him down to our vet clinic.
At first we thought that he might be injured, but I could find nothing wrong with him. He was just an underweight juvenile bird. It was difficult to work out why he couldn't fly. Perhaps he was just too weak? Or maybe he had been stunned after some sort of collision? We took him in to our vet clinic for observation, feeding him up on fish kindly donated by our local Superquinn supermarket.
When he still couldn't fly after three days, it was time to move him to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. And that's when we ran into difficulties: Ireland does not yet have such a place.
In the United Kingdom, there are many units, run by the RSPCA and various charities, designed specifically for looking after wildlife. In Ireland, some individuals are enthusiastic and keen to help, but funds are short. For many people, priorities are elsewhere and helping wildlife is low on the national agenda.
The only official wildlife rescue outfits in the country are the Irish Seal Sanctuary and the Dingle Wildlife & Seal Sanctuary, who work together to rescue orphaned, wounded and starving seal pups, releasing them back into the wild as soon as they have a clean bill of health.
As a result of the shortage of rehabilitation centres in Ireland, wildlife casualties tend to stay in veterinary clinics for long periods. We once had a fox cub in a cage for a fortnight and one swan stayed with us for three weeks.
The DSPCA and other animal charities are very helpful with such cases, but it's a challenge to deal with wild animals along with the high numbers of dogs and cats that they rescue.
In recent years, there has been a move towards solving the wildlife rescue problem in Ireland.
The Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Trust has set up a website, www.irishwildlifematters.ie, with advice for the public and vets on what to do if they find an injured wild animal or bird. The website includes contact details for a nationwide network of volunteers who are prepared to take on the task of looking after injured or sick wild creatures. The group has a long-term plan to build a national wildlife rehabilitation centre.
The Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Trust has also taken on the task of educating vets and interested members of the public. The second annual Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference is taking place in Co Louth this weekend, with lectures and demonstrations on various aspects of dealing with wildlife casualties, post release monitoring, ethics and morals of rehabilitation, and wildlife crime.
Meanwhile, Fergal the seagull is gaining weight and it's hoped that he'll soon be able to fly. There's a plan for a formal release in a few weeks. The children of St Fergal's Senior National School will all be there, cheering for him as he flies off into freedom.