BRANDON — Dr. Ali Shreve rushed toward the examination table, cradling the owl in her arms. She pressed a stethoscope gently against its feathers.
"He's gone," she said, shaking her head.
Two hours before, the owl had been sitting on its perch. The night before, it had started to hoot again.
On June 8, Jean Pearce's car struck the owl on a dark stretch of Nichols Road near her Lithia home. When the 68-year-old bird-lover pulled over to check on the owl, a Ford Explorer hit her. She died at the scene. For nine days, the barred owl survived.
But veterinarians found it lying dead in its cage around 10 p.m. Tuesday.
It came to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Brandon with a broken wing and an injured eye. A concussion left it too disoriented and weak to perch in its cage.
The staff fed it, bandaged its broken wing and changed its perch every day to keep sores from developing. They hoped it would regain enough strength to fly and hunt in the wild.
"While we definitely do everything we can for every animal that comes through the door, the emotion we're feeling is even more than normal," Shreve said last week. "We want to make this happen for the owl and for her."
A necropsy revealed severe liver damage that likely had nothing to do with the crash, Shreve said.
"Definitely, that was enough to kill him," she said.
Still, the bird's sudden death Tuesday night shocked the animal hospital's staff.
"I really wanted to see this guy make it," Shreve said.
She stroked the owl's feathers. Around her, women in scrubs wiped away tears.
Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.