CENTERVILLE -- Most veterinarians in the Top of Utah are accustomed to working with dogs and cats.
But anything with wings and feathers gets sent to Dr. Doug Folland, of Centerville, the only veterinary clinic offering specialized avian care in the Top of Utah.
Birds are different from other animals because, other than birds like the parakeet and cockatiel, which have been bred in captivity long enough, most birds are just a generation or two away from being wild, says Folland.
That makes it especially difficult to treat them because they are masters at disguising their illnesses, he said. This is especially common for birds of prey, such as hawks, falcons and eagles, which are still wild.
"They just don't let on that they are ill, and when they do start to exhibit symptoms, you are really far behind in the race to get them better, which is one of the biggest challenges for treating them," Folland said.
Given that birds of prey are not the most typical pet brought in for veterinary work, it's rare to even find a vet able to treat them.
Specialized avian care is still in the developing stage, but has come a long way since Folland attended veterinary school back in the '80s, when there was only limited training for the care of birds.
"No studies had been done, and there was no scientific backing to what we were doing at the time," said Folland. "We were just taking our understanding of other animals and applying them to birds to see if they worked. To this day, we're still learning."
Folland got hooked on treating birds of prey when he was given the assignment during veterinary school to help rehabilitate a bird that had been brought in with a broken leg and was unable to fly.
The leg had been repaired, but in order for it to be released back into the wild, Folland's job was to attach it to a tethered line and fly it several times each day to get its strength up.
Now that the world of falconry has grown in recent years, information about treating raptors is more readily available, and the Association of Avian Veterinarians, which was once a fledgling organization, has expanded into an international organization helping to advance avian medicine.
Folland sees a couple of falconry birds a month, in addition to the usual assortment of household pets. Additionally, he visits the Tracy Aviary on a weekly basis to help care for its raptors.
Folland recently worked on one of the aviary's eagles, a female, which had been injured in a tornado that destroyed its nest. The bird's injury caused a permanent wing droop, making it unable to fly, so the aviary is now caring for it.
Recently, bird keepers at the aviary began noticing that when the eagle was alarmed, it would run to the back of the exhibit. While running, it would trip over its drooped wing and injure itself with its talons.
Folland decided that rather than amputate the wing, he would do experimental surgery to fuse the joint to keep it from drooping.
"To my knowledge, this procedure has never been done on a bird," said Folland, who performed a second surgery on the eagle using a combination of stainless steel pins and screws to try to fix the wing in a position to heal. The eagle is now off exhibit while it heals. It appears to be recuperating well, said Jennifer Evans, lead aviculturist at Tracy Aviary.
"I love to watch Dr. Folland work," said Evans. "He is very practical, patient and dedicated in his care. He takes into consideration what is best for the animal as well as what is feasible for us to do."
The birds of prey at the aviary are all from rehab situations, so the aviary is able to give them a life after an injury that makes them unreleasable to the wild.
"They are generally very calm, quiet animals, but it takes a certain level of skill to catch and restrain them safely," said Evans.
The most common injuries Folland treats for birds of prey are broken wings.
"Since this is critical to their happiness, it helps to be able to fix that," said Folland.