By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM, N.H. — Sgt. Michael Wagner has responded to a wide variety of calls in his 13 years with the Salem Police Department.
But the call Wagner received on Thanksgiving was one of his most memorable, he said. It was also one of his most rewarding experiences in law enforcement.
“It was definitely by far the best experience,” Wagner said yesterday.
He and Officer John O’Donnell responded to Garabedian Drive at about 3 p.m. Thursday after police received a call about a bald eagle caught in a trap. James Ransom of Methuen and a friend were scouting possible hunting areas when they found the eagle, Wagner said.
The eagle had been feeding on a recently skinned beaver, put in the trap as bait for another animal, when its right leg got caught and a wing became entangled, Wagner said. The trap was in a clearing about 100 yards from the road, he said.
“It was trying to get itself free,” Wagner said. “We went to work on getting it out of the trap.”
But it wasn’t easy — not even for Wagner, who said he’s responded to at least 50 animal-related calls over the years.
On days like Thursday, when animal control officer Corie Bliss is off duty, Wagner often gets the call to assist. He’s helped many owls, raccoons and other wildlife that have become trapped or injured. A couple of years ago, he was even asked to help with a boa constrictor.
“I wouldn’t call myself an animal expert, just an animal lover,” he said. “I would do anything to help a poor animal in distress.”
Wagner donned a pair of welding gloves from his cruiser to protect himself from the bird’s sharp talons and placed a blanket over the eagle. As O’Donnell held the bird and blanket, Wagner and Ransom worked to free the eagle, which they feared was injured.
Unlike the dozens of other animal calls to which Wagner has responded, he said this one was special since the bald eagle is the national symbol and a rare, majestic bird of prey.
“You definitely don’t have an appreciation for it until you see it up close,” he said. “It was probably one of the most exciting calls I’ve ever had.”
It took half an hour, but the two men freed the eagle. They were pleased to find it was healthy despite a small cut on its talon. The eagle — with a wingspan of more than 4 feet — immediately spread its wings and flew several hundred yards to a nearby pine tree, O’Donnell said
“He exploded right out of the blanket and took off,” Wagner said.
The officers found an identification band with a serial number on the eagle’s leg and contacted the state Fish and Game Department, Wagner said.
There was nothing illegal about the trap, which was registered, Wagner said Fish and Game officials told police.
No one from the Fish and Game Department could be reached for comment yesterday.
O’Donnell said the rescue was probably the most memorable and rewarding experience of his two-year police career. He praised Wagner for his expertise in dealing with the potentially dangerous raptor.
“Sgt. Wagner is definitely an expert on animals. ... He’s one of the most knowledgeable people I know,” O’Donnell said. “It’s definitely a call I’m not going to forget.”