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    Emu returns to the man she loves

    When a minister loses a 200-pound bird, it takes more than a wing and a prayer to get her home. In fact, push comes to shove.

    By CAROL LOVE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rev. Joseph Barron lost his emu and wasn't sure what to do.

    The flightless bird walked out of the minister's back yard last month when a storm blew down a gate.

    Figuring that someone would notice a 6-foot-tall bird wandering around his neighborhood, the Old Southeast, he took out a classified ad with the particulars. He didn't list a name because she doesn't have one. As the minister figured, there was no point in naming her, because "she isn't going to come when I call her anyway."

    Barron was in Orlando at the time of the emu's disappearance when his son, Bruce, called him with the news.

    Barron, who in addition to being a minister runs St. Petersburg Radiator Service, came home to 265 21st Ave. SE and called all agencies he could think of, hoping someone had captured the bird and called the authorities.

    He learned of several sightings, a few of them in Old Southeast's Lassing Park, but no one seemed to know where the bird had gone.

    Then the classified ad worked. Last week, he received an anonymous call that his emu was four blocks away, in the back yard of Petar Kanis' home at 265 24th Ave. SE. The emu had not been transported in any manner since she was a chick, and she now weighs 200 pounds. Barron knew he would need help to persuade the big bird to travel four blocks down a brick alley.

    He called on Mark and Carla Thomas of Angelic Animals, a St. Petersburg animal rescue team, to help. (Mark Thomas is a Gulfport police officer, and Carla is a public safety officer with Stetson University College of Law.)

    Barron hoped they would be able to tranquilize the bird, but the Thomases don't have a license for that yet.

    Compared with helping snake handler Don Davis Jr. capture a rattlesnake at Channel 10's offices, "we thought it would be the easiest rescue of the week," said Carla Thomas.

    It wasn't.

    The emu was exactly where the tipster had said. Kanis was not home, though, and the fence was locked.

    (Contacted later, Kanis said that he had found the bird in the alley behind the Chattaway restaurant, at 358 22nd Ave. S, and, not knowing who the owner was, took the emu to his back yard.)

    Barron and the Thomases could see the emu, along with ducks, several rabbits and possibly a raccoon, living in the backyard area.

    "I could feel her (the emu's) breastbone when I petted her" through the fence, Carla Thomas said. "She was getting very thin."

    Unsure of the legalities, the group called the St. Petersburg Police Department. Officer Blaine L. DuFrain answered the call.

    DuFrain called retired Old Southeast neighborhood codes officer Mike Kepto, who verified that Barron was licensed to own the emu, so DuFrain allowed the bird's removal.

    The group tried to walk the emu back home on several leashes, with her eyes covered to help her relax. But she lay down and tried to go to sleep.

    Next, they lifted her into the Thomases' SUV to drive her home. But when her blinder slipped off, she realized she was confined and rampaged.

    "She trashed (the truck)," Carla Thomas said. "And (with her claws) she was able to cut Mark's side through a denim shirt and a strong undershirt. They can gut something with those claws."

    The emu broke loose, trailed by Barron, the Thomases and DuFrain in his cruiser. Finally, Carla Thomas was able to step on one of the leashes.

    They tried another tack. The Thomases pulled the emu with the leashes, and Barron pushed from behind. After a long and laborious push-pull process, they neared Barron's house.

    "When she got in sight of the house, she got excited and started trying to run," Barron said. "We let her go and she went for the house. I opened the gate and she ran right in. She couldn't get home quick enough."

    Carla Thomas said Barron's yard meets the standards for the exotic bird and is a safe, secure place for her to live in. (St. Petersburg's codes bar the keeping of an ostrich but are silent on emus.)

    "That female just melts when Joseph pets her neck," she said. "I'm glad she got home safe. I hope we never have to (rescue an emu) again. That rattlesnake was easier."

    Officer DuFrain agreed. "I'm glad I didn't run into that emu during a midnight shift going around someone's house," he said.

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