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‘Big Bird’ finds a friendly roost

Family hopes emu’s owners claim the wayward animal
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:02 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Of all the fields, in all the towns, in all the world, the emu now going by the name of Big Bird walked into theirs.

A wandering emu couldn’t have asked for a better temporary home when it picked its way into the Selbys’ field on Sunday. The animal-loving Selbys – Pat, Terry and their twin teenage daughters — already have three dogs and four cats at their home near Deer Park off U.S. 63 between Columbia and Ashland.

The Selbys had heard rumors of a strange bird the day before from neighbors, but they figured the emu was long gone.

Then on Sunday, a passing motorist stopped and knocked on the Selbys’ door and said that an emu was lingering in the field next to their house. Intrigued, the whole family came out to look and spotted the bird. Terry Selby whistled at it, and before he knew it, the emu was approaching.

“He was basically whistling to it like a bird, and I don’t know whether it was hungry, but it just came right up to him,” Pat Selby said. The emu followed Terry right into the dog pen next to their house.

The next step was figuring out what to do with the emu. Pat called neighbors, animal rescue organizations and whoever else she could think of.

“I feel it is so docile, it just has to be somebody’s pet,” Pat Selby said.

After consulting with a woman in Hallsville who raises emus, the Selbys began giving it water and feeding it dry dog food. For now, they’re calling it Big Bird, and even the family’s three collies seem to be enjoying the novelty, sniffing at the bird through the fence.

Big Bird is the second nomadic emu reported in Columbia in the last two weeks. On Dec. 23, a 5-foot emu escaped from D-D Farm Animal Sanctuary and Rescue and was captured by Columbia Animal Control as it strolled along Range Line Street.

But Deb Tolentino of D-D Farm, which has housed as many as six emus at a time, is emphatic: This bird isn’t hers. The Selbys’ guest may just be someone’s rejected pet.

“People have these birds and they just don’t want them,” Tolentino said. “For one, they are big, they require quite a bit of room and if they start to run, good luck catching them. And they can kick really, really hard. If they hit you with a claw they can eviscerate you,” she said.

That makes them pretty undesirable pets for most people, she said. “There was a big market for them a while ago, for their meat and oil,” Tolentino said, but the emu market pretty much went bust.

Meanwhile, Columbia Animal Control has classified the bird as livestock and won’t impound it unless it poses a traffic problem.

“If she (Pat Selby) can get it here, we can do something with it,” Jason Ramsey, director of development and public relations at the Columbia Humane Society, said.

Pat Selby said her family is not looking to keep the emu and is still holding out hope that the rightful owner will contact her.

“I know what it is like to lose a pet, and if it is a pet I just assume the owner would be looking for it,” she said.

As of Monday, Columbia Animal Control, the Columbia Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Department had not received a report of a missing emu.


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