Charlotte Gainey and Sandi Danio, neighbors on Folly Beach, were driving to the BiLo grocery store Sunday afternoon when they saw a pelican get hit by a car.
They were horrified. Pelicans are one of the things that make Folly Beach special. Master fishermen, they swoop down over the ocean, scoop up fish in their enormous bills and gracefully soar off.
Gainey immediately turned the car around to check it out.
"I just love nature," she said later. "I couldn't stand it."
The big brown bird was hurt, bleeding from the left wing. They picked it up, put it on the floor of the back seat and covered it with a towel.
A pelican is a big bird, filling up half the back seat, quite a handful for the two women to get into a car. But they say it didn't fight them, as if it knew they were trying to help.
"He felt secure," Danio said later.
They got on a cell phone to find help. Their first call was to Folly Beach Public Safety. They found out the town's animal control officers don't work Sundays.
So they headed toward downtown Charleston. They figured they would try the S.C. Aquarium first. If that didn't work, they would take the pelican to the police station.
Crossing the bridge over the Ashley River, they saw the flashing blue lights of a Charleston police cruiser. Officer Leigh McGowan was standing there checking out an abandoned car. They pulled over beside her and showed her the pelican.
McGowan got on her radio and asked if Charleston's animal control officers worked Sundays. The dispatcher said yes and made the call.
Animal Control Officer Joseph Ellis arrived on the scene about 4:30 p.m. Several small fish were lying on the ground beside the car. The women said they took them out of the pelican's bill when they started to smell something in the car.
Ellis put on some heavy gloves, grabbed the bird's big bill with one hand and put the pelican in a carrying cage. He took the bird to the Greater Charleston Emergency Veterinary Clinic on Montague Avenue.
The vet patched up the bleeding wing and will watch the bird to see if it can be rehabilitated and sent back out into the wild, Danielle Patrick at the clinic said. If so, it will be turned over to one of several local groups that help injured animals recover.