SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a pop culture icon, dubbed as the "Notorious RBG" for her grit and determination in dealing with health problems and strong stands on issues pertaining to gender-rights.
Friday was a special day for Justice Ginsburg, and it also marked a special moment for a certain raptor named in her honor.
"This eagle was brought to the Dickerson Park Zoo's raptor rehab about six weeks ago," explained Joey Powell, the public relations and marketing director for the Springfield attraction, as she and zoo veterinarian Dr. Rodney Schnellbacher unloaded a portable kennel-looking transporter on the shores of Fellows Lake with the eagle inside. "She had a broken wing and a broken leg. Because of her tenacious spirit Dr. Schnellbacher decided to name her 'RBG'.
"Well, today is Justice Ginsburg's 86th birthday," Powell continued. "And what a great day to release this eagle with this incredible fighting spirit back into the wild. So Happy Birthday Justice Ginsburg and this beautiful bird is going to fly!"
RBG is an exception because Dickerson Park Zoo officials don't usually name wild animals who are brought to them for rehab, limiting human contact with the goal of releasing them in the wild.
RBG is a younger bald eagle, around four years-old, brought in after probably being struck by a car, suffering a broken wing and hip bone which required surgery.
"So we put pins in the bone," explained Dr. Schnellbacher. "We try to stabilize the fracture because usually animals don't die of a fracture. They die because of the shock of getting hit by a car."
Justice Ginsburg became the namesake for the eagle because of her unyielding courage in fighting for gender-rights and battling numerous health problems from colon and pancreatic cancer, to a stent placed in her heart, to three broken ribs.
The eagle fit the bill.
"She was pretty feisty," Schnellbacher said. "I listened to an audio book on RBG and that was a good name for an eagle I think."
Dr. Schnellbacher has treated and released a lot of animals over the years and you can't help but wonder if the animals have any ability to comprehend that someone is trying to save their lives.
The doc says it's possible.
"When they come in lethargic and depressed, once they start eating and realizing what the food is, I think they understand what we're trying to do a little bit," he said. "Then once they get into the flight cage and start working and flying again they get a little bit brighter. And then once they're released they know what's going on."
RBG certainly knew what to do as she took off immediately after being let go by Dr. Schnellbacher. And as our nation's symbol headed off into the wild blue yonder at Fellows Lake, those watching welled-up with the majesty of the moment.
"To see her go over that treeline there just brings tears to my eyes," said one of the onlookers, Jim Carter. "It just makes me feel good. Freedom! Nothing like it!!"