For Christmas we bought our younger daughter a pet. Yes, I know. Pets are NOT gifts. Gifts are things you can exchange, or forget about, or give to Goodwill next week. Pets as presents? CRAZY TALK.
I am writing today to get something off of my chest, as well as my head and shoulders. Meet Kiwi.
A month ago I introduced you to the adorable fluff balls known as Fred, Cuddles and the rest of the girls. AKA, our baby chicks. In just 4 weeks these formerly tiny chicks have morphed into big birds with fully functional wings. And once chicks start flying around the living room, it’s time they move outside.
My husband & I had to build a coop, and fast. But having never owned chickens before, let alone built a coop, we needed to do a little research before starting construction. We read a few books and found a photo of a coop we really liked. A quick Google search turned up plans for the “Playhouse Coop” shown below.
My dog Max died two weeks ago. Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected. We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy! Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed. He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs. My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom. Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass. He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times. His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.
John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside. We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves. We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip. Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end. Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.
His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family. Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years. He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.
We miss him terribly. But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives. I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach. Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard. 2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree. And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.
A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss. Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.
I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.
Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.
Have you ever found yourself asking: Is a pet bird right for me? Nope; me neither.
I don’t profess to be a bird expert, but I do speak the language. I live with a parrot named Kiwi. Or as I call her, my birdie appendage. Kiwi is a gold capped conure, a small species of parrot native to Brazil. We adopted her several years ago. And when I say adopted I really mean my husband was offered a parrot for free and then brought her home. Not that I minded, but I want to make clear I had NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. We were told at that time she was young; maybe 2-3 years old. Also, her name was Robin. Not a bad name, but I felt strange calling a conure ‘robin.’ So I named her after a fruit instead.
Kiwi quickly bonded to yours truly and I now spend the bulk of each day w/ Kiwi nesting in my hair, grooming me and generally making herself comfortable. Most of the time I don’t mind, but when she gets particularly engrossed in picking my face, it can be a bit distracting. Especially when my husband starts screaming, UUGHH WOULD YOU NOT LET THE BIRD DO THAT! In addition to surrendering much of my physical person, I have also surrendered my wardrobe. Most of my shirts have holes and keeping anything with buttons or a zipper intact is a near impossibility. Let’s not forget the matter of her “birdie business,” which she does at will and with abandon. Suffice it to say, I change clothes often.
Kiwi has one goal in life. It is called I MUST DRIVE ALL OTHERS AWAY FROM THIS WOMAN. See, Kiwi likes me. A LOT. And like all stalker/victim couplings, it’s a special kind of relationship. Normal people can talk on the phone. They can leave the house. They can hug their children without ducking down and glancing around wildly. The day my husband brought Kiwi home, I went from being a free woman to a claimed territory. And not just my body. I’m not talking boogers here (though she definitely wants those too). Kiwi wants ME. She wants all of my love & attention and BOY does she let me know. Her voice can be deafening at times. She also likes using her beak. NEVER ON ME! mind you. No, just on anything and everyone else. I am her property alone and the rest of the world must be kept at bay.
In this way, she is much like my husband. Yet the constant pull for my attention can wear thin. When her jealousy reaches intolerable proportions, I tell her NO. I stick her back in the cage. Over and over. And OVER AGAIN. But she never lets up. My husband says, “Baby, you tell me when and the bird is HISTORY.” But I just look at him. And he knows. We all know. Kiwi’s here for good. Even though I did NOT bring her home, I can’t turn my back on her now. I’ve off-loaded too many pets over the years. And my parents aren’t interested (I asked at Christmas.) It’s unfair to tame these animals, make them dependent on us, and then abandon them when they grow too needy. Though trust me, the temptation often abounds.
Not to discourage anyone, but there is a reason birds are considered EXOTIC pets. Exotic can mean non-native, or topless, but in the case of birds it’s really code for unusual. Bird people are also an unusual species. Long on patience and short on clean tops. As far as birds go, parakeets are pretty easy. I had one as a kid. But as you get into the larger species of pet birds, things change dramatically. The mess, for instance. Parrots are poop machines. Just ask anyone who’s ever been to my house. And like all birds, they are social. They do not just need but indeed demand companionship. Many large species will also outlive you. Apart from this massive time commitment, you need to consider your living circumstance. Birds are noisy. The squawking may drive close neighbors (and often you) insane. And lest I forget to mention, birds can be nippy. If permitted, they will chew you, your clothes and your furniture apart. All of this – the noise, the biting, the destructive tendencies, can be lessened through proper training, but in some semblance will always remain.
Now that Kiwi is “mature” (meaning reproductively), I’ve begun wondering about her gender. Although many birds are dimorphic (i.e., you can tell whether they are male or female simply by looking at them), gold capped conures are not. I have always referred to Kiwi as a girl. I put a little nest thingy into Kiwi’s cage ages ago. I’ve never actually seen her in it (she sleeps on top of it), but I do occasionally glance in there, just to see if she’s produced anything. I know Kiwi thinks of me as her human mate, so I wonder why she hasn’t yet laid me an egg. Which (were she female) she’d have likely gotten round to by now. She is certainly a very happy bird. Plenty of food. and attention. Hmm.. In order to establish her gender w. certainty, I could have a DNA test done. Which isn’t a big deal, but frankly I’m not rushing to do. Deep down, I’m starting to think Kiwi is a boy. But I still call her my (favorite nickname) “Bird Girl.” Do you think it’s confusing? I don’t think she/he cares, but still. I wonder.
I am pleased to announce wonderfish Blackie is home at last. No he did not DIE! He’s back in his tank. I spent the bulk of this morning scrubbing it, and by lunchtime he was happily swimming round his decorative pagodas once more. Upon closer inspection, however, his filter looked suspect. So we decided to go to the pet store to see about buying a replacement. Whilst there I noticed they had a large array of hamsters. Male & female, several different varieties, ALL VERY CUTE. So while my husband took a gander at filters, I kept watch on the rodents. And OH MY GOODNESSS!! They had Teddy Bear hamsters! Which looked jusssst like HAMMIE. My daughter’s most beloved pet. Next thing I knew I was squatting down beside the cage, slipping up the lid and reaching right in. Most of them were asleep, so they didn’t know any different. But the one who was mostly awake didn’t much like the proximity of my hand to his head. He started snarling at me in that hamster way, bearing his long gnawing teeth. Fortunately he got scared and ran into a plastic tube, leaving me free to pet his semiconscious friends. I’d barely touched one of them when a voice rang out beside me. A sales clerk stood a couple feet away, gazing down quizzically. It was clear I was the first adult she’d ever caught in an unauthorized petting situation. She asked whether I’d consulted a sales associate about handling. I played dumb. Ooooh, I was supposed to?? She gave me a look that clearly conveyed OF COURSE YOU MORON. I continued squatting in front on the cage, mostly b/c I didn’t know what else to do and wanted to appear as nonchalant as possible. She just stood there, looking at me. I think she was afraid as soon as her back was turned, my hand would be in the cage grabbing one of the hamsters and making a run for it. She asked if I was interested in one of the hamsters, whether I wanted to purchase one of the hamsters. I answered noncommittally. Then I fixed my gaze on the cage, hoping she would just walk away. Finally my husband approached, asking me to come check out the filters. I stood up and never looked back.