Columns 2000

Parrot poop and one very neurotic parrot

Here’s one of those professional excuses you are not going to hear very often.  As I made my later entrance to a meeting recently, the only explanation I could give was that my parrot will not poop unless he is in a familiar environment.

Let me back up here for a moment.  A few years ago I became the proud owner of a slight neurotic, extremely needy but ultimately very loving African Grey parrot named Abdul.  Abdul had had at least a couple of previous owners that I knew about and this meant that I would never know where some of his (her?) more absurd habits originated.  Nor would I ever know why.

For instance, whenever a new person enters my home, Abdul emits a piercing screech that would shatter any eardrum not already hardened by 30 years of owning parrots and cockatoos.  As my visitors wince in pain, I can only assure them that eventually he will stop and move on to his innumerable other sounds that are more acceptable to the human ear even if more embarrassing to me.  I mean, how could I know that he would pick up the sounds of me chewing and swallowing my food, or sniffing and blowing my nose

I had occasion to bring Abdul to the vet’s office because I was concerned about his feather picking.  I know that African Grey’s are famous for being neurotic feather pickers but considering the $15 a bottle I was spending on feather spray, to say nothing of the toys to keep him amused, the vegetables, fruits and vitamins to keep him healthy and the special lights to get him through the winter, I felt he should not spend most of his time looking like a plucked chicken.

One of the tests that needed to be done to determine if there was a physical cause for his picking involved a stool sample. I dropped the bird off at 10 AM and went to browse at Barnes and Noble.  When I returned, the receptionist said I could go do more shopping if I liked.  I wandered around the Sears mall and returned. The receptionist suggested I take in a movie. Since my business appointment was now less than an hour away, I started worrying not only about missing the meeting but whether there was something wrong they didn’t want to tell me.

But no, it turns out they were waiting for him to drop a stool sample and he simply wasn’t being cooperative.  I asked where they had him and was told he’d been placed in a cage in the back. I explained to them that, for whatever reason, Abdul would not relieve himself unless he was in a familiar setting – for instance, on my couch. I also explained that I had to get to a meeting and would be happy to collect the stool sample myself and return it to their office. I did this knowing in my heart that the minute he got back in his own carry cage the problem would be solved.

When I reached into the cage to get him, the look of strained concentration on his face was pathetic.  I placed him in his carry case and walked to the front desk to settle my bill.  As I reached the desk, a loud sigh of unmistakable relief emanated from the carrier.  And there, at the bottom, was enough sample to fill a small jar.

I think I can honestly say that I never thought I would ever have to use the words “parrot stool sample” in any connection to my professional life.  I was obviously very wrong.