I am a rabid animal lover. Since I bought my first parrot in a department store in Brooklyn in 1970 till now, my life has never been without pets. I lavish love, care and attention on them out of all proportion to what rational human beings think of as normal. Which makes it twice as puzzling to figure out why I once let my dog wander around my house with a broken leg for over a week before I figured she wasn’t just being lazy and something might really be wrong.
In my defense, let me say that anyone who knew Lovey knew that her activity on any given day was such that it was questionable whether you would ever actually catch her moving. Given a good blizzard in Barrow, she would avoid going out for 24 hours unless I forcefully dragged her out the door and refused to go back in till she had performed some level of bodily function. After one of those sojourns, she would sulk for weeks at my meanness. Only the dutiful application of fresh meat and treats to her dog dish brought her around to where she would admit to liking me again.
Lovey got her revenge on me after I finally took her to the vet because she had started traveling around the house on her butt with her back leg in the air. Even for Lovey, that was strange behavior. Usually she would stand for at least the amount of time it took her to get to the next napping spot or food dish.
After her leg was set, the vet informed me that I would have to help her perform her daily ablutions by slinging a towel under her belly and supporting her since she couldn’t support herself with the cast on. I swear that dog grinned every time I took her out the whole time the cast was on.
This year, one of my parrots started throwing up consistently and voluminously. I had read about this behavior in my avian self-help books. The parrot had made me his mate and was trying to feed me and show me what a good provider he was. Using that theory, I watched the vomiting progress for weeks with just a shake of my head and a sly grin at how much we had both grown to love each other – even if I chose to express my love in a less messy manner.
Once again, considering the level of animal lover I am, I can only shake my head in retrospect at how long it took me to figure out that maybe this wasn’t all that normal and maybe the bird should go see a doctor. I carried Morris to the vet expecting to be told that he was fine except for being a little too much in love with me. I was wrong. Poor little Morris had cancer everywhere. And there isn’t much they can do for that in birds.
People who aren’t owned by a bird frequently can’t comprehend just how tight a bond you can form with one. When you are dealing with larger birds like parrots and cockatoos, you are dealing with extremely intelligent and sensitive creatures who can read you like a book after only a very short time in your home. I can fool my dog a thousand times with the same trick to get him to come in when he’s barking in the yard. He never catches on. He blindly believes and follows.
Not so with my birds. If they are out of the cage and I want them in the cage because it’s time for bed or I have to go out, I either have control and can get them in or I am plain out of luck. The trick of putting a treat in their cage may work once or twice, but by the third time they are looking at me as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding if you think I’m falling for that again”.
I had to finally put Morris to sleep after nine months of doing everything I could to make his life as comfortable as possible while the cancer gained ground. The day I came home from the vet without Morris, I spent some time with my other birds explaining what had happened. They listened intently. Then one of them, Captain, walked over to where my hand was resting on the perch, took my finger gently in his mouth and held it with his foot. He watched me as I spoke and comforted me in the best way he could.
It’s like I said, until you’ve been owned by a bird, you can never truly understand just how caring they are to their flock. As for Morris, if you look up in the sky and see a brief flitting shadow across the clouds, know it is Morris flying free of pain, exhilarating in the freedom of his spirit.