Wednesday, November 09, 2005
sweet little ben bird, who we all loved
On my seventeenth birthday, I received a card from my grandparents. I'm sure I still have it too. IT said "Come with us this week to buy a: (and she sketched a little birdcage with a bird in it)"
I had wanted a bird for so so long, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I had been fascinated with birds throughout my childhood and wanted some to observe up close. Maybe it was because I wanted a pet, having to be satisfied with fish for so many years. At any rate, my grandparents were the ones who made the final push to bring birds into the house. My mom was hesitant ("the noise, the mess") but being a sap for animals, she was not about to protest.
Not knowing any better, we went to the epitome of evil among bird pet stores (begins with a "p" ends with an "o") and stood in front of the glass case of parakeets for several minutes watching the large flock of birds move and play together. We quickly picked out a little blue bird, and "he" was beautiful. He had a beautiful bluish purple body, that faded into turquoise, blue green, green, and then a yellow head. He had black stripes on the top of his head, black and white wing feathers and a sweet little face with big black eyes. We picked him out immediately. Then we had to pick him out a friend. Our eyes were drawn to a green bird. She wasn't your average green parakeet. She was a darker shade of green. She had a little yellow face, and on the top of her black striped head there was a patch of yellow feathers that I thought was shaped like a star. They were both beautiful and made a good pair.
We surveyed the cages. Since we knew we wanted two birds, we decided to get a cockatiel cage and a good selection of toys for the two of them.
The ride home was an adventure. Each bird had it's own cardboard crate, and was chirping nervously. We let the out in their cage. And the rest is basically history.
Beatrice and Benedick, as we called them, provided us with hours of joy and entertainment. They played in their cage, they'd fight and chirp and preen each other. They'd throw their food out of their dish, they'd escape between the bars of their cage and fly around my room, and I'd walk in to find them sitting on my curtain rod or sitting amongst my stuffed animals. Each bird had its own distinct personality. We loved them more than any animal that had ever crossed the threshold of our house.
I went to Africa in January 2003, and upon coming home in May, I learned that Beatrice had died very suddenly one night in March. Apparently, my sister found her, and it was quite traumatic. My dad went out and dug through the frozen dirt in order to dig a suitable grave. She was buried with a poem from "Much Ado About Nothing" the play which inspired her name. That was sad to me. But I wasn't there to experience everything, so I felt sad, and moved on. After all, I still had my little Ben, who almost died of depression after the death of Beatrice, but my sister and mother managed to drag him up out of it at the last second.
Little Ben adapted to life on his own. He became more affectionate and even started giving my sister "kisses." He would sit in the corner of his cage and put his head through his legs, turning himself inside out. He would observe our cockatiel, Lily, for hours, and then scold him whenever he started to misbehave. Ben would sing contentedly with the stereo, and grind his beak happily as I sat quietly at my computer working and he looked on.
A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that Ben was getting a little quiet, a little old and tired looking. He was after all, at least 7, having been in our family for 6 1/2 years and being at least 6 months old at the time of his purchase. But still, we had worked so hard to keep him healthy, converting his seed diet to pellets, supplementing his meals with lettuce, when he actually would eat it. How could he be sick? We second guessed ourselves often. He's old, maybe he's not sick, he's not sneezing or weezing.....maybe he's just slowing down. Finally, when Ben sat on his perch, hunched over, breathing heavier than normal and keeping his eyes close for longer and longer periods of time, I knew something was wrong. Knowing parakeets are prone to tumors, I prepared myself for the worst. As Ben's condition remained stable, I realized I had to take the chance to bring him to the vet, while he was still well enough to eat and get around his cage. I took him to the local avian veterinarian. I left work one day at 1pm without telling anyone I was going. I just walked out, went to the pet store to buy a carrier and went to the vet's. She was very nice, and told me that Ben was very thin and small, but she couldn't palpate a tumor. She told me that she couldn't know what was really wrong with Ben without x-rays and tests, which would cost upwards of $300. Not that I could ever put a price on the bird that had brought me so much happiness, I was still not prepared to spend that kind of money without weighing my options first. I told the vet this, and she suggested antibiotics and a supplement to boost liver function. I was shown how to administer the meds and $106 later, I was sent home, armed with medication and a medicine dropper. I was going away that weekend, so I had to show my mom how to temp the bird with a treat and drop the medication in her mouth, as my mom is skittish about handling the birds.
When I left on Friday, Ben (we found out that he was actually a SHE when we went to the vet's) seemed to rally. She seemed a little perkier, a little sassier. I went away reassured. It would not last long, however, and upon my return on Sunday I went to her cage to find her left leg paralyzed. She adapted to this very quickly, but still I was very concerned. I continued to medicate her, change her water and feed her whatever she wanted. But I knew deep down that something was very wrong. She started to slow more and more. On Monday, she could barely climb. We modified her cage so that she wouldn't have to leave the floor of her cage. On Tuesday, I knew we were in for the worst. Ben just sat on the floor of her cage, closing her eyes frequently, breathing heavily. The paralysis was a classice indication of an inoperable kidney tumor, and I knew that there was nothing to be done. This was hard, just watching my pet waste away. The only heartening thing had been the vet's reassurance that she was not in any pain. I kept telling myself that, and feeding her her favorite treats. I checked on her incessantly throughout the night, and then went to watch Tv for an hour. By 10pm Tuesday, November 1, our little Ben was no longer.
I will say one thing. She looked entirely peaceful in her cage. She had not moved from the place I had last left her, and it looked as though she fell asleep, died, and sort of just turned over. I could not keep from crying though, as we had bonded especially tightly in the last few days of her life. My mom was absolutely beside herself with emotion. We had not been the type of family that grew up with pets, these were really our first, so it HURT like a motherf*cker to see our babies go. Like I said though, there was nothing to be done for the sweet thing. I got a great blue box and green tissue paper. I wrapped her in a shroud of fabric printed with brightly-colored owls, and laid her in the box, with two treats and a note, telling her how much she meant to us. Because it's true, she was a special sweet birdie.
We buried her the next night, next to her friend Beatrice. Now they can finally hang out again and eat lots of treats, and I couldn't be happier for the both of them. But still, I selfishly dwell on the void they left in our lives. Sadly, we'd look at the empty cage, and finally my mother asked me to take it down. It made her sad, and it made our cockatiel confused - he'd stare at it for hours wondering where she was. I dissembled it, and put it on the floor. My dad urged us to get more birds, but my mother and I just couldn't imagine other birds in the house. "It won't be the same" we said......
we. are suckers.
I went to FosterParrots, a shelter I've been volunteering at for a YEAR this month (where the HECK did that time go?) and I told the director, all the while digging my nails into my palm so I wouldn't get 'emotional.' His look was one of pure empathy. He is truly the king of all bird nerds, and I KNEW of all people, he would understand how I felt, especially since he has struggled to keep some of his favorite birds alive in the face of illness, abuse from other owners, and disability. He said "ohhh, oh nooo, Allison! I am so sorry. That's awful. Oh I'm sorry." He let me go on about the vet and the tumor and everything and let me go on about how I was here to sort of move on and stuff, but DID NOT WANT MORE BIRDS. He says 'ok, well just think about this. It's kind of funny. Someone found a bird in the bank parking lot YESTERDAY and she's so so sweet and needs a home" I said "well don't look at me, I can't take birds" The codirector took a different approach. She said "Volunteers are not allowed to have empty cages, take her, take a friend for her and get out of here." I thought about it while I was on my hands and knees cleaning bird crap off the floor and thought "please of course I want two more parakeets" and when I saw the little one I was supposed to take home, I thought "sweet jesus how can I say no?" There she was, petite, blue (the color of tanzanite, my mom says) with a little white face and big black eyes. 1,2,3 awwwwwwwwwwwwww! She was playing on the toys in the cage and looked pretty happy and healthy. Karen, the codirector, said "let's find her a friend, oh that guy looks good" as she pointed to a solitary yellow and lime green male. I was kinda like "whatev, maybe she should have another female friend....." That was left up in the air while I made a quick phone call to my mother. At first she said "nooooooooo, oh please noooooooo no more, I can't stand the heartbreak" I said "but MOM they need a good home, come ON" and she said quietly "you know you KNOW you can bring them home if they need to be adopted." Skipping back into the parrot shelter, Marc had a carrier ready for me, and brought it to the parakeet aviary to help me collect the new birds. He caught the female and put her in the carrier. "Let's get her a boyfriend" Marc said. His eyes wandered over a few birds, and then settled on the same yellow and lime green male that had been pointed out to me by Karen. He sat alone on a perch. He was robust and quite healthy looking, but was minding his own business. He looked like kind of a loner. Marc grabbed him and put him in the carrier......and out I went.
The birds were so good in the car. Beatrice and Ben were always very spazzy on car rides, but these two sat in the carrier and chirped every once in a while. They were so well behaved, I even hit up the Dunkin' Donuts drive through on the way home.
When I got home, I showed the newbies to my mom who just stared at them with love, saying "awwwwww!!!" every 7 seconds or so. I brought the case upstairs to my room, and held it in front of Lily. "Lily" I said, "these are going to be your new friends" "Hiiii birdie!!!" said Lily. SO sweet. so SMART! The birds contentedly preened each other while I prepared the old cage for them, scrubbing it clean of any lurking germs.
When we released the birds into the new cage, they sat there. And sat there some more. They were so cute though, we didn't need them to tricks or anything special. AND then.....the female, SPRANG into action, crazily grabbing each toy with her beak and flinging it around, crawling back and forth on the floor of her cage, jumping from place to place - she was CRAZY. Meanwhile the male sort of sat in the corner and was like "oh shit, what the HELL did I get myself INTO??"
That pretty much sums up their personalities. We're gonna call them Charlie Brown (Charlie for short) and Lucy. They're really perfect names that fit with their attitudes. Charlie sits on his perch, innocently minding his own business, oblivious to the WORLD. Lucy zooms around the cage. Charlie sits there with this "Please just leave me out of whatever insane thing you are doing right now" Lucy will sneak up behind him, clearly in attack mode. She'll open her mouth, and lean forward, ready to STRIKE. Sometimes she actually gets away with it too.....Often Charlie will just fly somewhere else for his alone time, but every once in a while, he'll be like 'I've HAD ENOUGH OF YOU!" and strike back.
Ahhhh....it's SO good to have parakeets in the house again :)