We all have our secrets. Some, we keep to ourselves, either solely for our own amusement, or to save us from the shame of...
[ Fig. 1: RECALL NO EVIL ]
Image of a chimp, looking, if possible, embarrassed, almost to the point of blushing, with a goofy wide-toothed grin, and one hand held over its eyes, as if laughing at itself.
The caption reads, "THAT AWKWARD MOMENT when you accidentally think of a random memory from your past and suddenly feel embarrassed all over again."
Some, we save up for special occasions, like for telling at parties.
[ Fig. 2: INFANT WAR STORY ]
Image of a child, no more than 1 year old, looking half asleep, and seeming to be caught up in some sort of intense expression, with heavy eyelids, lilted eyebrows, and lips pursed as if in speech, like one caught in the middle of telling a wild tale. The child is sitting at a table on the knee of a woman who is mostly out of frame. On the table, in the forefront of the picture, so that it appears by perspective to be sitting in front of the child, is a large pint glass of beer, giving a humorous perception of the expression on the child's face, suggesting it is the result of inebriation.
The caption reads, "AND THEN I says to her, I says, NO, I got YOUR Nose!"
And some, we wait to tell until the statute of limitations on our culpability in said act has run out.
[ Fig. 3: THE CULPRIT ]
Image of a Husky-type collared house-dog, looking as guilty as only a dog can look. Its tail is tucked between its legs, its back feet are pulled up under its haunches, all the way to its front feet, as if trying to cower into a smaller space. Its body is pressed, as if in attempt to be flattened, against the wall, and its ears are drooping as low as dog ears can go. Its mouth is turned down in a frown, and its remorseful, apologetic eyes are making every attempt to avoid looking in the direction of the person behind the camera, whose hand can be seen in the picture forefront, holding an open Greek Yogurt container, the majority of its contents licked mostly clean around the center, the remainder pushed up against the sides of the now nearly empty package, as if by someone without the use of opposable thumbs.
The caption reads, "Hmmm..... Well... I guess we'll never find out who did this, huh...?"
This is one such story, more than seven years in the making (or rather, in the holding of the tongue), of the one time I was “complicit” in the perpetration of a “felony.”
Anyone who knows me recognizes that I’m an animal lover, and even if we aren’t that well acquainted, it wouldn’t take you too long to figure it out.
Of course, I say that, and yet, recently, I was surprised a bit when I had guests over to my house the other day, and a friend I’ve known for nearly a decade mentioned that he hadn’t realized previously that I have pets. That came as something of a shock to the system... I wouldn’t have supposed that particular incorrect assumption could have been possible for anyone to make about me... I’ve always imagined I leave a trail of airborn cat hair in my wake, like Witch Hazel leaves a smattering of bobby pins.
(Though, to be fair, I do carry a lint roller wherever I go, and keep an extra stashed away in secret compartments for every outfit, satchel, or vehicle, because, after all, those pesky little things do know how to cling, fluttering about the air around you in a hovering halo, just waiting to settle back down and grab on to whichever garment of fabric is most in contrast to their own color. So, I guess, if I’ve managed to “fool” at least one member of my social circle, then perhaps that means my “rolling” obsession must have paid off? Well, that, at least, is some good news!)
But, I digress...
...wait, where was I?
Oh, yes...! As I was saying...
I’ve had pets most of my life, you see; some more “exotic” than others.
I am pleased to say, though, that I’ve never paid a breeder or retailer for any domestic creature to be brought into my house as part of my family; though I have made appropriate contributions to shelters and rescue organizations for the care and re-homing cost involved for some poor lost furred or feathered companion to become a lifelong friend. I just don’t believe in feeding into the abhorrent cycle of abuse which comprises an inseparable sinister element of the dark underbelly that is the modern domestic animal trade.
I’d go into more detail on that, but that would be another post entirely, and I’m really not much of one for soap-boxing. (If you have the interest and the stomach for it, a quick bit of Google-fu might make for an eye-opening education, though, if you also have a tender heart, I might recommend you should be sure to a have a box of tissues handy.)
No, that is not the nature of this story. This story is about another chapter in my sordid “life of crime.”
Oh, excuse me...
...was I monologuing again?
Pardon me, getting back on track here...
Every non-human member of my household came to me because they had nowhere else to go. I took them out of a miserable existence, and gave them each a “new leash” on life. (See what I did there? ;)
I’ve even been privileged to be involved with a variety of foster agencies, where I would be party to “rehabbing” an animal with “issues,” such as separation anxiety, a need for a refresher on potty training, a fear of a particular gender, etc. For these “issues,” many of these animals had been neglected, abused, abandoned, or worse.
And that’s how they found me.
People I worked with thought I was a miracle worker, because, in a short amount of time, I could turn a “problem pet” into a desirable domestic companion, when really, I was just doing what should have been done from the beginning. To me, it was just common sense.
Unfortunately, though, it’s apparently not all that common.
The process of “rehabbing” one of these pitiful critters to be rehomed mostly amounts to nothing more than a modicum of attention given to a frightened, insecure beast, whilst showing a little bit of love, kindness, and a gentle nature. I will admit, it does take a strong set of nerves to be able to provide this level of care and affection without turning at the thought of the lives these downtrodden few had all known before they found solace in the agencies I worked with, and ultimately, in me, or the homes they were adopted out to, but the reward is more than worth it, and far outweighs any cost.
And so it was with that perspective that I found myself, 7 years ago, in an association with an Education and Adoption Awareness organization for the rescue of exotic avian life.
Exotic pets are often particularly at risk, because there is a rampant epidemic of would-be owners who don’t bother to properly educate themselves beforehand to the requirements of owning an animal whose native home is accommodating to their needs, but which needs might prove cumbersome to provide for in the absence of that environment. It's never an easy thing to take a creature not too displaced from the wild out of its natural surroundings and into a domestic setting, far removed from anything familiar to it.
Many don’t plan ahead well enough to realize how much it’s going to cost to feed them, what special provisions they may require, how long they’re going to live, or how challenging their behavior can be to manage for the untrained. And as a result, these special animals often become collateral damage — victims of ignorance, arrogance, and overreach — and find their way to rescue groups such as the one I supported as a foster, because of neglect, abuse, and dereliction.
So when the organization heard through the grapevine about a flower shop in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota* that was keeping several exotic birds in the most inhospitable of conditions, they were up in arms, and did everything they could to manage the situation.
*(If you’re not already familiar with the nature of that area, check your Google Earth maps: anything in such a location = very far North, and very, VERY cold)
Apparently, this “business owner” used this gorgeous flying quarry as no more than a “marketing” gimmick. He would put out one or two at a time in the front window of his shop, as “conversation pieces,” in order to bring folks in to discuss them, whereupon he would attempt to ply his horticultural wares to his “customers.” He determined that each of the birds had a “season,” or a period in which their natural feathering best complimented the hues of the blossoming flora he was peddling at the time. When their plumage was no longer “in season,” he kept them in a shed.
With no heat.
In sub zero temperatures.
And greenhouse chemicals.
And, he fed them only enough food for them to barely survive, narrowly avoiding death by starvation. In truth, he may actually have been starving them to death... just at a slow enough pace that it would only take off half their lifespan, rather than cutting their lives inordinately short. After all, he was a “business man,” and needed to remain mindful of his “investment.”
Many of the birds were showing signs of abuse and neglect, in incredibly poor health as a result of his “care.” The organization went to him and told him it was incorrigible for him to treat these animals this way.
His response was pretty much,
“Oh yeah? Well, so what? What are you going to DO about it?
They’re mine... to do with what I want, as I see fit. I own them, I pay for their care.”
You'd think a character like him would go on to add another two-word phrase that ends with “off,” but, ever the “shrewd” business dealer, though, he instead went so far as to include the further statement (I imagine with a slithering smile dripping with venom),
“If you want to take issue with how they’re cared for, I’d be happy to work out an arrangement whereby you can purchase them from me, and then you can care for them yourself.”
And, backed into a corner and feeling hopeless, that’s exactly what the organization did.
The collective pulled off a handful of “quick and dirty” fundraisers to put together the means to rescue his “marketing” campaign. But when they brought him the money, they didn’t have enough for all of them. This “entrepreneur” charged the organization nearly double the cost they’d have to pay to a reputable breeder for a newly hatched pedigreed clutch. For malnourished, ill-tempered, disabled, and otherwise damaged birds on the brink of death’s door.
But, what could they do? He had them bent over a barrel, gripped in his grimy grasp by the short and curlies. If they were going to rescue these maltreated angels, they were going to have to pay through the nose to do so, and so they did, exhausting their resources in the process.
The group triaged the worst of them, paying first for those who needed the most improvement. They could afford only three; among them, a cockatoo, completely blind in both eyes. (Its sight had been lost to the effect of greenhouse chemicals.)
[ Fig. 4: COCKATOO ]
Image of a wide-eyed, white feathered, black-beaked, yellow-crowned cockatoo (large bird), its crown feathers splayed out, one black claw gripped around the bars of a cage set against a suburban house window, as if to climb up the side rungs, but caught mid-step by curiosity about the camera.
When the organization ran out of money to rescue the rest of them, the “savvy merchant” mocked them, saying if they wanted to come back with more of their “liberation fund,” he’d be more than happy to allow them to “save” the rest. He clearly saw nothing wrong in what he was doing, and considered the group to be merely silly, tree-hugging liberals, undeserving of respect, and worthy of being “taken” for all they could be bled-dry. The man had no concept of genuine respect, and certainly none for any creature but himself.
The group had already gone to the cops.
But the PD in that area had informed them that “their hands were tied.” Apparently, according to the law, the regulations governing actionable matters of animal cruelty vary, dependent upon where the creatures are housed. If an animal is kept in the home with a family, then it is considered a pet, and would be protected by domestic law, but, if it is kept in a barn, or say, as in this case, an outdoor shed, then it is considered “livestock,” and has no more rights than a chicken.
...the Police were not unsympathetic to the cause, and in their explanation of their position, they were sure to pass along, and very carefully, at that, a very important bit of added information...
“You should know,” they told the group, “that, from OUR perspective, if these birds should happen to go MISSING, we are quite certain that we will be “too busy” to investigate.”
And that’s where I came in.
When I heard the story, I knew I couldn’t just sit by idly, wringing my hands and lamenting the fate of these winged wonders. I had to DO something.
And so I did.
I committed a crime.
I coordinated an “aggressive rescue.”
For the first (and only!) time in my life, I planned a heist. I quickly put together a team, synchronizing with some folks I knew, a few good men of action and integrity, who were not content to permit such injustices to continue unobstructed, but would take a stand, and take a chance at righting an insufferable wrong. It wasn’t easy to even know who I could ask to do such a thing, but, I felt fortunate, as every aim I took at a member of my sphere of influence hit the mark in finding a willing participant.
(I have such amazing friends!)
We got the details from the organization, did a hurried bit of shopping at Fleet Farm for some commercial strength work gloves and a few quick draw laundry bags (soft, so as not to hamper the frantic fluttering of frightened wings, but secure, so as not to be torn open by panicked, shredding talons), and a handful of black ski masks. We borrowed a car from a “friend-of-a-friend,” so as not to incriminate ourselves with the licensing data from any of our own vehicles, and I shipped “the boys” off on a three hour
Some part of me would have loved to have gone with them, but they insisted that someone had to be officially “uninvolved,” so as to take care of things on the other end if everything should go south. There were legal teams that would need to be contacted, children that would need to be cared for, jobs that would need to be notified of a request for “unexpected time off,” etc., etc. But, as it turned out, though, thanks to all that’s right with the world, no special measures were necessary. The “brotherhood of bird bandits” returned home victorious, their pilfered prize in tow.
The unfortunate bit of news, sadly, was that we’d not been given enough information, and as a result, did not have enough materials to rescue all that were there. It was a terrible tragedy to have to leave three of the smaller beauties behind, but the “reconnaissance mission” simply hadn’t delivered enough appropriate “intel,” and we were short in supply to carry away all that the “shed” revealed in its “stores.”
Despite that regrettable misfortune, though, my “partners in crime” managed to “capture” three of the largest birds... and delivered to my office two Blue & Gold Macaws,
[ Fig. 5: THE ROYAL COUPLE ]
Image of two wide-eyed, curious young Blue and Gold Macaws (large parrots), cuddled on a perch together, almost as if in an embrace, one with a wing wrapped around the other, both leaning in to investigate the camera.
and a ruby red Eclectus,
[ Fig. 6: NOT A CARDINAL ]
Image of a brilliantly plumed, bright-eyed ruby red Eclectus, hanging out in a household cage, checking out the camera.
...where the organization had provided a couple of cages to be set up until such time as they could be moved into a more permanent situation. I’m sure it’s probably needless to say, that this precious cargo had been through a life altering trauma, but it would not be an understatement. The office was an acceptable temporary respite, as it was warm and quiet at night, so they could relax, unmolested, calm their fragile nerves, and recover.
The Eclectus (whom we called Ruby, of course, because, why not?), as the youngest and smallest, was the easiest to shelter. She was in the best shape, and after a veterinary checkup, she went into one of our foster homes right away, and was adopted within a week.
The younger of the two Macaws, a 5-yr-old male, had a mildly twisted beak, but adapted to his new life fairly quickly (ah, the advantages of youth!), becoming affectionate right away, and very attached to me. So attached, in fact, that separation anxiety became a something of an issue, as he would scream his loudest whenever he knew I was in the building, but wasn’t in the room. If you’ve never heard a Macaw scream, btw, you should know that “flock calling” is a natural defense mechanism to avoid being lost in the rainforest jungles of the Amazon, and these “calls” could be heard for up to TWO miles. (Not a sound you want your business neighbors to be making complaints about to your landlord!)
The boys had named him Prince, because he’d been the hardest to take, as he’d had a lot of “fight” in him, they’d said. We got him situated into a foster home fairly quickly, too, as he was in great shape, also, aside from that twisted beak, which would easily be manageable with the regular application of a dremel, used as a delicate trimmer. He had to be adopted shortly thereafter, though, and went to a family for whom the noise was no concern, and last I heard, he was hearty and healthy, with a long and happy life ahead of him.
The last of the three was the older Blue & Gold, a 25-yr-old female, whom we named “Cinderella,” because as the guys said, she’d “lost a shoe.” In reality, she’d lost most of her toes on one foot to frostbite, and nearly all of them on the other foot. She was mostly blind in one eye, and so malnourished most of her muscles had atrophied to the point that she could barely move.
She was more of a hard case.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t trust people.
As if being mistreated for the whole of her life — the better part of a quarter century — wasn’t enough, then one night, while she slumbered, unsuspecting, a band of bipedal miscreants broke in and kidnapped her, stuffed her in a sack, and carried her to this unfamiliar place.
It took 6 weeks of hand feeding her pistachios (which were the only kind of nut she had the strength to open) to get her to allow any of us to touch her.
She did seem to respond better once we removed her “cage-mate,” Prince. It sort of seemed the way she blossomed after he was gone that she may have never really liked him all that much, anyway... the age difference was likely more than she could handle, and they probably didn’t relate to one another all that well — he was a bit wild and impetuous — though they’d leaned on one another for support in those first few days. Or rather, she’d been happy to let him eat up all the attention, while she clung to the side of the cage, shivering, panting, hoping we would just go away.
It was definitely going to take quite a bit longer to find her the right place to call home.
More direct care, more personal contact, more one-on-one attention.
This was a complex case, and it would require all of our best training tools.
In time — as soon as we knew she was comfortable with who we are — Cinderella moved from our office to our home. The organization switched out the cage she was in, in favor of another, and she took to the second one well. We originally tried giving her a perch made from a wooden dowel running across the width of her cage, with the top of it planed down to a flat level, to be gentler on her mangled feet.
She ate it.
No, seriously, this is a thing, apparently.
Birds, as it turns out — Macaws, especially — make short work of wooden things.
(Do NOT let them on your oak furniture, or even your cedar fence!)
I watched her chewing on the perch, day in and day out for weeks on end, chipping away a little at a time, here and there, chewing it up and spitting it out, or sometimes chewing it down to nothing and just consuming it. (Thankfully, it was untreated wood.) I sat at my desk one day, observing her as she was close to chewing all the way through, and, amused, I told her,
“You’re going to break that, and then you’re going to fall, and I’m going to laugh at you.”
She didn’t listen.
She didn’t care.
And, sure enough, just like I said, she chewed herself right off the perch, right onto the bottom of the cage. You should have seen the look on her face — she had no idea what had just happened! Amidst fits of giggles, I helped her back onto the cage, and we switched to rope perches after that. Turns out, she didn’t really need any special considerations after all. You’d be amazed how this tiny, 9 oz. little gal can get around with two broken feet and limited depth perception.
I never intended to keep her.
Truly I didn’t.
To do so would have meant that I’d been complicit in a felony* for my own gain...
...and that didn’t sit right with me.
(*Technically, given the “cost” most likely claimed to the insurance company, my participation possibly could qualify as “grand theft” or “larceny,” but I’d like to see him try to sell those birds for that much to anyone who wasn’t making the purchase for the purpose of trying to better their lives. But, no need to worry about me, though; I’ve already confessed to my brother the cop, and he gave his support. And besides, the time allowed for legal retribution on such matters has now long since passed.)
But, as time wore on, she had become attached. After 6 months, she would step up to me, let me hold her, kiss her, cuddle her. She discovered that she liked it. Out of jealousy over the other bird in the house, she learned a few words, because she figured out she would get what that bird (the family pet) was getting if she said what that bird said. She never developed the other bird’s extensive vocabulary (more than 700 words), but she has learned to say, “Hi!,” “Step Up?” (which for some reason is only ever spoken by her as a whisper, in an entreating manner), “Love You!” (also whispered, as if it’s a secret), and “Luv-Luv?” (this one gets her “head skritches”). But her favorite, by far, and the universal catch-all to mean whatever she wants to communicate, is simply, “Hello!”
In our home, she came to show that she had personality.
Unlike the other bird, she wasn’t afraid to get down on the floor and wander around a bit. (A trait that seems more characteristic of Blue & Golds than of Scarlets.) She’s even been known to raise her wings to her full height and chase the 165 lb. Rottweiler out of the room. She learned to trust ME, but she still hadn’t learned to trust people. It was her way when someone got too close (which could be as much as five feet away... from her perspective, with only lights and shadows in half of her vision, it’s hard to tell how near or far anything is), she would lift her wings as if to take off in flight, and strike out in the general direction of the “offender,” in order to show them how “big and mean and scary” she is.
She’d like you to think so, anyway.
At full health, she could take your finger off in the snap of her beak, quicker than you could say, “Wait a second!” Sadly, in reality, she barely has the strength to crack open nuts. That doesn’t stop her, though, from trying to convince you that she “will end you!”
In our house, there was a certain irony to the fact there were two birds who could technically be considered dangerous. The irony was, the one who could hurt you, wouldn’t (it isn't in her nature), and the one who would inflict serious damage, can’t. Which isn't to say that Cinderella couldn’t hurt you... her touch may be too light to break skin, but she can surely still let you know she was there, and make you regret it.
When we had people over to the house, invariably, folks wanted to ask questions about her, talk to her, touch her... but the results could be, well... mixed, at best. We ended up hanging a sign on her cage that read,
“This creature is descended from Velociraptors. Please respect her accordingly.”
That at least gave those who were less-inclined-to-think (especially if aided to that state by alcohol) some cause for pause (if for no other reason than to struggle with the thought, and thereby be forced to raise a question or comment that would result in harsh warning).
But, Cindy was high strung. When there was too much activity, she would become easily agitated, and unsettled. Yet, there was always too much activity in the house for her. I longed to find for her someplace quiet where a loving owner with no other pets would devote all of his extra attention to meeting her needs. That was a tall order, though. Among animal lovers who want a bird, who are able to care for a bird, who are willing to accept a rescue — one that isn’t physically perfect — and willing to put up with one who will take a fair amount of extra time to adjust to someone new... there just wasn’t enough room left in the demographic to start piling on additional qualification requirements.
And, she had become attached to me.
If she had her way, she would spend the entirety of her life sitting in my lap, purring and being pet.
(Yes, birds purr. Or at least, this one does, anyway. It's the most endearing sound!)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the torment of animals. Not by any stretch of the imagination, not for any creature that walks, or crawls, or flies, or lives and breathes. But, at least with animals that have a predatory nature, that have jaws that bite and claws that catch, one can at least understand how some misguided misanthrope might be inclined to take up a defensive posture. But these birds, these vegetarian non-predators? They don’t even understand the concept of violence unless a human teaches them. And their response? To harm themselves.
If you ever see a bird who’s plucked out all its feathers, or butchered its own wings...
[ Fig. 7: DISTRESSED ]
Two images, side by side. On the left, an African Grey (large parrot), who has plucked out of all its front feathers (which protect its delicate, temperature sensitive core from radical thermal changes). In the second, on the right, the African Grey is bending downward, leaning over the front of the perch, so that the viewer is looking at the back of the bird, from the top down, showing that it has destroyed the top layer of all its wing feathers, from the shoulder to the joint, rendering it flightless.
...you can be sure that someone, somewhere, has irreparably tortured it, and this is the resulting reaction of frustration, fear, and suffering. I firmly believe there’s a special place in hell for the kind of person who would lead such a docile creature to this level of neurotic self-mutilation.
Cindy wasn’t like that, though, thank heaven. It took two years before we felt that she was in a position to go to a new home, but, she had come so far by then, it was truly impressive how much life she’d gained... from a scared thing that couldn’t be pried away from the side of the cage, to one who would manipulate and maneuver her “minions” to get the maximum attention.
She groomed herself, but never more than necessary. She was always polite, and gentle, never loud. She’d even taught herself to be litter box trained. I didn’t even try to teach her that... she was just never comfortable pooping anywhere but in her cage or on her perch.
We kept our eyes peeled and our ears to the ground in search for the promise of a holy grail — that perfect combination of the right owner with the right home — but months passed, and then years, and though we considered a few options, and even tested the waters of the idea to a friend or two, eventually the concept itself seemed more like a pipe dream than merely a long shot. And, she had become so attached to me that I couldn’t imagine having to put her through the trauma of feeling that sense of abandonment that would come with having to say goodbye to me and learn to connect with someone else new all over again...
...it seemed like that would be just one more unnecessary cruelty at the hands of this human thing she in general had not much love for.
Then something happened I didn’t expect, about the time my last long-term housemate and I were making the decision to part ways. In the conversation that transpired between us about why after sharing a cohabitation for (then) five years, a “dissolution of partnership” was the best course for all involved, I realized it was going to be tough walking away from so much that we’d shared together, but, at the top of my list, among the few things foremost on my heart, was that bird. And I realized then, something that hadn’t occurred to me. I had become attached to HER.
We mutually agreed then and there that she was mine, and that she had always been mine. (I suspect she had been plotting towards that conclusion for some time, and that she knew it long before I did.) It took another 2½ years for me to actually move out (my last long-term housemate had an occasional tendency to backpedal in big decisions such as the nature of our “family,” as he was often emotionally torn over matters related to our “relationship,” and had a history of changing his mind and asking me to stay, a month after asking me to leave), but during that whole time, everyone in our house recognized that Cindy was MY bird, and we all stopped seeking for to find anywhere else to call home.
Cinderella doesn’t need another home anymore... she has me now... and forever more.
Fast forward to four years after that, and today, Cinderella lives with me, in my house, with Minion (whom she’s adopted, with some semi-feigned reluctance), and I’ve never regretted a moment of my life with her.
She is, by far, the most loving and affectionate pet I’ve ever known.
She’s smarter than any non-human animal I’ve ever met.
And I can barely imagine my life without her.
[ Fig. 8: MY GIRL ]
Image of me with my bird, a Blue and Gold Macaw (large parrot), Cinderella, both smiling for the camera.
To have a Macaw is to knowingly accept an intelligence level equivalent to that of a 5-yr-old human child, coupled by the emotional maturity of a TWO year old. So, one must learn to tolerate the very precocious “terrible twos,” for the better part of a hundred years.
Yes, she will outlive me.
Yes, I must account for her in my will.
Yes, it’s a long-hauled road, but it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My oldest nephew, the firstborn grandchild of my parents, the foremost of our family’s next generation, and an animal lover himself, who is getting married the day after tomorrow, has done some house-sitting for us, to care for her during a few of our trips, and still visits her from time to time. The two of them are getting to know and like each other better every day.
I just hope, when the time comes, that he will be able to love her as much as I have.
LJ Idol | Season 9 • Week 17 - Topic: "SCARE QUOTES"
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