Saturday, April 11, 2009
In Which My Parakeets Melt My Cold Black Heart
There are few tasks more challenging than administering medication to an unwilling pet. It's physically difficult because when you try to sneak it into their food, animals always -- always! -- sense its presence and eat around it. If you try to force feed them, they hold the medication in their mouths until you let go, at which point they shake their heads and more of it ends up on you than in their stomach. And it's hard emotionally because you can't explain to your pet that all this unpleasantness is for their own good.
Stuart the Parakeet has a respiratory infection going on right now. This I learned after dropping more money than I care to admit at the vet’s office this week. (I just hope the birds let me move into their cage with them once I’m evicted from my apartment for defaulting on my rent.) It’s now up to me to shove a plastic syringe full of unappetizing antibiotics down his beak for five consecutive days.
Last night I pulled him out of the cage and set him on my lap. Jesus the Parakeet began chirping angrily the way he always does when I separate the two of them. I clutched little Stu from behind, wrapping my fingers around his torso. Because he was hand-fed as a baby, Stu is incredibly sweet-natured and trusts humans implicitly. He never bites but last night he thought I was trying to crush him so he nipped hard at my fingers. His feet clawed at my palm. Using his shoulders, he shimmied upwards and climbed out of my clenched hand. Then, unsure where to go, he crouched on my fist and trembled.
I grabbed him with my other hand and started again, using a firmer grip, all the while terrified that I was going to injure his delicate body. He chirped in a high anxious pitch he’d never used before. When I pinched his head between my thumb and pointer finger to keep it steady, he stopped struggling. He gave up because he thought he was about to die.
(I’m getting teary just typing this.)
Jesus obviously thought Stuart was about to die as well. He was going out of his mind, squawking, flapping his wings and carrying on like never before. He even climbed out of the cage to come to Stuart’s aid. This was unprecedented because Jesus hates leaving the cage and bites the hell out of any fool who dares to pry him from his kingdom.
It brought to mind an op-ed I read last year written by Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. In it, he reflected on his boyhood growing up on a farm where they slaughtered geese once a month. It was Kristof’s job to hold them by their wings over the chopping block while his dad swung the ax. He wrote:
The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms. Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.
Everyone likes to tell me that parakeets have pea-sized brains, that they aren’t real pets because they don’t “give back” the way dogs and cats do (my boyfriend, especially, likes to remind me of this after I’ve just dropped a load of money on vet bills). But last night was a sweet reminder that birds have a capacity for love that we don’t understand.
After I returned Stu to the cage, he didn’t move or make a sound for the rest of the evening, not even when Jesus toddled over and tried to strike up a conversation. Jesus fell silent after awhile and climbed onto the swing next to Stu. Then he reached down and spent a half hour preening Stuart’s feathers, smoothing them over and over until, at last, Stu felt safe enough to close his eyes and fall sleep.
(It’s not obvious at all that I’m PMSing, right?)