When Patrick, my little Senegal parrot, died a couple of years ago, I missed him like crazy.
He had been a hard-luck bird, a sick, feather-picked mess who'd been given up by people who'd not been able to cope with the expense and time involved with his many health problems. But even as sick as he was, and as let down by humans as he must have felt, he stepped onto my hand the first time I offered it, and caught my eye with a look of fearless intelligence. I knew at that moment he would come home with me.
My "Birds for Dummies" co-author, avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer, examined Patrick thoroughly and ran some diagnostic tests. Then he had me work on the basics of good husbandry, including a healthy balanced diet. My own special contribution: lots of attention and affection, along with exercise and training.
Patrick's health improved dramatically. He still had a gimpy leg and still picked himself bald in a small spot now and then, but the seizures stopped. Over the months, it was apparent by his looks and his attitude that he was feeling fine, maybe for the first time in his life. Even better: His personality bloomed along with his new set of feathers.
People who don't have parrots don't understand how much intelligence is packed into those relatively small, lightweight and handsomely aerodynamic bodies. They see the beautiful colors of the birds, or they are amused by those individual birds who can mimic human speech. But people who love parrots know they are so much more (which is why I cringe when I see these intelligent beings used as "decor" in a hotel lobby or a restaurant).
Other people see parrots as low-maintenance pets: Throw 'em in a cage, feed 'em and you're done. In fact, they are more demanding than most other pets, and if not cared for properly -- and sometimes even (BEGIN ITAL)if(END ITAL) cared for properly -- will make themselves sick. Parrots need to be socialized. They're easily bored, very noisy and more than any other pet I can think of, they're messy almost beyond belief.
When Patrick's health problems caught up to him again and he died, I spent weeks catching up with the places he'd managed to fling food and poop. And it was this effort, more than anything else, that led me to donate his cage to the SPCA rummage sale and decide that the parrot chapter in my life was closed. I just didn't think I had the time or energy for the decades of commitment a parrot requires.
Late last year I sold my home and bought another. I fell in love with the new place for its large yard and the creek-side acreage that ran behind the property -- perfect for exercising my dogs. But the first time I looked at the house, I saw something more: a perfect spot for a bird cage. In the corner of the den was a freestanding wood stove, set on a tiled base that extended to the ceiling.
Floor to ceiling tile! Could there be any surface more perfect when it comes to bird mess?
The stove is gone now, and the tiled space where it was is now open ... and waiting. I've looked at cages, and I've thought about birds. It's still a massive commitment, and I don't want to make it without being as certain as I can be. I know the species I don't want -- the best of the talkers, the worst of the screamers -- and I've narrowed the field down to low-key parrots that best suit my personality. Including the Senegal, just like Patrick.
I think about Patrick a lot these days, and I miss him still. But what he taught me about parrots will never die, and some day soon one of these special beings will brighten my life again.
PETS ON THE WEB
Petfinder.com is one of my favorite places to send people who are looking to adopt a pet. The Web site showcases animals from more than 5,000 shelters and rescue groups, and its services are free to those who are offering the animals and to those who are looking for a pet to adopt. Even better: If you adopt a dog or cat from Petfinder, you'll be eligible for two months of free veterinary medical coverage from Pethealth, a company that offers health insurance for pets in most states and in Canada.
Springtime is when we all think of gardening. If you're putting in some new plants, don't forget to include a few your pets will enjoy. Carrots are favored by many dogs, and make a great substitute for commercial treats for overweight pups. Catnip is a natural for cats, but also consider valerian, another herb that makes kitties dance with joy. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other rodents will enjoy any leafy vegetable you plant. And as for parrots, what's good for you is great for your bird. The fresher the better!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: The people who wrote to you recently with the "sort of adopted" cat might also consider, from the crusty ears they described, that their stray could have precancerous lesions, sunburning and possibly even squamous cell carcinoma. This is particularly likely if the cat is white.
I'm very sure you have encountered this, and would know that the kitty needs an aggressive approach, including biopsy and generous amputation to save the cat if it is indeed cancerous. Would you please let them know so they can get the help they need? -- Brian Putty, DVM, Fair Oaks, Calif.
A: Thanks for checking in, Dr. Putty! Your note is a good reminder why it's always important to see a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment of an animal's health problems. Too many times people turn to the Web or other sources to save them the time or money of seeing a veterinarian.
Problem is, most pet lovers aren't trained to recognize symptoms of disease, and they may be missing the most important ones. Sometimes, there's no harm done and the problem resolves itself; other times, diagnosing a pet's illness without the hands-on advice of a good veterinarian can put an animal in grave danger.
I would rather see my veterinarian a dozen times for something that turns out to be nothing, rather than miss the one time when the problem turns out to be serious. Better safe than sorry is always a good rule to follow when it comes to your pet's health.
Q: I have many pieces of glassware and figurines that I've collected over the years and that are very important to me. After my sweet old cat died early last year, I adopted a kitten. She's much more active than my old cat, and loves to jump up on things, including the shelves with my collectibles. She has already broken one piece, and two more would have been broken except that they fell onto the couch cushions. How can I keep her on the floor? -- N.W., via e-mail
A: Practically speaking, you can't keep cats on the ground. The best you can do is display your treasures in ways that keep them safe or, at least, safer.
You might consider moving your collections to a single room and keeping the door closed when you're not around to supervise. Glass-fronted bookcases are another option for keeping collectibles and cats apart.
Although it's probably best to keep your most valuable pieces where your cat can't get to them, other objects can be made safer from the wanderings of active cats. Two products that will help: Quake Hold or Museum Gel, both putties that seal objects to their display surface. If you can't find it at your home-supply store, check out catalog and Internet retailers.
Q: Can you give me some suggestions on local organizations I could send a small donation to in the memory of a friend's beloved dog who recently had to be euthanized? -- K.R., via e-mail
A: Donating in the memory of a friend's pet is one of the kindest ways to show you care. Especially when you consider there are always folks around who are quick to ridicule those who grieve the loss of a pet. Message to the "but it's just a dog (cat, iguana, parrot)!" crowd: Grief is grief.
You can't go wrong donating to your local SPCA or humane association, and these groups have programs in place to send a card in acknowledgment of your gift. A donation to your local school or college of veterinary medicine is also a good choice, as is a gift to regional nonprofit groups that train dogs to assist people, such as search-and-rescue dogs, hearing dogs or dogs who assist people who use wheelchairs.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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