Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bilbo and Belladonna

Back in the late 80's, one of my children worked at a pet shop part time while in college. She had always been a sucker for animals, particularly small ones. The pet shop had a macaw, which they allowed to roam the shop, though his wings were clipped so he couldn't go far. At night he sat on a perch, but was not in a cage.

On occasion, parakeets and other small birds would escape from their cages and fly wildly around the store, enjoying their small bursts of freedom. If they couldn't be caught before the store closed, no one seemed to care enough to try harder.

My daughter went to work one day and discovered a wounded parakeet; his foot had been nearly severed at the "ankle" joint by the macaw, who didn't seem to care for being buzzed and dive-bombed by the smaller bird. Since the store could not sell damaged birds, they offered him to our daughter, plus a small cage and some food. She brought him home, and we settled in to bird watching and learning about him (or maybe a her - we never knew). After toying with various names denoting a "peg-leg" , we scrapped that notion and I named him Bilbo, after my favorite character in "The Hobbit".

Bilbo was fun to watch; he developed favorite tricks and postures, and we did our best to see that he was not too lonely in that cage by himself. Many toys, mirrors, bells, etc. were proffered to him. On sunny, warm days, his cage was hung outside the kitchen window; where other birds and even a squirrel or two came by to visit and steal birdseed.

Before long, a bird with a damaged beak was sent to the shop and they offered that one to our daughter as well. He (or maybe she) was named Belladonna (which I think was the name of Bilbo's mother). They quickly decided who was Alpha and who was Beta, and each had their own territory within the cage. They would "talk" to each other, in bird language and it was fun to see them interacting.

One day I came in the house after being gone all morning, and I heard loud bird squawkings and other raucous noises. I found Bilbo dead in the bottom of the cage, and was surprised and sad to see it - as he had not been ill that we knew about. Belladonna could not stop "talking" about it; she was obviously distraught about Bilbo. I removed him from the cage, prayed over his little body and gave him a rather unceremonious burial. Belladonna finally got used to the idea of being alone, or at least she stopped squawking about it, and settled in to be the one and only parakeet at Chez Kenju.

I think we had the birds for a total of about 4 years, maybe more. Belladonna got old and started losing her feathers, more than just the natural molting that birds do. One day I came home to find her shaking and obviously weak. I called the vet, but was not given any definitive answers as to what was wrong. Before long she was unable to stand on her perch without help. I placed her bath, lined with a soft cloth, into the cage so she could lie on it and not have to try and support herself. She was failing fast and getting colder by the minute, so I took her out of the cage, wrapped her in a washcloth and held her on my chest for a long time, talking softly to her and trying to get her to stop shaking. After what seemed like hours, she grew still and I had hope she was rallying and getting warmer, but that was not the case. She died there, on my chest.

Who knew I could get so emotional about a small bird? It took a long time to get those little birds moved out of my memory and my heart. Since then, I have had a dog and a few cats. The dog is gone now, and two of the cats have left us as well. When these last two go, I may not replace them. The older I get, the harder it is to contemplate losing anyone or anything on whom I have lavished love and had it returned in full. Better to live on the memories than to risk the pain of loss anew.