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  • Parenting from Pop's POV

Strangeness in the Menagerie

Luke (2.5) saw it first, chewing on Otis’s flipper by the side of the pool. We were having a quick swim before dinner so Otis (5) could show off his ability to swim without said flippers when Luke pointed it out: A beautiful red and green and grey bird perched and chewing on the flipper’s shoe. We swam close to it and watched until both boys were shivering.

It had been an eventful stretch in an eventful year in our animal menagerie. The biggest and saddest development came when we had our beloved 13 year old chocolate lab put down earlier this year. Luke was there for it. “Bye bye, May-may,” he said, adding a note of sweetness to the layers of bitter pain as we sobbed our way out of the vet’s office.

With a baby on the way, it didn’t seem like a good idea to add another needy mammal to the mix, so we invested in a small tank and betta fish from Petco. After we managed to infect the thing with some sort of horrible disintegrating fin disease he would neither recover or die from, we flushed him and went to a reputable fish store to get properly set up with a small band of underwater problems. Things were going okay until we discovered one of the Red-Eyed Tetras on the carpet by the bookshelf. No one’s been able to figure out how it got there. These fish scurry and hide if you so much as look at the tank, so it’s unlikely it got scooped accidentally.

Fish come and go, we explained. It’s no big thing. Until the other day, when it was a huge, upsetting thing.

Elizabeth discovered one of the small catfish inside the hole of the sunken ship decoration and called the boys over to see the silly place the catfish had decided to go. Once we added food and all he could do was watch it fall around him, it was clear he was stuck.

A simple shake of the sunken ship would not free the fish. Both Elizabeth and I were too squeamish to try pushing the fish’s face to loosen him. Otis was not. “It’s hard,” he reported. “Like there’s a hard bone right there.” Elizabeth gave the tail a gentle tug, taking some scales off for her trouble. As extraction efforts continued to spiral downward, Otis began to get frantic. “You’re killing him! Don’t! Don’t!”

It was clear that the only way to get the fish out was to somehow destroy the ship. After a few light taps, it was clear that the composite resin would require a serious smash from my hammer. While that sounded therapeutic for me, it was an overall bad idea. I hoped maybe a could drill through the thing and crack it that way. As Otis’s laments grew louder and bedtime grew later, I gave up trying to find my drill bits and pinned my hopes on the Philips head driver bit I’d left inside the drill. This was not a good idea. I aimed a few inches from where the fish was stuck, and as soon as I squeezed the trigger, the drill immediately slipped and spun right into that fucker’s face.

“Why did you drill its face?!” Otis howled. “You killed him! That is NOT okay! Why did you kill him?! Why did you drill his face?!”

Bedtime was a little later than usual that night, and sleep came only after promises of an immediate trip to the fish store were made and bonded.

The next morning, we acquired five new fish and on getting them home discovered one of our little algae sucker fish was also dead. This fish was removed and flushed with little fanfare. The excitement of the new fish outweighs one dead algae sucker.

By the time the bird showed up in our yard, we were very clearly establishing ourselves as a zoological family on par with Cousteaus or the (Steve the Crocodile Hunter) Irwins.

We gave the bird until after supper to vacate the premises or subjugate himself to Allen-family rule. Rarely is dinner consumed so quickly and thoroughly, and so it was that he remained poolside, pecking at seed. It fell to me to capture and secure the bird and with my recent track record in question, the stakes were high. The kids posted up at their little picnic table and pinned their many hopes on my success with this small, flying specimen I knew nothing about.

I’ve never fancied myself a keeper of exotic birds. I’m of the belief that flight is so wonderful it should never be denied a creature who has the ability to make it. But this tame, beautiful bird didn’t stand much chance against the Red Tail and Sharp Shinned hawks in the area. Even our slow, fat cat Susan had a pretty good chance of knocking the thing off. Besides, we most likely end up returning the thing to its owners and be heroes and that would feel pretty good.

I donned some gardening gloves and made my careful approach. Though Elizabeth was able to walk right up and put down bowls of food for the thing, as soon as I got near, it took flight. Fortunately, it landed on a nearby deck umbrella. The kids now had a better view of both the bird and the sweat that was streaming down my face. I got the bowl of bird seed. I whistled to it. And by some great fortune, it hopped to the other side of the umbrella and whistled back. I shook the bowl and whistled some more. It took flight again and Otis couldn’t stifle a little yelp, but it landed on the roof of the guest house and studied me further. I shook the bowl. I whistled. The bird flew down and landed on my shoulder.

My family cheered as I walked the bird into the guest house and closed the doors.

We got a cage and named the bird Paulo. We all fell in love with him. We identified him (a Crimson Bellied Conure – rare! – worth upwards of $800!) and reluctantly posed ads in the local papers and called the pet stores and vets. I began to entertain a lovely fantasy wherein Paulo would go unclaimed and he’d become and integral part of our life, mine in particular. I would put Paulo onto my shoulder and smoke cigars and drink rum on the patio while talking to him about local real estate. “Paulo,” I’d say, “I went to the open house over on Boulder Road. Lovely property, but they fouled up the kitchen remodel. Such a shame.”

We studied up on care of the bird, and that’s when the honeymoon ended. The Conure is a very social creature and demands mupauloch interaction. We secured the room and opened the cage and I attempted to get the bird to “step up” to my arm and was rewarded with surprisingly forceful bites to the cheek and neck. Paulo squawked and bit relentlessly and I, knowing precious little about birds, spun around the living room begging him to get off. He finally flew into the kitchen, where pooped on our clean laundry before swooping down onto Elizabeth’s shoulder and giving her the same course of biting and squawking he gave me.

In the days that have followed, our “social” time with Paulo has been fraught with stress and biting. I’ve learned there’s little more upsetting than the sound of frantic wings coming at my head.

We made the decision last night that we’re taking Paulo to the Humane Society. Elizabeth is due to give birth in the room Paulo currently dominates, and the sound of his talons scurrying across the cage don’t really go with the birth vibe we’re going for. The kids will be upset, Otis in particular. They love little Paulo, but they haven’t suffered his powerful beak to their sweet faces. But we are simply more of a mammalian household and with a human baby on the way, avian jungle creatures are not welcome. Besides, I can’t imagine cigar smoke and rum breath are great for a baby, so I’m certain this is all for the better

Adios, Paulo.

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