Loving and Losing a Parrot
Over time I’ve found that being a Pet Bereavement Counsellor doesn’t make losing one of my own little charges any easier – the grief still needs to be worked through, although understanding the process, and knowing that the overwhelming emotions are finite, does help. Two years ago I experienced a loss I was not expecting – after all, parrots can live for years and I was convinced that Poppy and I would grow old together. So this blog is in tribute to Poppy, the parrot, but to begin I need to go right back to when we first met in the mid-1980s.
It was one of those strange moments in life where you find yourself compelled to do something that is totally impractical and a touch crazy. I was at the counter in a pet shop saying “I’ll take that Grey parrot, but can you accept pre-dated cheques as I don’t have the funds at the moment?”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I’d find the funds either as I was pretty broke and I’d only gone into the shop to buy some seed and millet for my cockatiels and budgies. My home was filled with a number of little waifs and strays – budgies who’d been found in a junk shop and such like. I hadn’t actually intended to buy the terrified Grey which was desperately trying to back into a corner of its cage and was making the most awful growling noise, but I had to do something to get it out of there. I found out later that this growl is particular to Grey parrots and is a sign of deep distress or fear. There was only one other parrot for sale, a more steady-looking Amazon and much more expensive – hopefully too much for the three rather rough looking young chaps who’d been eyeing up the Grey. I could see that the poor Grey needed a quiet home – somewhere to heal from the obvious trauma it had experienced so far in its young life – and I was terrified that the lads would buy it. The shopkeeper gratefully accepted my pre-dated cheques, crammed the poor bird into a box and carried the newly bought heavy cage, which cost even more than the parrot, to load into my car. No doubt she was glad to have made the sale and to get that noisy creature out of her shop. Meanwhile I resolved to do whatever I could to guarantee a decent future for this dear creature, whether it stayed with me or went to a good bird sanctuary. Either way I thought I was in it for the long haul as parrots can easily live for over 50 years.
The bird was a Timneh Grey, a sub-species of the more well-known African Grey. Although I had no idea if this was a female, I named her Poppy because of her burgundy tail feathers. Other than that she was a mixture of light and dark greys with eyes that had apparently recently turned yellow, showing she was about 18 months old. She had just come out of quarantine, having been bred in Belgium and transported to the UK, although later on I would wonder whether she’d been caught in the wild – I would never know for sure.
I’d been told I would need a pair of heavy leather or sheepskin gloves to avoid being bitten by her rather daunting beak. However, first sight of my thick gloves made Poppy throw herself to floor of the cage, growling in fear. So the gloves were put away for ever; this bird needed to experience gentleness, kindness, compassion and sensitivity from someone with decent knowledge of the species and their needs.
The first couple of years together were challenging, but in time Poppy became a confident and happy, albeit noisy, member of the family. She liked her freedom and would spend most of the time on top of her cage, as she felt safe higher up and from where she could fly around the room when she wanted, or watch the neighbours out of the window, mimicking the local birdlife and other daily sounds, such as the fax machine, lorry reversing warnings, and the piercing barking of two terriers who lived a couple of doors away. But it was lovely when she started to talk – a real treat in fact – and sometimes she’d respond to a question appropriately. Such as when I asked, “Poppy, are you going in for your tea?” and she’d say, “Yes” and go into her cage to her food bowl! She learnt to nip me, then cry “Ow!”, and say “Poppy” in an admonishing tone. She was a real character.
She learnt to accept my husband, but he always felt that he was tolerated rather than loved, but nevertheless he became very fond of Poppy and helped with the cleaning up and feeding that goes with parrot care. She took to life in our new home in Devon well, and began to amuse our neighbours in the street, although confusing the elderly lady next door who thought we were banging nails in the wall to put up pictures in odd places at odd times of the day and night. It was, in fact, Poppy tapping on the wall!
Over our 25 years together we became firm friends, and she’d love to be held, or would put her head down for me to gently scratch her. She was often found on my shoulder, and she’d nudge her head into my mug of tea to have a few sips, or bite holes in my jumper – I lost a number of nice tops that way.
As I said, I’d always thought that Poppy and I would become old ladies together, and in case I died before her, I’d made provisions for her care. So it was with deep shock to find her suddenly unwell one day. We found a vet who could do a home visit so as not to stress her – she had a chest infection and our daily routine became trying to get her to take antibiotics in the fruit juice she liked to sip. But sadly, just as we thought she was getting better, she went downhill and had to be hospitalised. We went to see her in the vet hospital where she was receiving excellent care. They told us how much she perked up when we went in; but it soon became clear that the kindest thing was to allow her to be put to sleep, which of course we agreed to do.
Of course, losing a pet after so many years together was immensely sad, and she is still missed today, but I feel honoured and enriched at having shared 25 years with the beautiful, funny and confident little person Poppy became.