Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Avian Flu

While we were staying at my parent's house, Samantha fell head over heels in love with their pet canary, Gordon Bird (Gordon B. for short--he's named after the police chief on Batman, not the prophet). He is a new addition to the family after the unfortunate and premature demise of Cooper left a canary vacancy in the house a few weeks ago. Much like Cooper, Gordon B. is small and yellow with an sweet little song that gets louder when the TV does, and every time Sam was taken over to his cage, she would wave, talk, giggle, clap or preform some combination of all four. In my two virtually chore-free weeks with my parents, I got all these fuzzy memories of our birds growing up. We always had birds outside, at one time we had 13 finches in a large aviary in the backyard, and I remembered loving their little "meeps" and watching their busy endeavors. Sweet little birds! So low-maintenence, and so pretty! I began to take action with my romanticized memories, telling Daniel all about the many birds that we had brought into our lives over the years, and Daniel always had birds too. Wonderful golden bird-related memories filled our heads instead of sugar plums. This my friends, is the real Avian Flu--the sickness you catch when you are around other people's pets that makes you think you need one too.
By the time I got home, I had convinced myself we needed a bird for Samantha.
This conclusion came from a combo of half-true memories and mandatory compliance with all my "pet rules":
If something poops as much or more than a baby, it had better be a baby and learn how to clean up after itself in less than 3 years. Therefore, no dog.
We are not cat people. Period. If I want to raise something that stinks up my house, eats gross amounts food I have to provide, is rarely seen but only shoots me a dirty look if it is caught, I'll take in stray teenage boys, thank you very much.
I am morally opposed to anything that eats it's own offspring, which eliminates pretty much all small hamster-like animals.
I'm LDS, so there's enough babies going around without adding a rabbit to the mix.
I don't do scaly, slimy, or venomous (I don't need to justify that, do I?) which eliminates all fish and reptiles.
I'd prefer something I don't have to remember to feed every day, if possible.

Enter the birds.

I'd love a canary, but I couldn't really bring myself to spend 100 bucks on my first experiment as an adult pet owner (meaning no parent to step in if I forget to feed or water it). I have this theory that you shouldn't spend more than 50 dollars on a pet that doesn't get a proper burial when it dies. If it goes in the trash or gets flushed, keep it cheap. Insensitive, probably, but practical. Finches make adorable meeps, they are very small, and they stay away from people, so no biting. I took care of ours for a long time growing up, so I know what they need. Plus, zebra finches are dirt cheap.
Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!
We went to about a million pet stores (massive hyperbole there) before getting all the stuff we needed and bringing two male zebra finches home to stay. Sam loved going to the pet stores and waving at the birdies (awwwww!), and I couldn't wait to get them home. It was late when we brought them home in their little cardboard box, so Sam was in bed while I set up their cage with every comfort a finch could ever ask for. I couldn't wait to get our little chirpers set up in their five-star cage. In an uncharateristic moment of clarity, I decided to take the cage and box into our small guest bathroom for the move up to the East side, so in case they got out, they couldn't get far. This would turn out to be the first and last good decision of the entire process.
While I tried to sneak open just one flap of the box against the open cage door, something happened, and I suddenly had one finch flying around my head. That's right, he got out. In between all the psuedo-swears (ie: "You flippin' fetcher bird! Oh my heck! Come back! Oh, crap! Oh crap! DON'T POOP ON MY GUEST TOWELS!") going around my head I could hear the common sense portion in singsong, "This was a bad idea! What were you thinking! You are not an animal person." The bird settled on a light fixture about 2 inches from the ceiling and I was at a loss. Finches are extraordinalily fast, I swear, this one broke the sound barrier. Now the common sense part of my brain was throwing in new jeers--"What do you think you are going to do even if you are fast enough to grab him, huh, little Miss Germophobe? Are you going to touch a live bird? Disgusting!!!" I was about to tell myself to shut up, but I raised a good point. How in the world do you catch a extremely small fragile bird too high to reach, who is lightning fast, and additionally, you are afraid of? I realize this makes me the biggest wuss on the face of the planet, but everytime he flew near me, instead of trying to grab him, I would protect my head and run away. There are few things in life more humbling than realizing you are terrified of one of God's frailest and most benign creatures. By this point, Daniel had come down and realized I was trapped in the bathroom with a finch and was taking great pleasure out of my terrified yips. "Don't just stand out there giggling! Help me! Yikes! He flew by me again!" I waited until Devil bird was back on the light fixture, opened the door a hair and yanked Daniel inside.
"What exactly do you think it's going to do to you honey!? He's a bird! He weighs an ounce!" he managed to helpfully toss out inbetween shooting me "I told you this was a bad idea" looks and "I'm trying not to giggle because you'll kill me later looks."
After much ado, I was eventually able to get a pillowcase over Devil bird, and put the bag in the cage to let him out again. Rather than have a repeat preformance with his roommate, we just put the pillowcase over the entire box to start with. He was a relatively smooth transfer, but the damage to my psyche was done. The entire rest of the night, the birds did not move from their spot on a perch. Super. I just wrangled these birds, grossed myself out, and spent all this money so they can be too terrified to ever move again. I wondered if the 14-day return policy on animals applied to all the crap I bought to go with them. These birds were going back to the store as soon as I worked up the courage to tell Daniel I was an idiot to beg for them in the first place.
The next morning I woke up to find (surprise!) our new family members had still not budged. That was just awesome. I brought Samantha downstairs to let her say hi to the birds that would be ours if I never did get the guts to tell Daniel he was right, and we shouldn't have bought them. Sam's face lit up when she saw the birds. She clapped and started talking to them. I totally melted. During her morning bottle, they not only moved, but broke into an excited chorus of meeping that caused Sam to excitedly drop her breakfast and whirl around to watch them raptly. She smiles and giggles every time she sees them. She adores Bart and Milhouse. So yes, the birds now have names and a permanent place in our home. And everytime I see Sam's joyful reaction to her new buddies, I know we made the right decision. I am now a pet owner, because I'm a mom, and we do things that gross us out, scare us, cost us money, and cause us more effort, just to see our kids happy. It's part of our job and I'm doing my best not to get fired.

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