Jan 28, 2012

Encounters with the other species [27/365]

I've had the most unusual history with pets. Growing up abroad, you'll always have the quintessential dog/cat/bird.
I remember we had Polly (a green parrot). When I was about five years old. Well, Polly's tail would stick out of the cage, so being the helpful devil that I was, would pull the feathers off the tail out so that the tail would not stick out. He didn't survive my trimming.

My parents decided that we would have a dog in our vacation home in India.
In comes Mony. Since the house that we had was quite close to a busy railway route, he committed suicide.

My grandma (Mom's mom) was an animal lover and that meant I've had atleast four dogs, two milking cows and a couple of egg laying hens in our farm. I particularly hated one of the hen. She would not eat the food or drink the water that I gave her, unlike the cows. What I did next would remain as the most talked about animal torture stories in our family since. I took the hen, helped by my younger cousin brother, bound it by twine and injected water using a syringe. Satisfied we were basking in the glory of having quenched the thirst of the chicken, we were about to untie the hen when my mom called me for tea. We left the hen at the terrace (which was the location of all our heinous activities) and raced down. We forgot about the chicken for the rest of the evening. Middle of the night, we were awoken by the gnarliest growls of feeding frenzy. All of us (plus the neighbors) were in for a shock when we realized that four of the neighbor's dogs were making a meal out of the hen that I tied up. Unable to fly, the hen had literally fallen into the mouths of the rottweiler and the doberman.
I don't remember the rest of the night or the day but I do know that I was never left unsupervised near a hen after that incident.

Many years later, when the fascination for fishes took over, I would smuggle guppies, black mollies and gold fishes in and keep them in a unused water tank in our terrace. My cousin brother was an unwitting accomplice in my hobby. We'd stealthily slip out to the terrace at the first moment of freedom and we actually managed to keep the illegal fish tank a tight secret for many months.

Then came college and my first brush with strays. I saw a pup on the street near my home and adopted it immediately. Took it to the vet, got it biscuits, milk and toys and even powder to kill the million fleas it had. I was in love.
But the love affair died, when my mom came back home. She gave me a choice - It's either the dog or my dad. Now, what kind of choice was that? I chose Dad. I gave up the dog plus accessories and all to a couple who was willing to adopt him.

Ten years would pass before I'd get my next pet. A cat.
I was not a cat person but one week with Tommy, and I was converted. He was a week old kitten, abandoned and needed a loving home. He was completely attached to me. I became his mother, father and sibling. A month later, I had to give him up since I was pretty much stuck at home because Tommy would simply not let me go. I failed to toilet train him and he  made my entire living room his personal kitty litter. Thankfully, my then girlfriend was a huge lover of cats and she agreed to take him over.

Having finally learned my lesson with dogs and cats, I decided I'd try birds, again. I theorized they would not fly outside their cages, would not make too much of a mess outside and could be left unattended for long periods of time. They can be kept outside and would not want to sleep with you in your bed. Besides, I'd grown up to understand that tails sticking out of the cage was actually fine and plucking them only kills them.
And that's how we got Pilly and Gilly (our pet Australian finches)
That was more than a year ago. They have since laid countless eggs, raised young, seen some of them die and some of them fly away. We love them and in the absence of human children have been the recipient of our parently love. They respond to our calls, wait for us to feed them and change the water everyday, loves it when we put clean sheets on the cage floor, and is super excited when we give them a treat food or material for their nests.
Our parents have become fond of them and coo in excitement when Pilly or Gilly puts up a show for them.

Besides giving us endless joy when we are watching them, they have also taught us some invaluable life lessons.
When Pilly (the male) broke his leg, Gilly (his mate) would cry out loud and be right next to him. She would feed him and encourage him to fly. Pilly was simply wasting away, unless something drastic was done. We quarantined and treated him until he became stronger to fly. Although we had kept them in separate cages, they were inseparable. They would come to the perch that was closest to each other and would sing to each other. In a way that appeared like how a mother would sing to her child. When we finally put them together, they were ecstatic. They indulged in the typical mating ritual for many hours. Hopping and grooming, they were like long lost lovers.
When Gilly was ready to lay eggs, Pilly would hunt for pieces of paper, cotton, twigs and possibly anything that he could lay his beak to insulate and layer the nest. Once the eggs were laid, he would take turns feeding her and sitting on the eggs. His love and the way they shared the responsibility of raising their young was incredible. They would defend the nest, eachother and their eggs with their lives. As hardworking as an ant in summer but with all the love that we as humans can identify, they continue to be the children we can never have. When the eggs hatched, we could feel the excitement. It was like a party every moment. Lots of singing, much hopping, so much grooming and feeding. The proud parents just could not stay away from their daughter.
But when one of their offspring died, they would not sing at all. As if engulfed in grief, they would hop around its corpse and nudge it, wanting it to move.

Whoever said humans are the only species that can love, feel hurt and care for itself and others of it's species is definitely wearing blinkers.
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