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Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

Chirp – My Memorial

April 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Two years ago, spurred on by the pug-loving obsession of my then-girlfriend, I asked God to help me learn to care about animals.

Last night, my family’s lovebird, Chirp, died. He was seventeen and a half.

I have never been a big ‘animal’ person. It’s not a fear – despite four years as a paperboy – and it’s not a dislike, just more of an apathy. The only pet my family ever had growing up was this lovebird, who I tended to describe as being ‘like a budgie, only it chirps a third as much and three times as loud.’ The bird who was the bane of my existence whenever I was attempting to work on a writing assignment and had to deal with the focus-destroying shrills of this oblivious, tiny trumpeter.

(I am aware that a trumpeter is also another kind of bird. Where I grew up, all the streets were named after birds.)

From a grade 11 photography project back in 2003.

From a grade 11 photography project, back in 2003.

I was always the one to not-so-jokingly suggest letting the bird go free to fly about and inevitably get eaten by a nearby cat or raccoon. The usefulness of this bird escaped me. Heck, you couldn’t even hold the darn thing or have it perch on your finger unless you were VERY careful and a little lucky, or didn’t mind painful bites from a needlesharp beak. And the bird loved perching up on people’s shoulders… and then attacking their glasses. I was always afraid he would go after the mole on the back of my neck.

When cleaning his cage, I would need to distract him to go elsewhere so I could reach inside the cage without him attacking.

I don’t believe in the idea that he is now off in some heavenly jungle, flitting free. Chirp was a bird. A long-living bird, yes, but still just a bird.

He was a beautiful bird, though.

When I moved away from home nine years ago, I cherished the relative quiet and distraction-free atmosphere of the university dorms, compared to my tiny family home with nocturnal parents, a shared bedroom, and the supersonic bird.

Yesterday evening, when I was visiting at the family house, Chirp pooped on my brother’s arm, and he asked me to take the bird while he cleaned it up. Now, for the past few months at least, Chirp has been getting calmer. Rather than tearing paper bags to pieces the instant they touch the bottom of his cage, he has been curling up in them to sleep. And he has become a nuzzling, warmth-seeking creature. Despite this, yesterday evening was the first time I had held the bird in months and months, perhaps even years. And he curled right up into warmth of my hands, the softest little creature on earth.

I was the one to put him back in his cage. I was probably the last person to hold him before he died.

I just realized I have just switched to using gendered pronouns for Chirp, rather than just saying ‘the bird’.

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I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But I suppose that’s sort of the point.

One Reason Why Pet Stores Stay in Business

September 29, 2012 2 comments

One Reason Why Pet Stores Stay in Business

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, “His Master’s Voice” (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

I can’t say I’ve ever really connected with animals. I grew up in townhome suburbia where our family wasn’t allowed a dog, I may have accidentally been indirectly responsible for the death of my best friend’s pet rat, I was run over by a dog when I was eight, I certainly DID accidentally kill a pet beetle I had for all of a day (left his hand-made terrarium on the windowsill; he baked under the sun), and I worked for several years as a paperboy, alternately terrified of the larger dogs/cats or just annoyed by the tiny yippers.

(Okay, I’ll explain the rat story. I was tasked to look after the rat while their family was away on vacation. Every third day, I would show up at their place, clean out the cage, play with the rat, and give him new food and water. And that’s what I did. Then, right at the end of their vacation, there was one day when I looked after the rat (and he was fine), then a day’s break, and then the family came home. And the rat was dead. The darn thing WAS over three years old, after all. But yeah, my best friend and I didn’t really ever speak after that.)

English: Pet Chinchilla Русский: Домашняя Шиншилла

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only pet my family ever had was a lovebird. Think budgie, but he chirps a third as much, three times as loud. Really hard to get any work done while the bird’s awake.

So yes, animal empathy is something I’m working on. Something I need to work on. Living with four cats and a Pomeranian for seven weeks this past summer in Kelowna has certainly helped. But I have a lot further to go.

So one day I walked into a pet store to try to connect with all the little critters held within. To see if I could spark that ‘Awww, how cute!’ reflex upon seeing kittens pounce around the storefront window as an old man teases them with a red laser pointer, or the flock of rainbow-coated birds as they spread their sharp wings and let off shrill cries while climbing from wall to wall to wall of their cages. Or the spotted fishes in a tank marked ‘quarantine’. The old chinchilla warmly standing sentry under thick ruffles of hair.

I have a hard-nosed friend who approaches life in a rough and gruff manner, but whenever she comes across a dog being walked, she immediately melts into a crouch with a loud ‘Aww, puppy!’, regardless of the actual age of the animal. That was the emotion I was searching for. But try as I might, I couldn’t muster that irresistible pull toward baby talk and family bonds that others indulge in.

Cockatiel yawning

Cockatiel yawning (Photo: Wikipedia)

That said, I was struck by an impulse all the same – a desire to buy them. Not because I wanted to take these critters with me, but just to take them away from all the layered cages and loud noises, no matter how well lit or fed. Not that these animals would have better lives out in the wild (or the wild of the city), per say, but in this moment, those cockatiels were absolutely doing their darndest – in vain – to try to find enough space to flap about. And I suddenly understood perhaps half of all pet store transactions – a compassionate desire to help.

I am still emotionally detached from them; I take care not to attach human emotion to them, so I wouldn’t say the old chinchilla is lonely, for example, but I did find it hard to watch these trapped animals, such as four cockatiels in a tiny cage, and to not want to give them a home with open space to soar in. Found it hard not to want to set them free.

Even for analytical ol’ me.

Cheers,
Andrew Wade

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)