Friday, October 2, 2009

All Babies are a Blessing, Human Babies Most of All, and Even Baby Birds!

I confess to being stridently Pro-Life. I ask myself why people can be terribly upset over drowning kittens or puppies, but allow the destruction of tiny humans in the womb?

That said, all babies fascinate me. Each and every life is miraculous and therefore precious, be it human or animal. People first, of course ... always. However, every little creature under the sun is intricate and worth admiring.

I wish for every child the opportunity to witness the cycle of life. If in a small apartment, when money is tight, then just a fish bowl of guppies is worthwhile. A step up from that would be a pair of Betta's (Siamese fighting fish). Their bubble nest, the mating method, and how the male cares for eggs until they hatch, and then his babies ... it's all very interesting and educational.

Birds are also wonderful pets for a small space. Although we had cats and dogs, our son wanted a tame budgie. We gave him the admonition, "Keep your bedroom door closed, so the cats can't get to him." Of course the inevitable happened. I heard a crash one day and ran to his room. The cage was on the floor and the bird was on the curtain rod, unhurt. Searching under the bed, I dragged Panther, our black cat, out from under to scold him. That wasn't necessary, however. On the tip of his nose was a tiny red divot where Skybird (a blue budgie) had bitten him. In jerking back, Panther upset the cage. He never went near Skybird again!

By teaching our children to be responsible for a pet, they learn to become responsible adults and better parents. Seeing a pair of birds (of any variety) care for each other, their eggs and their babies can inspire kids to value life and be kind to all animals. Monitor your children, however. Some can be too rough. A pet is not where they should take out their frustrations, or make mistakes.

A former neighbor boy of ours was out on his front lawn with guinea pigs one summer day. He chased them around the yard, scaring them like a predator. Then he'd pick them up over his head and shake them slightly. His parents were nowhere around. I couldn't endure it. I went out and talked with him about his guinea pigs, discussing the responsibility he'd taken on. I never criticized him or told him I'd been unhappy watching him. I discussed the importance of being gentle and kind to our pets. Over time his behavior changed and every time I was in the front yard watering or weeding, he'd come over to visit. He needed the interaction with an adult ... he needed to learn. Don't give your children a pet and leave them alone with it until you've spent time training. Get books. Read to them about their pet and its care. That's so very important. It will be valuable to you too, and make you closer to your children.

About cats: We have always had two or three. I used to be afraid of having small birds where cats could get to them. In a way, cats are like children ... they need to be taught too. My first exposure was with Panther; however, later we adopted a beautiful adult (declawed) blue point Birman from an animal shelter. We worried whether he and our other adult male alley-cat would learn to get along ... in two weeks they were pals. Blue Barley the Blue Birman found his way into my bedroom one day and up onto the window sill. Hanging nearby were two cages of white zebra finches. Over the five years we owned and loved Barley, he rested there and watched them for hours, never attempting to leap at them or bother them. It became a past time for him and they never feared him. He watched a lot of baby finches hatch and grow.

Also, in the kitchen we had a tame albino budgie. Originally, I hung her cage very high, away from cats. But, they considered her a piece of furniture and in her 12-year lifespan, no one ever bothered her. We later added a pair of cockatiels and they were also left alone. When I let them out of their cage (they were very tame), I made sure the cats were outside. As always seems to happen, a child allowed one of the cats inside. Our male cockatiel decided to dive bomb the cat - very risky to the bird! I yelled "No Paws!" to the cat. Paws was his name. He hunkered down and watched me instead of the bird. He knew he had to leave that pesky bird alone.

Today, with our Bourkes and Splendids we started out with two elderly cats and one younger one. They'd all been around other birds and ignored them. When the two older cats passed on, I added a kitten. Whenever she even looked at the birds, she was warned in a cross, angry-sounding voice, "NO BIRDS!"

Some cats might need a swat with a newspaper, but she didn't. Wanting to please, after a few weeks, the birds were no longer very interesting and she ignored them. When she was two years old, a sickly, but pretty calico cat arrived in our neighboring woods. Eventually, our Miracle Patches was caught and rescued. Since she immediately made friends with our big malamute/lab mix, we decided to let her stay rather than put her up for adoption like we'd done with so many other rescued cats.

Patches, too, was willing to please. Although the birds seemed interesting at first, a few cross words and she'd skulk away, head down, "I wasn't looking, honest..." She's been with us almost three years and, although elderly (losing teeth), she's healthy, loving and beautiful.

I still don't willingly leave the cats alone in the same room with the birds at night, or if we're going to be gone a while. If it's raining and they want to stay inside and we want to go shopping, the cats go into a bedroom behind a closed door. They are happy with that arrangement and I don't worry about the birds (I wish I had a bird room, but this house doesn't lend itself to that. The birds are in a nook off the kitchen and in the living room. They started in just the nook, but without intending to keep youngsters, our flock keeps growing anyway).

In spite of best intentions, however, we have left cats unattended and near the birds. Not realizing our oldest cat, Me-Too, was asleep in a window seat, we put the other two outside and drove to a big city hours away. We got home 7 hours later and there he was, still snoozing. Another time, we went to bed thinking that Patches was outside, and when we called she wouldn't come inside. About midnight she meowed outside our bedroom door. We'd left her asleep in the living room where the birds are!

The worst thing we've had happen to a bird was when a young baby Splendid, being moved from his parents cage, flew off and into a window, injuring his wing. Since he can't fly, he's now a pet named "Flip," because that's what he does if he tries to fly. Sad, but he seems happy enough. Splendids are mostly climbers and do it well.

Nothing has ever happened to our birds because of a cat. It should be noted that we live in the country, far, far from streets or cars, so going outside isn't dangerous. Our cats (and dog) stay away from the porcupines, possible bears and cougars. We also have foxes, and would you believe I once saw a fox PLAYING with our small, elderly cat, Fancy. (She was also an adoptee from a shelter and declawed before we got her). I thought he was going to pounce on her, but he was playing with her. Honest. She wasn't afraid of him and didn't run away. After ten years of living here, no tragedy has befallen any of our pets, unlike tragedies that did occur in the city. Yet, we've seen bears (they steal my outdoor bird feeders, so I've quit feeding the wild birds ... except for hummingbirds).

I used to keep two Banty chickens ... they make wonderful pets and their eggs are delicious, better than big brown Orpington eggs (we had one hen). However, after a hawk and fox made a meal of my three hens, I've not had any others. We discussed fencing and protection, but chickens can carry diseases that exotic birds can catch. More on that subject another time.

Many blessings.

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