I did my usual jaunt to Council Point Park this morning all the while enjoying this beautiful crisp, cool weather to the nth degree. As a person who loves the Fall season, these temps are just perfect for me. On the way home as I neared the Mixter Elementary School grounds I saw a huge German Shepherd galloping across the grass. I must confess this is not the first time I have seen this large shepherd at this location. Last week I saw him loping through the schoolyard and it appeared he was headed for me so I made a quick detour down another street. I am not afraid of dogs but he looked like he was headed my way; today I realized he was not running toward me, but instead playing “fetch” with his owner whom I couldn’t see. I had to smile, but my fears were not unfounded … earlier this year I had a terrible scare with another shepherd, equally as large, from whom I hid behind a tree. In the still of the morning, I worry that a dog may attack, even unprovoked, thus I carry pepper spray and a huge whistle and I err on the side of caution when it comes to any animal.
At any rate, I watched the man throw a wiffle ball and his dog went running to fetch it. It was a large ball and the dog had to grab it in the side of his mouth to return it to his owner. Well at least the dog slobber slides through the holes. If you’ve ever played catch with a dog, the ball gets a little slimy after a few tosses. Ahhhh … pets.
It is always fun to watch animals interact with their owners. A pet that is loved and cherished by its pet parent will reward you a thousand times over with love and attention and you will never lack for companionship with your little friend beside you. It goes beyond Fido and Fluffy too – I know because I have a bird, a canary to be exact, and I have owned birds in the past (or perhaps I should say they have owned me). I know they owned my heart, as does Buddy now.
Today I will dedicate this blog post to a much-cherished parakeet named Joey, who died thirty years ago today.
Joey made such an impact on the family that I think about him every year on this anniversary of his death. His passing made us very sad and we decided on that fateful day that another pet would never again cross our threshold. But that is another story for another post.
Back in 1975, my parents were driving out in the country looking for late Summer veggies at roadside stands. While perusing and picking some produce at the long wooden table, out of nowhere, a Pomeranian pup came over and sniffed the bag my mom had in her hand. She stroked his ears and he wagged his silky tail appreciatively. They called to the vendor from inside the car that his dog was near the road as they didn’t want him to get hurt when they started the car since the dog trailed them to the car and didn’t want to leave. He answered back “he’s not my dog” and added “you’re my first customer of the day so I don’t know where it came from and it doesn’t belong to any of my neighbors, so it looks like you found yourself a dog” … a debate between my folks ensued whether to take the dog with them or not and they decided to take him and check the papers for lost dog notices. They put him in the backseat and away they went.
I came home from working at the diner that day to see a Pekinese in the yard as I walked up the sidewalk. I ran in the house to hear the whole story. My mom said we’d look Wednesday in the lost and found ads in the local paper and give it a few weeks, then keep him if no owner claimed him. But she added the caveat that it was doubtful he would end up being our dog as he seemed healthy with a glossy coat, very friendly and well-taken care of. He had no collar or identification. We nicknamed him “Dusty” since he was found on a dusty country road.
He fit right into the family, and he couldn’t decide whom he should cozy up to. He decided on my mom and trailed behind her constantly and never left her side when she was sitting in a chair. My mom did not work but stayed at home and so Dusty was happy to have a constant companion – the feeling was mutual as to my mom. We dreaded looking in the Mellus, our local paper, on Wednesday, but we did, and sure enough there was a plea for a lost Pomeranian. His real name escapes me now, but we called the number and reported where we found Dusty. He had run quite far from where his family was visiting friends. They had put him in a backyard with no fence and he made a run for it. The owners came right away to pick up their pooch, tears of joy and smiles all around to see him again. Dusty went right over to them and it was evident we had been mere substitutes. They offered a reward and we shook our heads “no” and said it was our pleasure to host him and we turned over a leash and some kibble that we had bought at Feed Rite.
Well then we were feeling a little despondent after Dusty’s departure. That night it was my mom who broached the subject that “perhaps we should get another pet” … we had not had any pets since moving to the States and had a rough run with three dogs while still living in Canada, and thus had decided against getting any more pets for awhile.
We decided on a parakeet. We went down to Feed Rite Pet Supply the next evening and picked out a turquoise parakeet whom we named “Joey”. We got a brass cage and all his necessities and brought him home. Immediately, my mom, who had had a parakeet when she was growing up, set to work on teaching Joey to talk. Since my mom spent most of her time in the kitchen, as did Joey, as her constant companion he never lacked for attention. Within a week, she had him sitting as close to the cage bars as he could to watch her every move. Every time she came near the sink, she would visit with him, and he soon knew that some of his favorite “people treats” came from the fridge and thus every time she opened the fridge, he would peep or jibber-jabber or hang upside down in the cage to get her attention. His reward was sharing a piece of fruit with my mom or getting a big piece of lettuce. My mom persisted in saying “Hi Joey” to him at least a hundred times a day but he failed to pick it up. He did look right at her, and sometimes cocked his head as if to say “okay already, I’m letting these words sink in – I’m gettin’ there mom” but he wouldn’t repeat the greeting back. My mom wanted to teach him just a couple of words then start working on longer sentences. In desperation one day she said “Hi Stupid” … and repeated that a few times as she was getting exasperated with him. Then she started greeting him constantly with “Hi Stupid”. One day she was rewarded with “Hi Stupid” back and then it seemed he would not stop saying it. Trying a different tact, my mom went back to saying “Hi Joey” … within a few days, she went over to the cage and was rewarded with “Hi Yoey” … we realized that our little Joey was either Swedish or he couldn’t pronounce the letter “J”.
Joey would say “Hi Stupid” or “Hi Joey” at least fifty times a day and so my mom decided he should graduate to longer sentences. Soon he was telling us “he’s a good boy” or “he’s a bird” … the phrase had been “he’s a GOOD bird but somehow he didn’t remember to put the word “good” in there. We’d laugh and answer him back with “of course you’re a bird – what else could you be?” Joey’s vocabulary and phrases grew. He was finger-tamed within a month, and came out every day on my mom’s finger or shoulder. He was never allowed to fly around the house. We just dropped the cage door down and he walked out and my mom offered him her finger and he’d climb aboard . He was quick to climb on any of our fingers or liked to sit on our shoulders too. He was so loved by his family.
Then in August of 1973, suddenly our perky little boy became listless and unresponsive to his favorite treats or did not want to come out his cage. We were worried sick and got him into the vet as soon as possible on a Friday afternoon, the 12th . The vet, who was an avian specialist, told us it was just a little stomach upset and gave us some medicine to mix with his drinking water and also recommended giving him Pepto Bismol once a day in an eyedropper until was perky and acting like himself again. My mom had to reach in the cage and pick him up and cradle him to give him the Pepto Bismol. He didn’t like the taste and would shake his head back and forth and as a result hard, dried-up pink Pepto Bismol got caked on his mouth. Poor little thing. He did not respond well to the medicine and remained listless. A pall settled over the house and we hovered over him all weekend as if our well wishes and concerns would somehow transmit through to him and make him better. We decided on Sunday night we would return to the vet on Monday when I got home from work.
Sadly, my mom was giving him his Pepto Bismol Monday morning after I left for work and he passed away in her hands. She called me at work and we cried together. She put his little body in a small box and asked a neighbor to come and take the cage and accessories away and put them in the garbage as it was garbage day which she did. We took Joey’s body back to the vet and asked to have an autopsy done on our beautiful little blue boy. It was discovered that he had died of a tumor in his esophagus. I am sniffling as I am typing this, just awash in renewed grief In fact, on this 30th anniversary, I remember the sadness and it feels like it was yesterday. My father, not a very tender or demonstrative person, cried like a baby when he got home from work that night. We all cried together for a life snuffed out too soon – a little bird who brought us pure joy and we then vowed there would be no “replacement bird”, nor would we every do anything to sully his memory.
Rest in peace my little Joey – I must close this post now as tears are coursing down my cheeks and a teardrop has landed on my keyboard and I must wipe it off. But I will not wipe off the tears on my face – I am not ashamed to cry so hard for one little blue budgie named “Joey”. God bless your soul little one.