For as long as I can remember, I have had a soft spot in my heart for animals. It was more than just a childish love of the family pets who came in and out of my life. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the response was always “ a veterinarian” having enjoyed the novel and movie versions of “The Red Pony”, “Old Yeller”, “Rascal” and “The Incredible Journey”. As I got older, I enjoyed the collection of animal tales by British country vet James Herriot, and I figure his adventures are really what clinched the idea of that vocation.
My parents said they’d fund college for me to be a veterinarian and I was ecstatic; too bad my grades in math and science were not stellar and I had to abandon that dream. My mom would later tell me they never believed I would have the heart to attend to animals that were sick, or in pain, as I was too much of a “softie” or a “bleeding heart”.
Since I had no siblings, and, because my parents believed that every child should have a dog, when I was three years old, Fritzy, a beautiful German Shepherd, came to live at 497 Sandmere Place. My father’s co-worker raised German Shepherds, and one day my dad came home from work with a new puppy. He became my oversized playmate.
As the months passed, this little girl and her big dog romped around the yard with endless energy.
But Fritzy started having difficulty getting up and down the stairs, and a trip to the vet verified that he had developed hip dysplasia, a common malady for large dogs. The diagnosis was dire because it would worsen with age, so my parents had Fritzy euthanized. That was my first experience coping with loss and I was devastated.
My parents promised we would wait awhile then get another dog next year for my birthday, so as that day neared, off we went to the breeder at Wag-a-Way Kennels, where we got a beautiful blonde Cocker Spaniel, that we named Co-Co, and, who is the subject of my first grade drawing you see above.
Co-Co did not last long in the Schaub household, because, even after obedience training, he would not ask for the door to go out, resulting in piddle puddles all through the house, especially on the carpeting. My mom, who was already frustrated with the fact that Co-Co’s long, silky ears dragged into his water and dog food bowls, (so the contents were tracked everywhere), was not too pleased with Co-Co and he spent many hours clipped to the clothesline on a long lead in the backyard while she cleaned his ever-present messes. Mom finally put her foot down and Co-Co was given away.
Fast forward a couple of years. Thinking the third time may be the charm when it came to pets, our next dog was a black poodle named Peppy.
He was not like most poodles, because he was wiry and wild-acting, and liked to dig holes in the backyard. One day he dug a hole under the fence and escaped. Our subdivision was plagued by a pack of wild dogs that ran together and someone put out raw meat spiked with rat poison to kill them, and Peppy got hold of some. While I was at school, he came home foaming at the mouth. My mom rarely, if ever, called my dad at work, but she called and said he had to come home and take Peppy to the vet to be put down before I got home from school.
That was 1965, and I was nine years old. That evening, my parents sat me down, explained about Peppy’s fate, and I was told there would be no more dogs at our house, and, after I moved out on my own, my parents would buy me a dog as a housewarming present.
Alas, we were a “petless” family once again. To fill the void, we got a parakeet. Skippy was full of personality, and the first of many pet birds which would fill our house with joy, whether it was their playful antics, talking a blue streak, or, in the case of our canaries, beautiful singing.
After Skippy’s arrival, I developed a lifelong affinity for birds.
I catered to the birds in the backyard for years. There were multiple feeders, plus treats, and in the warm months I put out four birdbaths, to accommodate every size bird that visited. They’d wait for me every morning, all year long, as I loaded up the feeders, or put out seed blocks.
In the Summer months, with the backyard garden, it was like a paradise.
And then came the rats … and it was paradise lost.
A new neighbor moved in behind us in the Fall of 2007. He bought a pit bull and left it outside 24/7, even in Winter. He fed it table scraps and by the Summer of 2008, there were rats in our backyard. We had to call in an exterminator to bait traps, so feeding the birds was discouraged. Likewise, no more setting out birdbaths because the rats eat the poison and it dries their insides, so they seek a water source, and a birdbath would be ideal for them. I watched every morning as my feathered friends lined up along the chain link fence, wondering why I no longer catered to them. Where were their treats, their water? It made me sad and I could not bear to look at them.
My neighbor Marge, also afflicted with rats, discontinued her feeding and birdbaths as well, but finally resumed only a few years ago, as she felt badly for the birds and missed their activity as she sat out on her backyard deck all Summer. But I never returned to my ritual, having seen a few too many bloated rat bodies in the backyard. I felt ill by their presence, knowing how they destroyed my paradise – I did not wish to go through that horror again. Instead, I got my “bird fix” by watching Marge’s deck activity, or during my walks in the Park.
Since I appreciate my feathered friends, just like many of you, I’ve enjoyed the daily reports my friend Evelyn sent me about the robins. I felt like “Aunt Linda” watching Evelyn’s little family from afar, and, I was thoroughly intrigued by the whole process, watching those baby robins growing from naked, scrawny hatchlings into cute chicks.
But sadly, now the nest is empty.
I wish I could say that on their 10th day after hatching, they fledged and went off to explore the world. But, instead it is with sadness that I tell you that a predator got to the robin chicks yesterday.
Shortly after Evelyn sent me my daily photo of the trio, (pictured below), she noticed a 4-5 foot black snake lurking around her porch and took a photo to send to me.
She has sent me photos of black snakes in the past when she found them sunning themselves, stretched out along the porch railing. She has been fearless about those snakes and simply moved them to another location. I, however, shuddered at those photos, having never encountered a snake in my life.
Evelyn reached down and grabbed that black snake and threw it over the back fence and went inside the house.
A short time later, she heard a commotion – a lot of squawking, so she rushed outside. She saw the snake and it had a chick in its mouth. The male and female robins were swooping and diving, in an effort to drive the snake away from the nest, but the snake was not fazed at all. So Evelyn grabbed that snake and it dropped the chick, which was already dead. There was only one chick remaining in the nest at that time.
Adrenalin set in and Evelyn had the presence of mind to grab a garden rake and she wrangled the snake away from the nest. She wasted no time in snagging that snake and then dropped it into a large nearby empty flower pot and covered the pot with a piece of glass. She marched to the end of the street to deposit the snake into a wooded area, then returned home and called the Wildlife Center to see if 100 yards was far enough away for the snake to lose scent of the babies. She left a voicemail to that effect, then went back outside the house only to find the remaining chick gone from the nest.
Evelyn sent an e-mail to tell me what happened, then agonized over the death of the three chicks throughout the afternoon. The woman at the Wildlife Center finally called back. She was amazed Evelyn had dealt with the snake in a humane manner, and, suggested that even though the chicks could not fly, that perhaps the parents encouraged both chicks to jump into a nearby bush for shelter. Buoyed by that more-pleasant scenario on the chicks’ fate, Evelyn hasn’t yet peered into the bush, but we hope that our family of feathered friends has sought refuge there.
In their last photos, they really were starting to look more like robins, and, if you remember, they would have been ready to leave the nest at only 13 days old, or by week’s end.
Evelyn tells me she’ll likely take down the nest to thwart any robins from future nest-building activities and to not invite another predator gaining access to any baby robins.
Meanwhile, we delighted in the experience. Sometimes it is the little things in life that make us smile and not frown. With daily horrible headlines screaming out at us on social media and the news, sometimes we need a glimpse of nature to balance out the bad stuff. Nature is wonderful most of the time; sometimes not so much, as evidenced as this tale unfolded.
Tomorrow I hope to venture out on a walk to my favorite nature nook. The weatherman reports that we’ve had over 5 inches of rain since last Friday. It has rained every day for the past 7 days, and 11 of the first 15 days this month. We sure are overdue for some sun and a little warmer temps.