Turning a New Leaf
by Patti Christie, CVT
December 8, 2014 was a very difficult day. My beloved Blue Fronted Amazon, Higgins, died. I was so unprepared for her death and the grief process has been surprising and challenging and enlightening. I had her for 18 ½ years and I never imagined that I would NOT have her with me as I get older. The necropsy report (which I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a necropsy done!) showed severe atherosclerosis and an enlarged heart. The pathologist also commented that he believed she was much older than the 27 years that we thought she was – having come through quarantine as a wild caught in 1987. Some peace came from knowing that there was nothing I could have done differently to save her. Having said that, it still seemed terribly unfair that I lost her. I think as parrot owners, we expect that our birds are going to outlive us (I have provisions made in my will for all of my birds – including financial arrangements) so psychologically many of us are ill prepared for the loss and it takes a far greater toll on us (or at least it did on me!) than losing a dog, cat or other pet.
As I started the arduous process of working through the intense feelings of loss, I became aware that I was reticent to allow myself to be that vulnerable again. I still had 7 other birds that depended on me and looked forward to spending time with me. I found myself spending less time with them and kind of withdrawing. They were fed and cleaned, and we still sang our songs together and kept to our general routine but the spark and the passion was gone. I didn’t think I could ever feel as passionate about my birds as I did with Higgins – ever again, which only added to my feeling of loss.
Sometime over the winter, a Blue Fronted Amazon named Leaf came to MDPR. As a Board Member, I participated in the weekly team conference call. I heard a little bit about this bird but knew that there was no way I would be open to another bird (nor would my husband!). However something made me say that if she was still available when I came out in April, I would like to meet her (the words were out of my mouth before I could stop them!) Amazingly, she had not found her forever family in spite of meeting a few interested parties and when I came out there for the Nutrition Workshop, her foster mom brought her to the facility and left her for the day. It was with very mixed feelings that I opened that carrier and took her out. She climbed up onto my shoulder, peered into my face and said “hello, hello” and gave me kisses. She spent the rest of the day on my shoulder and I knew I was in trouble!
When I told my husband Tom about this incredible little girl, his response was “No! You will not have a happy husband if you come home with THAT bird!”. Truly a dilemma for me – maintain the relationship with my darling, supportive, wonderful husband of 32 years –or bring the bird home against his wishes. I opted to keep peace in the household and I reluctantly returned to Minnesota without Leaf.
Throughout the next week, Tom and I had a few discussions about why THIS bird. What could Leaf “fill” in my life that my other 7 birds couldn’t? Over the past 18+ years, I have had countless opportunities to add birds to our flock. Hundreds even! Each of the birds that live with me have come from other homes and there was some special connection to each one that I can’t explain. I tried to explain this to Tom – that Leaf had something that made me say “yes”. I missed the physical interaction that I had with Higgins. Amazons are so animated and much more physically interactive than African Greys (I have 3 of them). My male Eclectus, Carlos, also is more “cerebral” than the Amazons – he has learned to give kisses but it is at his whim. My other Amazon, a Double Yellow Head named Samantha Rose, is sweet and special in her own way but definitely not a shoulder bird and a bit of a loner. Leaf had that “joie de virve” and energy that Higgins had. I just knew in my heart that Leaf had ignited the passion again and certainly lifted my spirits. After a week of intense talks, tears and bargaining, Tom finally said okay. (I knew he would eventually, and I was actually surprised it only took a week. Don’t tell him that if you see him!). I excitedly called Lisa, who had taken over fostering Leaf, and let her know that she was going to be part of the Christie flock! On May 22 Leaf arrived via Delta Airlines and I was exuberant! She settled right in like she’d been part of the family for years.
Leaf loves to fly and is such a great little girl. She genuinely seems confused when she flies over to one of the other birds, excitedly saying “hello, hello!” and trying to engage them – and they are NOT impressed. She seems to just shrug it off, takes off flying and continues to have a grand time on her own. She flies to me when I call her and enjoys hanging out with me on my shoulder. Today we made cookies and chop mix – she alternated between my shoulder, the top of the wall, her playstand and the top of the cabinets – always coming back to me when I called her. What a delight! I know that she was meant to be with us. Tom has commented many times how much happiness she has brought me. I still find myself getting teary thinking of Higgins and the reason we had room in our flock was because I lost her. I know I will never “replace” Higgins but Leaf has certainly been able to make the pain more bearable and help me move into a new chapter. I surprised myself and took a chance and found it worth it.