Every weekend morning back in the ‘50’s my dad would ride an old horse across the fields and into the woods of Connecticut. The neighbor’s dogs would join up with my father’s to form what was called the Flea Pack. At one point my parents owned five dogs so the ensuing pack was quite large. These days, my siblings all have dog packs, some only two dogs, but never only one.
I have a pack of four small dogs but also another species: a tiny yellow cockatiel I called my best guard dog because she heard people at my gate even before the dogs. Her name was Nils. My sister, Tina, has two birds but we’re the only ones to venture into the avian world.
Last week, I found Nils hunched up and puffed up on the bottom of her cage. I wasn’t sure if there was something wrong with her or not but I took her out of her cage and held her close. One of my dogs, Snitz’s son Uno, jumped up on the couch to get a good sniff. He seemed concerned which alerted me because he never usually pays any attention to Nils. It was evening, and a weekend, so I called the 24-hour vet emergency clinic over in Bozeman and readied myself for the hour drive. Even though I brought Nils’ traveling cage, I tucked her into my shirt, her head peeking out from my neck. She didn’t move once during the drive. Of course, the four little dogs came along too.
When we arrived at the hospital Nils was put into an incubator right away where the air was warmer and more humid. She was still puffed up but not as badly as before. The veterinarian was very kind and told me he would transport Nils to the avian vet at 7:30am the next day. He also told me that many times birds come into the clinic when it is too late for them. The reason this happens, he told me, is because birds are flock creatures and when a bird is sick the flock turns on them. I was Nils’ flock and it was to her advantage to not let me see how sick she was.
My four little dogs and Nils inhabit my world. They keep me laughing and calm, provide me with ears to hear when I speak and bodies to hug when I need a pick-me-up. I can’t honestly say I live alone because I live with them. But Nils held a very special place as ‘only bird’. She would sit on my shoulder as I did the dishes or sit on the back of the couch when I was reading or watching TV. Her favorite place, however, was on my chest with me massaging her neck. Whenever I stopped massaging she would shriek and pretend to bite me. Of course, I would continue to massage her. She also liked to be with me when I was writing. She’d peck at my laptop but knew she wasn’t allowed on the keyboard. When she could get away with it, she would peck at the keys while her feet wrote gobbeldy-gook, quickly, like feet crossing coals. Nils and the dogs provide something that medication, talk therapy or exercise just can’t bring to the table. They provide a form of love that cloaks my being. I guess it’s called unconditional love. However you want to label it I don’t think I’d live as well as I’m able to without them, my furry and feathered friends.
The next morning I met with the avian vet and he told me the same thing as the vet last night told me. He said an x-ray was really the only way to see what was up. I waited while they took an x-ray then the vet showed me how three quarters of Nils’ body was filled with fluid. There was no curing that. In fact, Nils had been so very brave to try to keep her illness from me but in the end she had to succumb.
I remembered at a DBSA Conference in Chicago I had met a woman whose service animal was a cockatiel. She pushed her bird around in a perambulator, cage inside it. I understand how a bird can be a service animal. They are brave and delightful tiny personalities.
I miss my tiny friend. I know she’s with a flock up in Heaven, thousands flying together, all yellow with orange cheeks.