This is the second of a three-part series on my two favorite childhood pets. The first part, on our cat, Sunshine, was published back in March. I didn’t really intend to wait five months to write this second part, but I’ve had a very unusual, and at times difficult, summer. In this second part, I’ll reminisce about the only member of the Gilbert Family Pet Air Force – Harvey, the parakeet.
We bought Harvey from a pet store, and the only two requirements I had for the sales person were that he be blue, and that he be a he. The first was obvious. I had to take the salesperson’s word for the second.
Harvey’s wings had been clipped by the pet store to prevent him from flying away. After I had him for a few months (perhaps a year), his wings grew back to the point where he could fly around my room. I let him out with some regularity, reasoning that he could use the exercise.
Unfortunately, there were a few challenges to letting him out. The first was our cat, Sunshine. Before every flight, I made sure Sunshine was NOT in my room, and shut the door so Harvey would have a safe haven to fly in.
The second was Harvey’s talons. Whenever Harvey happened to land on you, he would dig in his talons to keep from sliding off. Totally understandable. Unfortunately, they were rather sharp most of the time, so this tended to draw blood if he happened to land somewhere lightly-clothed. The pet store told us we could trim them with a standard pair of nailclippers, but we had to make sure we didn’t cut them too close to the claw, otherwise we’d nick the blood vessel in the talon. Imagine a 14-year old and/or his mother trying to hold a squirming bird so we can cut his talons, and actually managed to MISS the blood vessel. Yeah, there were a few panicked times when we did nick it, and spent the next several minutes trying to stem the flow with tissue.
The third challenge was that Harvey, like any other bird, pooped. And when he was in flight, the poop tended to be also. It was a good day when it landed on the hard-wood floors, or on the top of my dresser where it was smooth and easy to clean up. Many times, however, he got my bed, my shirt, the rug, and so on. To the best of my knowledge, he never got my hair. Let me just say that I’m very thankful for the little things in life.
At some point, many months after we got him, Harvey began to shred the newspaper at the bottom of his cage. Why in the heck would he do that? I wondered. Silly bird. I changed it and went about my merry way. He shredded it again. I changed it again. This continued for several days until I finally gave up. Fine! Whatever.
About the same time we noticed that he was developing a bulge on his butt, right below his tail feathers. I thought he might have been developing something like a tumor or other growth. I’m fairly certain we didn’t take him into the vet to look at it, because the vet probably would have warned us what was about to happen next. You see, one Sunday morning, while I was still clinging to the last remnants of sleep, my Mom came in to get me moving for church. She happened to walk over to Harvey’s cage.
Mom: “Mmmmmm mmmm mm mmm”.
Me, groggily: “What did you say, Mom? I didn’t really get that.”
Mom: “I said, Harvey laid an egg.”
Me: “He can’t lay eggs, Mom. He’s a boy.” Apparently Mom had lost all of her “Intro to Biology” knowledge over the years.
Mom, slightly annoyed at her son giving her biology lessons: “Well, Harvey must not be a ‘he’ after all, ‘cause SHE laid an egg.”
At this point, I dragged myself out of bed and walked over to the cage. Sure enough, Harvey was down at the bottom of his – er, HER – cage, sitting on a small egg.
At this point, two thoughts hit me. The first was that this explained why Harvey insisted on shredding his newspaper, and the “growth” on his, – er, HER – butt. The other was that I got totally pwned by the salesperson at the pet store. “Boy”, indeed! The vet would later tell us that it was actually fairly difficult to tell boy and girl parakeets apart.
Fine! Whatever! I have a girl bird named Harvey. Terrific. No problems here. Since we didn’t have a boy parakeet – a REAL boy parakeet, mind you – to fertilize the eggs, we decided it would be best to just take the egg away from her.
Time went by, and Harvey laid another egg. We removed it.
Then another. We removed that one.
Then ANOTHER. (At this point it kinda felt like the guy from “Monty Python and the the Holy Grail” who’s castles kept sinking into the swamp.)
We talked to the vet. He said that Harvey would keep laying eggs because she had some internal number that she was trying to hit. He said that if she kicks an egg out from under her, then we can take that one away. Otherwise, she’d just keep laying them, trying to make her quota. So we left Harvey and her eggs alone. She laid another, then another, then ANOTHER.
When she hit 8 we noticed that she couldn’t quite keep them all under her at the same time. We hoped she’d start kicking eggs out so we could take them away.
When she hit 12, she REALLY couldn’t keep them all under her. I seem to recall someone making a joke about getting a really small egg carton to put them all in.
When she hit 15, we had had enough, and started pulling them out. We didn’t remove all of them, but 15 was beyond ridiculous.
Then one day she developed another bulge under her tail. We assumed it was yet another egg, but days went by and she didn’t lay it. We eventually took her into the vet, who diagnosed it as a fatty cist. He said because she was so small, he wouldn’t recommend surgery as long as she kept pooping. Which she would continue to do, over everything.
Harvey was leading quite the complicated life, but she seemed very resilient. Both of those facts would soon be put to the test. Find out how in Part 3 – When Harvey met Sunshine.
* For you young whippersnappers, this was how we did LOL captions back in the late 80s. We put stickers on the hard-copy photos and then… What do you mean, “what’s hard-copy?!?”