The Loss of a Dear Little Pet

Memoir by Chantal Bellehumeur

(In memory of my budgie Snow)

 

On December 10th 2013, my twelve year old son Aidan and I adopted two budgies that originally belonged to somebody one of my co-workers at the time knew.  He was a student and could not take care of them anymore.  I realized later on that the birds chirping must have annoyed him.  It sometimes bothered me and Aidan when the budgies would chirp really loud while we watched a movie, or really early in the morning.  Putting a blanket on top of their cage didn't always work to keep them quiet.

 

Anyways, this student's father as well as his two younger sisters brought the budgies as well as their large white cage and stand complete with many bird toys and perches, a bag of seeds, plus two warm blankets to our basement apartment.

 

The birds had to be kept warm during the transition to their new home.  Since they were relocated in the winter, it was cold outside and a single breeze could have killed them.  I was told not to leave their cage by an open window, even on a hot summer day. 

 

We placed the cage in the living room near the entrance.  It was in the way, but I planned on relocating it after the holidays.  As it were, our fake Christmas tree stood were I believed was the ideal place for the cage. 

 

I had done a bit of research on budgies so that I could take good care of my new pets, and also figure out how to tell if they were male or female because the previous owner didn't know.  As it turned out, we had one male and one female.  I could tell because of the colouring of their ceres above their beaks; one was blue and the other more purple. 

 

Aidan took a look at the green male with a yellow head and decided to call it Link, after a video game character.  We called the white female with hints of blue Snow.

 

I found some letter stickers that belonged to Aidan when he was younger and took was I needed to stick the words Link and Snow on the cage stand. 

 

It became Aidan's responsibility to give the birds fresh water and seeds every morning.  I took care of that on weekends along with cleaning the cage.  Sometimes the birds got treats.  We soon discovered that their favourite was millet on a branch.  They fought over it, yet barely touched the seeds when I bought them loose.

 

Another thing the birds liked was flying around in the apartment.  I bought a wooden bird play area with a swing, ladder, and horizontal rope to encourage them to be out of their cage without perching on my curtain rods or kitchen radio, and they eventually took a liking to it.

  

With the help of online advice, I did my best to train them so that they would go on our fingers and into their cage when it was time for bed.  Snow eventually warmed up to my son and I but Link wouldn't let either one of us near him.  He would always freak out when we came close to him, even when he was inside his cage.

 

Snow became so friendly with us that we could walk around the house with her on one of our our fingers or shoulders.  Aidan sometimes brought her to his bedroom to keep him company.

 

We both talked to our birds. 

 

When I got married in the spring of 2015, both my son and I welcomed my husband Jeff into our home and he accepted Link and Snow as his pets. The cage had been relocated from one end of the living room to a corner near the windows by then, to make room for some of Jeff's belongings.

 

Aidan and I encouraged Jeff to speak to the birds like we did. My husband only spoke to the Link and Snow from time to time, and it was mainly to tell them to be quiet.  He wasn't being mean about it though.  The birds were really annoying during those times.  Their chirping were sometimes ear piercing.

 

There were times where the birds woke us up early in the morning, and others were we could not hear what was going on during a show because they were so loud.  When Jeff practiced his bass or played music in the living room, the birds would chirp loudly as though they were trying to compete with the other sounds.

 

Eventually, they both started becoming more quiet.  It was rather odd.

 

One day Jeff found Snow stuck between the top bars of the cage.  Although the door was open, she tried to go into the cage through the bars like she sometimes did for reasons we could not figure out and didn't fit all the way this time.  It took us about twenty minutes to help her out.  Jeff almost had to cut the cage bars with pliers because pushing Snow in or out of the cage would have broken her fragile wings.

 

Snow had gained weight around the but and I guess she didn't realize it, which is why she got stuck.  I began to wonder then if she might be carrying eggs.

 

I only started doing research when I saw that my bird looked unnaturally swollen, and that her droppings were bigger than normal. There were a lot of possible things wrong with her, some of them relating to egg laying problems.  I knew I had to seek professional advise.

 

****

 

When my pet budgie died, I took it a lot harder than I thought I would.  I knew I would cry when either one of my birds passed away because I had become attached to them, especially to Snow, but I never expected to break into uncontrollable tears and have trouble letting go.

 

My female bird had been sick for a while but I never knew it until it was too late.  She was her chirpy self right until the day she died.

 

The day before, on Sunday August 9th 2015, I had gone to the pet shop inside the Angrignon mall with Jeff because I suspected that Snow might be having problems passing her first eggs.  She had been big for over a month and I read online that it usually took three weeks for a budgie to lay an egg. 

 

When I asked the bird expert inside the large pet shop for advice, he sympathetically told me to bring my budgie to the vet as soon as possible.  "She could die," he said as though Snow already was. The young man then wished me good luck, giving me the saddest look.

 

For some reason I felt the need to interact with other birds so I walked towards the two large black parrot cages in the pet shop. Both big birds seemed friendly.  One of them placed himself against the thick bars so I could pet it, and I swear the other one said "hello."  Jeff could not confirm it because he stood a few steps away, trying to ignore the scenery.  He hated being inside pet stores because they made him sad.  He only came in with me for moral support.

 

After my short time with the parrots I bought a small pet carrier and brought it home, unsure what to do.  I wanted to help Snow, but wasn't sure I could afford the vet bill.  I had savings, but they were mainly for my son's education as well as my retirement.  I loved my bird but...

 

My husband googled nearby vets for me as I placed my helpless bird inside the new carrier to bring her outside.  Although I allowed Snow as well as her male companion out of their cage when somebody was home, I thought she should get to see how normal birds lived and get some fresh air.  I would have done the same with Link to an extent, but for some reason we were never able to train him and he still tried to flee from us whenever we approached him.

 

I headed to the side yard of our apartment building, where it was warm, and sat down on the ground.  I carefully took Snow out of the carrier and placed her on the pavement.  I knew she wouldn't fly away because she had been experiencing trouble flying lately.  I figured it was just because of the eggs she was carrying.

 

Snow hopped around a little bit on her tiny feet, exploring the new environment.  A small black ant crawled on her left foot and she didn't react.

 

My husband came to see me outside and I asked to borrow his cell phone.  While keeping an eye on my bird, I called the local SPCA to see if they could help me.  They once helped me rescue a hurt pigeon. 

 

I was told to take my budgie to one of two emergency animal clinics but they were both far and we didn't have a car.

 

Next, I called a local bird vet.  I had to leave a message on their answering machine because they were closed.

 

Jeff noticed that an outdoor cat was staring at Snow with much interest so we didn't stay outside for much longer.

 

Although Snow seemed fine, I cried myself to sleep that night.

 

The following day I received a call from a woman at the vet clinic while I was at the office.  I wanted to get an estimate of all the possible fees before making an appointment, although I was pretty sure that I was going to take Snow to the vet anyways. I couldn't let her suffer.

 

I was told that there was an eight dollar fee to open a file, which I thought was ridiculous but kept that thought to myself.  The general exam was seventy five dollars, if x-rays were needed it was an extra one hundred and fifteen dollars, and medication varied between twenty and forty dollars. 

 

During the conversation I had been noting down the prices and quickly made calculations using my office calculator.  I figured out that I would have to spend between eighty three and two hundred and thirty eight dollars.  Although it was expensive, it wasn't as bad as I had expected. 

 

After giving me all the information I requested and giving me possible scenarios, the woman from the clinic asked me if I wanted to make an appointment right away or think it over.  I asked if I could be seen in the evening and she was able to book me a 6:15 appointment that same day.

 

I called my fourteen year old son and kindly asked him if he could place Snow in the carrier with some food at around 5:30 so that when I got home from work I could just pick her up and leave for the clinic right away.

 

I felt nervous for the rest of the day and was anxious to get home.  I almost asked to leave a few minutes early.

 

After I left the office at my regular time, it felt like the metros and bus were taking longer than usual and my feet weren't jogging fast enough.  I kept telling myself that everything was going to be alright.

 

When I finally got home, I buzzed for my son to let me in and quickly walked down the stairs that led to the entrance of the basement apartments.

 

Aidan came out into the hallway and I could see his face through the small window at the top of the door.  I knew right away that something was wrong. 

 

My son slowly opened the door for me, sadly shaking his head. I saw that he was holding our motionless white feathered bird in his hand.  Snow's black beady eyes were open but lifeless.

 

I began to tear up right away and it didn't take long for me to start bawling.

 

I was sad for my pet's death, but also felt kind of responsible for it.  I kept thinking that if I had called a vet sooner, she might have lived.  I also wondered if bringing her outside the previous evening was a mistake.  I repeatedly said "sorry" while I pet her soft feathers as though Snow could hear me.  I knew she was gone, yet I felt like part of her soul was still there.

 

My son looked sad holding our dead bird but he didn't cry in front of me.  I asked him if he was okay as I sobbed and he shook his head in a way that looked like yes and no at the same time.

 

Inside the apartment, Aidan managed to explain to me that in the afternoon he found Snow leaning on the side of her cage from one of the perches.  It looked like she was having trouble standing so my son picked her up and placed her in the pet carrier with some food.  He played his video games in the living room as planned and when he checked on the bird she was dead.

 

I wiped my tears and called the clinic to let them know that my bird had passed away, doing my best not to start crying again.  I had a lump in my throat as I talked. 

 

The woman on the other line was very sympathetic.  Sounding sincere, she told me she was sorry to hear the news and kindly said that she would cancel the appointment.  She thanked me for calling and said she was sorry for my loss.

 

After my call, I joined my son in the living room.  He was sitting on the couch holding Snow. 

 

As I stood in front of my silent son, I heard a few little chirps and thought I was going insane.  I then remembered that I had another bird. 

 

I wondered if Link knew his mate had passed and if he would miss her.  He acted normally, but was still quieter than usual. I wondered if he could die of sadness.  I obviously wasn't ready to replace Snow yet, but didn't want to loose another pet so soon either and considered getting another budgie to keep Link company at some point.

 

Since I was mourning Snow, I focused on her for now.

 

My son carefully gave me my bird and I gently placed her on a little cleaning cloth.  I wanted to get a wooden box to put her in, but figured the nearby dollar store would be closed.  I used the internet to double check and was correct.

 

I have to admit that I became a bit hysterical about where to put my bird, not wanting to leave her exposed yet not wanting to just burry her in nothing either.  I didn't feel that a cardboard box was good enough for her.

 

I began to wonder if pet cemeteries existed nearby, or if I could bury her with a loved one.

 

Some people got their pets incinerated and kept the ashes but I could not afford it.  I didn't want to do it myself either.  The images that popped in my head at the thought were horrible.

 

When I was a bit calmer, I called my husband on his cell to find out if he was going to check out a new gym like he considered in the morning or if he was coming straight home.  I let him know what happened and he said he was on his way home. Jeff told me he would be home very soon.

 

While I waited for Jeff to get home, I wrapped Snow in the cleaning cloth like it was a blanket and put her in a blue circular metal butter cookie tin.  I put a plastic bread clip inside because she loved to play with them, a treat, and a branch of small dry white lilies of the valley taken from a clear vase on the kitchen table.  I kept opening the tin to look at my peaceful looking bird, and wasn't really sure where to set the box so I moved it around a lot.  

 

When my husband got in he gave me a big hug and let me cry in his arms for a while.

 

Jeff had taken out chicken for dinner that morning because I didn't have the chance to take anything out myself, and it felt really inappropriate to eat it right after my bird dying.  I actually had problems with the idea of eating poultry or eggs for a few days.  The night Snow died, we ate some grilled cheese sandwiches instead of chicken.

 

After dinner, I decided to formally say bye to Snow; kind of like a funeral.

 

I placed the closed tin on the clean kitchen table, lit two white tapper candles, and put a dry branch of lilies of the valley on top of the box.

 

Jeff was already in the kitchen and remained there while I went to get Aidan from his bedroom.

 

The three of us stood silent in the kitchen, and then Aidan burst out laughing.  He apologized right away, saying he knew it was inappropriate.  I knew how he felt.  I sometimes had odd urges to laugh when things were the opposite of funny.

 

We all said bye to Snow in our heads and then Jeff went to ask our superintendent if he could borrow a gardening digging tool.

 

My husband and I headed outside to find a place to burry Snow.  I thought the best place for her to rest would be under the lilac tree in our side yard, so Jeff started digging a whole there.  Mosquitos attacked him and I said I could take over since the insects didn't bother me, but my husband continued digging in the hard dirt until the whole was deep enough.

 

By then, I had collected a few purple wildflowers.  They were growing through a metal fence from a neighbour's yard.

 

I delicately placed the closed tin inside the dug up hole, placed a few fresh Bellflowers on top, then Jeff and I put dirt in the hole.  I placed a large rock on top of the padded dirt as well as a small stick to indicate Snow's resting ground. 

 

Before leaving, I put another Bellflower on the rock.

 

I continued to cry on and off when we got back inside and Jeff did his best to comfort me. 

 

My younger sister had lost a sick pet about two years before so I called her because I knew she would be able to relate to me.  Unfortunately, she didn't pick up so I simply left her a message.

 

Next, I called my mom to give her the sad news. Although she meant well, she made things worst by reminding me of other pet birds that had died in the past because we couldn't help them. 

 

When I was a child, my sister found some abandoned bird eggs and brought them home.  We kept them on a towel within a large plastic container until they hatched.  Unfortunately, the babies weren't eating and when we came home from school a few days later they were dead.  Apparently my dad buried them in the backyard of our townhouse, but I don't remember that part. I just remember being really sad back then.

 

After the long depressing conversation with my mom, I decided to wait until the following evening to get in touch with my father. 

 

That night I had a horrible dream that Snow had been buried alive. I believe my subconscious may have been thinking about what my mother said about her not accepting the fact that our baby birds were dead many years ago.  She said she kept telling my dad to double check, that perhaps they were just sleeping, and that she imagined them being buried alive.  

 

When I woke up I had to remind myself that my bird was really gone and probably off to a better place.  I told myself that she flew up to meet my grandfather, who had passed away about two years before and loved birds.

 

****

 

The day after my bird died I thought I might tear up at the office, thinking about Snow as well as my grandfather, but ended up being fine. 

 

I didn't tell any of my co-workers about my loss.  Part of me didn't want to make them feel awkward.  I personally never knew what to say when somebody informed me that a loved one or pet died aside from "I'm sorry."  I didn't want their pity.

 

When I talked to my father later that day I didn't cry.  It helped that he cracked jokes and made me laugh.  I don't think I would have been able to handle his humour the previous day though.

 

My dad was also serious and informed me that his father's memorial plaque at the cemetery in Ottawa was being redone to include two bird engravings.  I didn't tell him that one of my thoughts had been to burry Snow with my grandfather.  It made sense to me at the time, but seemed rather silly when I became more rational. Plus, I didn't want my dad to think that I felt the death of a pet was as devastating as that of a family member, even though Snow had become like family to me.  I recognized that loosing a pet as opposed to a person were similar yet very different.  

 

I thought I might shed a few tears when I visited Snow's grave alone to surround her burial ground with bird seeds to attract "companions" and put another fresh Bellflower on her rock, but I didn't.  I still felt sad, but it would seem that I had run out of tears.

 

I felt very emotional when I went to the pharmacy and saw a row of butter cookie tins.  I usually bought them when they were on sale, but not this time.  The sight of the tin reminded me of my bird.

 

Still in mourning, I later took one of Snow's small white feathers I had collected the first time she had moulted in our home and placed it inside a silver heart shaped locket. My eyes got a bit watery while doing so, but I didn't cry.

 

Jeff gave me a printed copy of my favourite picture of Snow and I placed it on my dresser mirror beside the one of my grandfather.  Although I was emotional, I still didn't cry.

 

My tears came back for a second when Aidan and I walked into a pet shop after one of his regular dental appointments a couple days later.  I wasn't sure that it would be a good idea to go in there, but I needed to ask an important question.

 

My son and I walked around the small shop inside the Alexis Neon mall and looked at all the animals like we usually did.  I paid particular attention to the caged birds behind a glass and didn't see any budgies.  I listened to all of them pleasantly sing.

 

In the centre of the store, there was a small green parakeet standing outside of his large black cage eating a treat.  As I was talking to it, I heard Aidan say: "this one looks like Snow."  He was standing near rabbit cages so I was curious to see what he was talking about. 

 

I moved towards my son and saw a lonely white budgie inside a cage.  Aidan was right, the bird did look like snow; when she was healthy.  If felt weird to be looking at it, yet I was reminded of the times Snow was well and that was nice.

 

Two pet store employees were standing nearby so I finally asked the question I had come in for.  I wanted to know if it was necessary to get a new budgie to keep Link company.

 

The young woman I spoke to informed me that it was actually a bad idea to put a new budgie in the cage with Link.  She said that they would most likely end up fighting.   I learnt that caged budgies only got along if they were raised together.

 

As an example, she pointed to the white budgie and told me that when the store received more budgies they would not place any of them in that cage with it.  The bird had a companion but it got sold earlier that day and would not be replaced.

 

I was told that if I bought another budgie I would have to keep it in a separate cage.  She suggested placing the cages side by side to let the birds get used to each other, and see how they acted when they were set free to fly around.  It seemed like too much work.

 

When I told the pet shop employe that I had been afraid of my bird dying of sadness, she said that although he would be sad he would also get over it.  She told me to just buy him a cool toy, if anything.  I felt that Link had enough things in his cage.

 

I thanked the woman for her help, then Aidan and I ran another small errand in the mall. 

 

We went to the Dollar store to pick up bird food and snacks, during which Aidan randomly told me he regretted not being there for Snow when she died.  He said he wished that he had held her and pet her instead of putting her in the pet carrier for her to die there.  "You couldn't have known she was going to die," I said to comfort him. 

 

On the morning of August 10th, Snow appeared fine when I said bye to her and Link before leaving the apartment.  I would have never suspected that she might be dead later that day.  I thought there was still hope for her so her death came to me as a shock.

 

I was glad to finally see Aidan showing emotion and that he opened up to me in the store because I knew Snow's death had affected him more than he had allowed it to show.   

 

Right after Aidan's dental appointment that evening, we picked up something to eat for dinner at the food court and ate outside on a terrace.  Aidan kept giving pieces of his food to a white and brown pigeon, which he names P. John to be funny, rather than shoo it away.  He let it walk on his long bench and even on the circular table, which I would normally disapprove of.  Aidan probably would have hand fed the pigeon if I had allowed it.  I could tell he missed Snow.

 

At the pet shop, Aidan had asked me if we were going to buy a new bird and pointed out the ones he liked; the small green parquet I was watching eat a treat earlier on, as well as some small white ones that looked like they had mohawks. They were a bit pricy for me and I knew not to mix bird species before even talking to the pet shop owner.  I told Aidan that I was considering another budgie and he seemed okay with that.

 

In my opinion, it proved that my son enjoyed having the birds around as pets even though they were annoying at times. 

 

I had not planned on buying a new bird unless it was necessary, and after the pet shop employe told me the contrary I gave up on the idea right away.  After my son opened up to me, I told him what I had been thinking as well. 

 

I thought that perhaps I would place bird feeders in the lilac tree where Snow was buried.  I knew that after Link passed I wouldn't get another pet.  I figured I would just stick to feeding wild birds that way I wouldn't get as attached.   

 

That evening, I showed Aidan exactly were Snow was buried and placed one last purple wildflower on her resting ground.  It was the last time I visited the site to pay my respects.  I don't think Aidan ever went back.

 

I hung out in the side yard in the future and the sight of the lilac tree instantly reminded me of Snow, but I didn't feel the need to go near her grave anymore.

 

When it was time for me to clean the bird cage like I do every Saturday morning, I thought I might cry a bit but ended up being fine.  I think it would have been worst if the cage had been empty.  Link's presence made things bearable even though he was still anti-social towards us.

 

The only thing really bothering me was seeing Snow's name on the cage stand.  I could not bring myself to peel the four letter stickers off so instead I found the letters R.I.P and stuck them on top of her name.  I also put a small heart sticker underneath.  It may have been childish, but it was my way to cope.

 

My sister called me later that day and I told her how I had been feeling.  She said not to dwell too much or blame myself for Snow's death.  She used to work in a pet shop and informed me that most of the time when a bird was sick not much could be done and when the vet operated the bird ended up dying days later anyways.  My sister told me that vets often just put the birds to sleep, which cost the pet owner money.  She was delicately saying that I saved money; the outcome would have been the same even if I had gone to the vet.

 

It was nice to hear my sister tell me that she felt I had given Snow a good home and that I was a good pet owner, much like Jeff had told me. She said my bird most likely appreciated my kind gestures and that it looked like she lived a good life. 

 

I am not exactly sure how old Snow was when she died because we were never told her age when we got her and Link; just that both birds were adults.  It takes four months for a budgie to reach maturity and we owned Snow for twenty months so I know she lived for at least two years.  The average lifespan of a budgie is a mystery to me since every website I visited said something different. 

 

I told my sister how I had acted the day Snow died and she completely understood me.  She said she asked for a blanket for her dog right after the vet put it to sleep even though she knew the deceased animal couldn't be cold.

 

It took me about a week to mourn for Snow and then I started focusing on Link.  I continued to try training him, hoping that one day he would become as social as Snow.  I noticed some improvement so that was good.  

 

I dreamt of my old bird often and missed having her around, but I eventually moved on.  I think Link did too because he started being loud again.