A Menagerie of Misfits, Part One

I don’t know what it is about my household, but it has attracted its share of gender, specie and identity- confused animals.

To start, we’ve had a bird named Pup, so named because her cute and helpless demeanor reminded us of our then puppy back home. Technically, she wasn’t a household pet. We found her when we were on vacation in Hawaii. We knew she was a lost cause – hatchlings that get separated from their mothers early on have almost zero survival rate – but we still took her under our wing, so to speak. Who could resist this ball of tiny brown feathers that chirped so pitifully? Certainly not us girls who heaved a collective “Awwww” when we found it cold and shivering in a nearby bush. We took turns stroking its feathers and cupping it in our hands, trying to keep it warm. The poor thing was too young to eat or drink anything. I doubt it would know what to do if we dropped a worm down its beak, not that we ever would. We knew it was just a matter of time. Still, the poor thing clung on to life valiantly. When it looked like it was on its last leg, Chessa tried to resuscitate it by dabbing her spit on its parched throat. Chessa insisted it was a last- ditch effort to revive it. Melanie and I suspected that’s what killed the darn thing, drowning in Chessa’s bacteria-infested saliva. (Sorry, Chess. If it makes you feel better, everyone’s saliva IS bacteria-infested.) Chessa countered that it was my refusal to give CPR that killed it. We pointed fingers as to who was the actual bird-erer, or bird murderer. We had it for less than a day, but the short but tragic life of that little bird called Pup will be in our minds forever.

Before A Bird Called Pup, we’ve had a couple of small parrots that we kept in a big white cage. That’s how I learned that the trick to getting a bird to shut up is to throw a cover over their cage to block out the light.  This makes them think it’s nighttime, they go sleep, and viola!  Peace and silence!  Now if we could only do that to certain people!

Our adventures with birds were not limited to small ones, either. One time I opened the door to my daughter’s bathroom when I heard an indignant screech. In the middle of the bathroom was a big, beautiful and decidedly wet bird. It gave me a how-dare-you-disturb-me look. I hurriedly closed the door to look for the culprit who turned my bathroom into a bird sanctuary. Found out Chessa had bought a conure whose one vice was taking long, leisurely showers. Chessa would turn on the shower at its lowest setting and the bird would dart in and out of the water like the shower was its personal waterfall. Chessa called the bird Samson. It would flirt outrageously with James, Chessa’s boyfriend. It would land on his shoulder and perch on his finger. The rest of us, it would just ignore or try to take a swipe at. I guess it figured that it was entitled to its diva behavior because it was so beautiful. Its colorful plumage made us marvel at its beauty, but its big, sharp claws made us wisely admire it at a safe distance.

One time it escaped from its cage and terrorized the household, swooping down on our heads like we were prey. Ronnie finally got it down, but not after it clamped down very forcefully on his finger. Good thing Ronnie was smart enough to wear thick leather gloves at that time. I had no doubt Samson could have made finger food out of his finger.

Chessa later sent it back to its vendor for behavior modification. The vendor promised to return it when it was more people-friendly. I guess that time never came because we never heard of Samson again. What a relief that was! Not being on chummy terms with a big bird with an even bigger attitude was not a good place to be. Did I mention that Samson had a big beak? It was the kind that could crush any kind of nut, and I mean any kind! I was glad he did not stay long because I was dreading any ugly encounters between him and my husband. After all, the family jewels are no good cracked.

Having had a Samson in her life, Chessa got another pet she called Delilah, also named after a popular song at that time. This time it was a duck. She was tiny with black feathers and a huge beak. She looked like she could bag the title role in “The Ugly Duckling.” I kept hoping that someday she would turn into a swan. She sure was a plain old thing but Chessa loved her to death. That duck loved Chessa in return, and was very territorial with her, pecking at other people to keep them away, especially Chessa’s boyfriend.

Everyday, Chessa would fill up this huge plastic tub with water, set the tub on our front lawn, and have Delilah swim there. She would swim happily for hours, quacking along. After the bath, she would waddle after Chessa and follow her everywhere she went. Chessa would later empty out the water from the large plastic tub and put the duck inside the tub. Delilah would happily play with her toys including a bell that she would ring with her beak. At times Chessa would leave her behind an enclosed area on the side of our house where she would spend her time quacking along, happy as can be. At first, neighbors gawked at this preposterous sight of a duck in the middle of nowhere, but they soon got used to it. Delilah soon became a regular fixture in the neighborhood.

On one occasion, Chessa brought Delilah to Heritage Park to socialize with the other ducks. The other ducks all ganged up on her and pecked at her. We later found out that ducks who have been domesticated don’t do well with other ducks because they identify more with other humans than their fellow ducks. It was obvious Delilah had a serious case of identity crisis.

We had Delilah for more than a year. By this time, she had sprouted blue and green feathers that mixed well with her original black and brown. She had grown into a beautiful duck. She was getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately, it was the wrong kind.

Our neighbors across the street own a couple of small dogs that occasionally escape from their backyard and cause mischief in their wake. One day I got a frantic call from Chessa. She had found Delilah badly wounded on one side and had rushed her to the vet. We suspected those dogs but we had no proof. The vet prescribed antibiotics and an ointment for the wound. The vet also announced a fact that nobody except possibly Delilah herself knew: Delilah was a he. After the initial shock, Chessa recovered enough to go into a flurry of name-changing attempts. Eventually, she decided on keeping the original name anyway, so Delilah he remained until the remainder of his mortal life. Which was sadly cut short by those rogue neighbor dogs again. Our attempts at fortifying the fence was not enough to keep them away. The dogs got in through a little opening between the fence and the ground. The next time they attacked her was the last. She put up a brave fight but was no match to them. She was just a jumble of feathers and blood when Chessa found her. What a tragedy. Delilah could have made one hell of a Peking duck! (Just kidding, Chess.)

Hamsters we’ve had a few. Chessa’s had a succession of them too many to all mention. Her first one she named Heather, after a girl in grade school who was her closest friend but also her biggest rival. After that, there were other ones, unremarkable and forgettable.

Her last two were called Skeeter and Tots. Skeeter was the more athletic of the two. He  liked to spend his days spinning around in the wheel. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was into counting calories too. Tots was just a roly-poly who couldn’t care less about society’s obsession with thinness. He liked to gobble everything in sight. Chessa liked to bring these two to parties, either tucked in a little shoebox or just slipped into her shirt pockets. She would show them off to the little kids who would either be delighted at their antics or be squeamish in their presence. This dynamic duo was the toast of the town. That they met their untimely death at the hands of our cat was very unfortunate. I will, however, spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say that they were deeply mourned by everyone, except of course, by the cat, who looked not in the least bit remorseful for his actions.

At the duo’s demise, Melanie got her own hamster named Trevor. By virtue of his being the sole living heir of Hamstertown, Trevor inherited the previous hamsters’ palatial estate. Since he also had his own studio apartment, we connected the two with a tunnel which made for a very cool bachelor’s pad. Trevor had hit the real estate jackpot.

He also lived a life of leisure. He would roll around the floor in a hamster ball. He was a veritable hell on wheels who would run over everything in his way. He also had a hamster car– yes, a plastic contraption shaped like a car that he would zoom around the house in. Petco called it a Super Pet Critter Cruiser. The ads described it as a pet- powered exercise car that ran on hamster power. It was all very environmentally friendly, I assure you. This little hamster was living La Vida Loca.

Unfortunately, the good life got to him. He became so fat that one day, he got stuck in the tunnel. Melanie did not check in on him until much, much later, but by then it was too late. Death by starvation or suffocation was not a good way to go, especially for someone who loved the good life.

As you can see, we’ve never had a shortage of critters in and outside the house. When Chessa was in grade school, she attempted to make a pet out of a frog by putting it inside her pocket and taking it to school. The frog escaped inside the class and caused such a commotion that Chessa almost got in trouble. Melanie, in turn, bought a miniature turtle, the kind they sell on the streets of downtown LA for a buck. Its entertainment factor was short-lived. The poor turtle died from neglect. Melanie left it inside her closet and forgot to feed it.

We’ve also had an aquarium that housed different kinds of fish. The most remarkable was the sucker fish that cleaned the aquarium by eating not just the fungus and mold but also the other fishes’ poop. How convenient was that! The hardiest were the goldfish that just hang in there through clean and dirty water, through times of famine and plenty, and through an array of different other fish that came and went. I also learned plenty from having fishes for pets. I learned that fish will keep eating if you keep feeding them. Some actually die from overeating, or at least that’s what someone told me. I also found out that they have cannibalistic tendencies, at least our fish did. They ate the other kinds of fish and were not above maiming their own kind. We’ve even had a survivor fish that was the veteran of such battles. This fish had one eye that was half-gouged out of its socket and a gaping wound on its side, and there was always a string of poop trailing behind it. I suspect the poor thing was incontinent from all the wear and tear of its skirmishes with the others. Yet it continued on, swimming along, oblivious or proud perhaps, of its handicap. It was actually our last remaining fish. After it died, we did not have the heart to buy any more fish. We donated our aquarium to Goodwill. Perhaps in another house somewhere, it will be privy to another swashbuckling adventure with other scaly and finned creatures.

The pets I mentioned above may seem like a lot already, but I still have a whole slew of canine and feline friends that I haven’t mentioned. The dogs and cats in our lives have all left their tiny pitter-patter footprints on our hearts, and our lives have been so much richer because of them. That being said, I am devoting a whole chapter, Part Two, to them. As a teaser, I am attaching a picture of one of our dogs. With a face like that, is it any wonder that our lives have, as a matter of speaking, gone to the dogs?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Hofe
    Jun 04, 2010 @ 22:21:50

    Em,good we were not neighbors or we could have created a wild zoo with our former pets. My daughter had a pet lizard which she found outside the house and I have to go regurlarly to PETCO to buy crickets for food.


  2. Harold Tan Cabahug
    Jun 05, 2010 @ 12:01:17

    Another roller coaster ride, this thing you call your life, Emms. You are just surrounded with people and animals who are non-stop action heros/villains. Maybe a zoo-keeper/naturalist/writer is your calling?


    • emmblu
      Jun 06, 2010 @ 06:12:16

      Harold and Hofe, with all the critters my kids have brought to my life, I feel like I am a one-woman corporation who kept Petco and Petsmart afloat. This is my life already with two girls. Imagine if I had two boys! I’d be the manager of the Casa Emma Teresita Wild Animal Park! I will be charging for admission!


  3. Harold Cabahug
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 08:00:43

    Yah! I could come work for you, as a videographer to keep a documentary on your animals “going bananas”! We could send the videos to the World’s Funniest Animals!!!


    • emmblu
      Jun 09, 2010 @ 23:54:24

      Wanted: Zookeeper
      Flexible hours ( you can be woken up in the middle of the night )
      Comparable pay (practically nil. Work on holidays. No overtime pay)
      Career advancement ( you can add cook, housekeeper, financier and animal behaviorist on your resume for your next job)
      If you are still interested, Harold, the job is yours.


      • Harold Cabahug
        Jul 04, 2010 @ 23:07:06

        I AM ALREADY DOING THAT JOB IN GRAINGER!!!! hahaha. If we were in the same state, I would apply for that as a second job!! šŸ™‚

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