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The Devil’s Clack Dish: The other side of other people’s pets

The Devil’s Clack Dish: A Column
By HAP MANSFIELD
Scene Editor

Of course, you’ve noticed that people are really nuts about their pets. They incessantly talk about their pets, dote on them, act like they are people. How many screws must you  have loose to get that goofy?

I have always liked other people’s pets, too. In fact, one of the first statements I ever made as a toddler was when I went up to a particularly staid and elegant hostess at a dinner party my family attended, shook her hand and said, “I liked your food and your dog.” My mother was mortified by my bluntness. I admit, this statement may have set the course for my life. I most always enjoy food and other people’s dogs.

My family owned the requisite beloved cats and dogs, but, as I went off on my own, I mostly just stuck to liking other people’s food and dogs.

For example, my grandpa owned a Boxer named Lady, who was gentler and smarter than most people I have known. My brother, Chuck, has a shelter-raised Pit Bull named Claire who is a love muffin if there ever was one (their ferocious reputation is due to training, I think). My sister had a dog named Murphy, whom she loved, for good reason, like no human in the world. My other brother has a sweetheart of a Dalmatian named Chica. My sister-in-law has an Australian Shepherd, Frankie, who could run a Fortune 500 company if he could only speak English. I love all these people’s food and their dogs.

But I never really wanted a pet of my own. They seemed like a lot of work. They are more fun to visit than to pooper-scoop.

Then, my mom got very sick, I went to take care of her and, after she passed away, I was left alone in her house wondering what to do next and feeling very sad. My Lutheran minister brother brought me his parakeet, Dave the 5th (he’s owned four other parakeets over the years, all named Dave – good story for another time). He said it was so that I would have “another living soul” with me. You heard it here first, folks, animals have living souls. Well, perhaps you already knew this.

I have always loved birds, but I basically liked wild ones best. The grackles in this area are wonderful. I know they are cheeky and have a bad rep among much of the population here, but I like them. A parakeet from a pet store is hardly a wild bird, or, at least, that’s what I thought. I let his wings grow out and allowed him to fly around the house. I figured if you’ve got wings, you probably want to use them. At first, he alarmingly ran into a few walls and mirrors, got caught in a wastebasket and behind the piano, and then figured out the territory and flew like a dart around the place. He was easy to feed and clean up after, and I grew to find his antics amusing.

When I moved to Texas, I brought him along after first taking him to a vet for a certificate of health (most all states require this, you know). Of course, he bit the vet. He likes to bite stuff, sometimes even me, the provider of millet. Come on, he’s got no hands, how’s he going to touch stuff?

The drive down from Illinois was uneventful, save for the 98-degree weather outside of Dallas that had him panting, clutching to the side of the cage (a spray bottle of water helped somewhat). He immediately got used to the new house and flew around happily.

Now, as this piece illustrates, I have become a nut about this little parakeet. I show everyone who will stand still his picture. I worry about his diet and his water intake (just as an aside, parakeets in the wild in Australia can go three weeks without water). When I talk about him, it is assumed that he is some kind of specialty breed, but you can see from his picture that he’s just a normal, run-of-the-mill, green and yellow parakeet.

I don’t talk to him in baby talk. Much. I don’t smother him in kisses, but that’s mostly because human saliva is not healthy for birds and, besides, he doesn’t like to be touched too often – it dirties up the feathers. I don’t smoke around him, though (this is huge – I’ve been happily smoking for 30 years), and I sing to him. His favorite songs are “Chattanooga Choo-choo” and “The Night They Invented Champagne.” He sings right along with me and screams bloody murder when I play my Rocket From The Crypt CDs.  He doesn’t care for loud rock.

Here’s how nutty I am about Dave. I intended for this to be a piece about virtual pets. Put the worlds “free online virtual pet” into your web browser and you will get a plethora of sites that require very little information to get you started on taking care of your own computer pet with no mess or costly vet bills. (If they ask for more than your name and your web address approach that site carefully.)

If you’ve ever wanted a horse, there are great sites where you can train and raise a horse (go to whinny.org – there’s a lot to choose from). You can also get to sites that have camels, lamas, sheep, parrots and, of course, puppies and kitties. I like adoptme.com, and I now have a marmoset named Charlie who gets a little virtual attention one in a while. You and your kids will like this site, I think.

But none of these virtual pets can hold a candle to Dave the 5th and, as I wrote this, I realized that it is I who have a few screws loose. But I think they were on too tight, anyway.