Yesterday, I had a Flight to San Juan. I had to be at the airport at eight a.m. for a nine a.m. departure. Out to San Juan, sit for a couple of hours and come back. Land about five and with the rush hour traffic, I’d be home by about 6:30 or 7:00 in time to play with my birds and get them to bed at a reasonable hour. No problem, right?
Well, sometimes life in the real world doesn’t work out that way. Especially if it involves air travel. We ended up with a mechanical problem and didn’t leave until 1:25 p.m. This created a delay, but not too bad because we had all that time in the airport in San Juan. What nobody counted on was a line of thunderstorms, lightning and major rain that developed over Florida and shut down Miami for a few hours. We ended up in Nassau to refuel. Then the Pilots went illegal due to a duty day over fourteen hours. But we had a couple of pilots dead-heading on the flight and they just switched seats, so that worked out. Long story short; I got home at 1:00 in the morning. You might have noticed that I have African Greys. And a dog. But I’m lucky enough to have a friend that I had pre-arranged to look after the birds for dinner. I managed to get ahold of him on a cell phone when I was sitting in the Bahamas and had a break from trying to explain to one of our customers that this wasn’t a conspiracy to keep him from getting to Richmond, Virginia that evening. And that there really was a huge thunderstorm in Miami despite the fact that the “American Express Travel Desk” said they had no reports of anything amiss at the Miami Airport. (Never mind that there were planes scattered around like tinker toys all over the airport waiting for refueling…) And no, we don’t “make this stuff up.”
I told my friend giving my birds their dinner to just put them to bed at their normal time as I didn’t know when I’d get back. Which he did of course and I owe him some cookies or something. Mattie the dog, however was another story. I had “piddle pads” down for her which she knows to use if she needs to. And she did use them; very liberally I might add. (That’s my girl!) And of course, I took her out the second I got home.
But what would have happened if I didn’t have that back-up? What if I had nobody to feed them their dinner or cover them up? Well, I’ll tell you. Probably nothing. They would have been fine. They would have had their beaks out of joint, and a little ticked off at me, but they would have been happy to see me, and they would have gotten their dinner at one in the morning. They all had big bowls of formulated pelleted parrot food in their “houses.” And they had fresh water. I assure you, they would have been fine. It wouldn’t have been ideal, but they would have survived.
Would I have liked it? Would I have been comfortable with it? In a word: No. I would have been wracked with guilt for days. I would have been worried, concerned and upset. But my birds would have forgotten about it by the next morning. Like most animals, they live in the moment. They’re tougher and more flexible than we are.
We all have times when the parrot poop hits the fan. Life goes on whether you have parrots or dogs or not. Things come up. Life isn’t perfect. If you are lucky enough like me to have “Back-up,” consider yourself very lucky and treat these people like gold. But things happen like what happened to me. And there’s nothing you can do about it. If I had no backup and had gotten stuck overnight in Nassau, I would have made a phone call and they would have been fed. You can push this “no attention” thing only so far. But as it is, it all worked out.
My birds don’t have a set schedule. There are mornings when they eat breakfast at 5 a.m. and there mornings like today when they weren’t fed breakfast until 8:30 a.m. They have learned to be flexible and aren’t pointing to their watches if I’m ten minutes late with their fresh food full of “Chop,” beans, sprouts and nuts. They know they will be taken care of. Our schedule is a bit wacky at times, but they’ve grown accustomed to our “no-schedule” schedule. They roll with the punches. And they are better birds for it. But there are certain things I do to make my life a little easier to take when it deals you a hand like I got yesterday. And on the other hand, there are days at a time when they spend the entire day with me and I’m sure are sick of having me around.
But there are things I’ve arranged to make life easier for us. First of all, I have four people who are what I call my “Parrot-Troopers.” They are trained up to feed the birds and change their water. They all have a key to my place. They all know where I keep the frozen “Chop” and frozen beans and they know where I keep the nuts and such. They all are at least marginally comfortable with my birds, if not completely at ease with them. They have the basics down on diet, and what they need to do to get them fed and watered. I keep enough frozen food in the freezer to feed an army, or more technically, a “troop” of parrots for days. (Which reminds me, I’m down to about 5 days worth and I have to make more.) I also have many people who are fine with taking care of Mattie the dog as well. The problem I had when I first got Parker was that I realized I couldn’t do it alone. I was going to have to ask for help. And I didn’t like that, but I had to do it in order to make this life with a parrot workable.
What I’m advising to anyone with companion animals is to have a back-up plan. Make sure someone has access to your home and they know where the food, the leash, the piddle-pads, whatever it is that your animals need is located. Have a list of telephone numbers of the Vets, and other friends who could help in case of a problem posted on your refrigerator. If you have animals needing medication, put those notes there too. Make sure people know if you are leaving and when you are coming back and make sure they have access to your place. Maybe you already have this in place and if you do, I applaud you. But I just bring it up because of what happened to me yesterday. Occasionally it rains in your life and if you know your “family” will be taken care of, you can dance in the downpour.
So, I do worry when stuff happens, but I know they will be fine because I created a cushion of back-up for myself. And they’re tougher than we give them credit for. Even though my birds, dog and I are technically on our own in the world, we have people who are willing to help us out if life gets weird. I’ve trained my parrots to be flexible and take life as it comes. Their schedule is not rigid and neither is their diet or their way of life. They have learned to trust that all will be well. It’s just that sometimes it might take a little time; especially if it rains.
Do you have a plan in case you can’t make it home? What are your emergency backup plans? And please, if you have any other suggestions for me other than “Find another job.” I’d love to hear them! I’m sorry, but after 23 years, it isn’t feasible…yet! But I’m working on cutting down.
Patricia Sund is a Free-Lance Writer residing in Florida with her three African Greys. She has been published in About.com, Bird Talk Magazine, Birds USA, In Your Flock Magazine, Good Bird Magazine as well as numerous websites and newsletters. She is currently doing research for a book titled "Parrot Nation".