Saturday, July 29, 2023

Aging Out

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 31, 2023] ©2023

The good news, our primary care physician informed us, is that we have officially aged out of early-onset afflictions.

As you get older, one less thing you can die of is good news indeed.

But there are plenty of other things we can’t decide if we’ve aged out of or not.  One of them is pets, specifically dogs, and birds for our outdoor aviary.  Fortunately, our beloved dog Lily is still with us, but she’s 14 and came perilously close to dying earlier this year. 

Actually, we’d decided not to get another dog after our beloved English bulldog, Winston, inherited from our younger son Henry, died suddenly in 2016.  Nothing to do with age; we couldn’t bear losing another dog.  Winston was a total pain but we really loved him.

But then a rescue agency asked us to do a “one week maximum” foster of a dog waiting for her next forever home.  They saw us for the mushballs that we were.  Three days into seven-year-old Lily’s stay, we’d fallen in love. 

Our aviary birds have been a more imminent issue.  My older son Rory began breeding cockatiels when he was nine.  He’s now 45 and married to a cat person in Santa Cruz.  Like many sucker parents the world over, we ended up inheriting the cockatiels who can easily live to be over 20.  But we grew fond of the little guys and were sad when the last of them finally died.

Olof and I agree that we have definitely aged out of cockatiels. Not, however, of the multitude of parakeets we also accumulated over the years, often neighbor kids’ ill-considered bird buys supplemented by grandkids’ fondness for pet store excursions.  Somehow we’ve ended up becoming an avian social service agency.

But our parakeet numbers have been dwindling.

Parakeets have varying life spans but the ones in our outdoor aviary tend to live up seven years. Are we good for seven more years of cage cleaning?  It’s a really nasty job and not one you can easily hire someone for. The cage is built into our back porch so that it is sheltered on two sides from sun and wind.  At night, a pull-down cover keeps the myriad fauna that populate our back yard from annoying them.

Olof, in a heroic act that earned him about a bazillion husband points, took over aviary maintenance from me about three years ago.  I don’t even want to calculate how many bird cages that I have cleaned over thirty-three years. I might be a contender for an Olympic medal in bird poop shoveling. 

To be honest, I’m over it.

Even Olof began saying that cleaning the aviary was getting a little hard on him physically.  We agreed that as much as we enjoy the birds cheerful chirping, we were officially declaring ourselves aged out of birds.  We don’t like to take on any pets we can’t expect to outlast, or in this case, whose maintenance we can’t expect to be able to physically manage.

So it was all decided. I thought.

Earlier this spring, we were down to two birds. You can always tell which birds were acquired - and therefore named – during grandkid pet store excursions (String Bean (green) and Banana (yellow)) and which were neighbor donations, re-named by Olof for Tolkien characters.  It’s culturally a very mixed group. Interestingly, they seem to know it.

But then suddenly we were down to one bird (Banana).  Were we going to let her fly around all by herself until it was time to flit to the great beyond? Or do we bring her inside to a cage where she can have more interaction with us but be unable to fly freely?  To me it was one or the other.

But apparently not to Olof.

I came home from an appointment last week and heard what sounded like very forest-y noises coming from our back porch.  They could not all be Banana.  And sure enough, they weren’t.

Several more parakeets had joined Banana and were zipping happily around the aviary, obviously pleased to have been liberated from the cramped confines of PetSmart. 

Olof looked sheepish.  “I know you were ready to be done with birds, but I wasn’t,” he conceded.  He got three more so there would be even numbers.  Birds, like kindergarteners, tend to pair up and ignore the odd one out.  Gandalf, Galadriel, and Frodo seem very happy with their new digs, and especially being in a flight cage. 

I told Olof he better be keeping himself in tiptop bird poop-shoveling shape for at least the next seven years.  He’s got something to live for now.

Our friends say that there is an easy answer to all this: leave any pets to the kids in our will. After thirty years of birds (inherited from Rory) and one problematic bulldog (inherited from Henry) they wouldn’t dare say no. (Would they?) 




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