Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Our Mini Menagerie

Animals have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, our family always had at least one dog. At one time or another we had an American boxer, two chows (male and female at the same time), a miniature shepherd mix, and an English bulldog. Other pets included gerbils (the man who sold them to me assured me that they were both males. Yeah, right!), turtles, and parakeets.

For some time I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. But not your run-of-the-mill dog and cat doctor. I wanted to be a zoo vet so I could work with a variety of exotic animals. I couldn't get enough of the Bronx Zoo as a kid. For a few years I was a member of the New York Zoological Society. One of the perks I took advantage of was a breakfast with the zoo's chief veterinarian. He showed a series of slides and related numerous accounts from his years of caring for the park's denizens. I was in seventh heaven!

Needless to say, my childhood dream of being a zoo vet never materialized. I remain, however, every bit as much intrigued by animals as in my youth. I thought I'd introduce readers to some of the creatures in our family's life at present.

This is Otto, the African Grey parrot. He's a temporary resident who belongs to friends who asked if we'd bird-sit while they're in between homes. I'm the guy who used to watch Baretta for Fred the cockatoo so this was an easy decision to make.

African Greys are known for being the best talkers among parrots and Otto is no exception. He has an impressive repertoire of sayings and sounds including a dead ringer for a car alarm remote, dripping water, a creaking door, and a barking dog. Boarding a parrot has practical benefits, too. Having a master mimic around is a wonderful aid to taming the tongue.

Otto can also do a mean cockatiel imitation. That's because his cage is only a few feet away from Sidney's. I've had Sidney for 22 or 23 years. From what I've read that's a long time for a cockatiel. All the books I've looked at place their lifespan somewhere between 15 and 20 years so Sidney is on borrowed time. On occasion I try to prepare the kids (and myself) for the reality that one day Sidney is going to die. Sometimes when his cage is covered and he's being uncharacteristically quiet, I make a chirping noise, to which he usually responds, just to make sure he's still with us. It's always a relief to hear his reply. When he doesn't signal back I go check on him. I think he likes scaring me.

While the feathered friends are downstairs keeping each other company during the day, Gary is upstairs sleeping. I've mentioned Gary once before but this is his photographic debut on the blog. Who's Gary? My son's ball python. For some strange reason, many people find "Gary" an unusual name for a snake so let me tell you how he got it. Since a reptile is cheaper and requires less maintenance than the puppy my daughter wants, my son was the first to get his pet. Knowing that she was disappointed, and wanting to give her a sense of involvement in her brother's excitement, I asked my daughter what she thought he should name it. She came up with Gary because like Sponge Bob's pet snail by the same name the snake doesn't do anything. The rest is history.

Gary just might have a future in the dramatic arts. Here he is doing a re-enactment of Genesis 3. A real natural, huh?

I persistently tried to persuade my daughter that snakes are just as adorable and cuddly as dogs. I mean, when Gary is downing a mouse and the tail is the only thing sticking out of his mouth it's somewhat reminiscent of that scene where Lady and Tramp are slurping spaghetti. No? My daughter didn't buy it either. So, now that spring is here, we're in search of a canine addition to the family.


A.D. Riddle said...

In my lifetime, we've had geese, ducks, chickens, turtles, rabbits (lots of rabbits), 3 pigs, cats, and 3 golden retrievers. Some of them weren't really pets, such as the chickens. The pigs were the best-tasting (of the animals that made it on the dinner table), and the goldens were the best at interacting with people. In fact our last golden, Muffin, refused to acknowledge the presence of other animals; she was only interested in hanging out with other human beings. Our present girl, Canela, will split her attention 50-50 between other pets and their owners. Our first rabbit, Abraham, was the closest imitation of a golden retriever from a non-canine animal that I've seen: he came when we called his name, he lived indoors, he was gentle, and he didn't bark.

Tell Gary he nailed the part down perfectly. What acting!

KP said...

Hey, A.D.! Nice to hear from you.

Gary appreciates your kind words. He's been waiting for the phone to ring off the hook with calls from casting agents. I'm not sure, though, how he'll answer it should his dream materialize.

pastorshaun said...


Thanks for sharing this. It's good to know that I'm among fellow animal lovers. You've inspired my to post on my own zoo, but it will take some time to get them all to pose for shots.


KP said...

You're welcome, Shaun. I can't wait to see your crew.