Hola Diego! Introducing the not-so-secret life of our pet
We’re celebrating a birthday in our home today. It’s the four-month “hatchday” of our baby bird, a green-cheek conure whom we’ve affectionately named Diego. Although we’ve only had him in our home for barely a month, it’s as if he has been a part of our lives for forever. Weighing in at only 70 grams – that’s the equivalent of only eight teaspoons of sugar or four of Christa’s choc chip cookies (minus one bite) – he already has an over-sized personality and an endearing presence.
Although both Christa and I grew up in pet-owning families, we’ve generally steered clear of owning pets of our own. We prefer the care-free ability of being able to escape for weekends on a whim or travel in the summer for extended periods of time. Owning a pet was just too onerous. We have succumbed over the years to acquiring fish when we overpopulated our outdoor fishpond with 11 goldfish in the year that we landscaped our front yard. By the fall of that season we were down to three of the little critters. This trio survived being winterized in our basement and were happy to return to their outdoor life of thrills, spills and menacing magpies in the following spring. By the end of that second outdoor season natural selection had reduced us to two little goldfish. Now, four years later, the piscine pair are aching (if fish ache or even care?) to be released from the confines of their basement winter tank, once again, to their outdoor watering hole this coming May long weekend.
After becoming unemployed I went through a spell of creating glass gardens and “fish biomes”. I created some cool underwater features and populated them with beta fish. This resulted in us adopting a beta fish of our own. Not thinking the little guy would survive very long, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, three years later, we still have “Sushi” swimming around in his little glass vase on our living room coffee table showing no signs of expiring and still needing his fair shares worth of daily attention.
This was the extent of pet-care in our home. Low maintenance and low engagement. Easy to palm off on willing family or house sitters. We were satisfied. Or were we? I’m not a lover of cats; Christa is. Dogs can be awesome, but seem to require a lot of maintenance and are expensive, both to buy and to care for. Having grown up in sunny South Africa, dogs in our home were mostly outdoor watchdogs, not indoor lap dogs. So here, too, I wasn’t eager to concede to becoming a dog owner.
Birds have always had a unique appeal to us. Growing up, we more often than not had a red factor canary singing in our family home or had an assortment of finches in an aviary. My Dad, in his more recent years, has bred a variety of seed-eaters which has always been fun to watch and enjoy. Christa’s Grandfather had bred parrots and she, herself, had been the owner of a cockatiel. So avian pets aren’t foreign to us. We’ve toyed with the idea of getting a bird for several years now, but have been satisfied to merely populate our home with ornamental fat birds for which Christa has always had an uncanny love. Since working from the quiet confines of our home, I’ve entertained the idea of acquiring a pet bird more than Christa, I suspect. We find ourselves periodically popping into a local pet store to see who might be looking for a loving home, but we always successfully talk ourselves down from the proverbial ledge and exit the store pet-free with our comfortable lives still intact! All of this came to a sudden end in April 2019.
It was Wednesday the 10th. I recall the significance of this day with crystal clarity. It was to be a day of noteworthy firsts! Today was the culmination of me hopefully qualifying to get my professional engineering designation as I wrote my national professional practice exam in the afternoon. This, after what felt like an interminable 26-month application and ratification journey. I emerged from the exam dazed and convinced that I had failed.
Feeling forlorn, I met Christa back at our home in the early evening at the end of her school day to launch into the second significant event: my first voting opportunity as a Canadian citizen. With our province of Alberta going to the polls to elect a government for the next four-year term, we made a bee-line to our local community centre to cast our votes. As a compromise to the low ebb of what felt like a failed exam on one hand, balanced by the privilege of being an eligible and eager voter on the other, we succumbed to the convenience of a Swiss Chalet dinner deal. It just felt like one of those nights! But then from there things went sideways …
After dinner we happened to pass by the pet store. In a moment of weakness I convinced Christa that we should sneak a peek, just for kicks. Inside were two parrot cages, each housing green-cheek conures. The one bird was cautious and retiring. The other, a pineapple conure (a variant of the green-cheek), was inquisitive and engaging, sidling up to the edge of the cage as we approached him, beckoning to be spoken to and scratched. Just that little action was the undoing of Christa, and the undoing of our fortified home’s “no-pet” policy.
In no time at all a store consultant materialized out of thin air, offering to take the little guy out of the cage for us to pet. I cautioned Christa to “step away from that ledge”, but by then she already had the feathered pineapple ball in her hand and was stroking him while attempting to avoid his persuasive nibbles. After 15 minutes we reluctantly extracted ourselves from the store. But by then the damage had already been done. Although left behind in the pet store the little feathered creature had already made his mark and crept into our hearts. We were pathetic!
Returning home, and unbeknownst to Christa, I sneakily went online that evening to look for deals on second-hand parrot cages. After all, a new cage was going to set us back almost as much as the bird itself, if we were to venture down this road! In a rare stroke of luck, I found an advertisement that had been posted online only four hours earlier for a cage with accessories at a quarter of the price of a new cage. By midday the following day I had force-fitted the oversized cage and accompanying toys from the online seller into my hatchback vehicle and raced home to set it up before Christa returned from her school day. Since leaving the pet store the previous evening we’d not actually spoken any further about whether we would buy the bird or not. But both of us just knew that the irresponsible inevitability was going to happen, it was just a case of “when”!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Christa respond to something with a childlike shriek of ecstasy as when she arrived home to see the parrot cage set up on our stairway landing. “We’re getting a bird?”, she exclaimed with sheer delight. Just that response made it worthwhile and clear to me that we both wanted to become pet parents. Despite us expecting dinner guests within the hour, Christa grabbed her purse as she welcomed my proposal to dash to the pet store, pay for and secure our new baby for a home-coming the following day.
And that’s how we landed up becoming the proud parents and flock mentors to our baby hand-reared pineapple conure whom we have since named Diego.
Journey with us as we update you in a monthly (or more regularly!) blog feature about doing life with Diego! You can also follow us on social media for more frequent updates and happy snaps of life with the little lad. I’ll be sharing stories with you about how we chose his name, how we’ve created inexpensive toys to keep him entertained, what we’re discovering about his likes and fears, what we’re learning about taming techniques, and how we’re continuing to figure out our Diego-routine. It seems a dog or cat – let alone our fish – might’ve been lower maintenance after all!