Last week I took my elderly cockatoo, Papageno, to the veterinarian. He’d been refusing food and water for the past 24 hours, and I became concerned.
He wasn’t happy about going, naturally. He screamed and shrieked and swore from inside his carrier as I filled out paperwork at the front desk.
“Keep the change, ya filthy animal!” he squawked.
This seemed to upset the receptionist. She wouldn’t smile, and looked as if she mighty burst into tears.
“Sorry about Papageno’s language,” I said to her. “He’s a recent rescue from an abusive home, and gets easily stressed in new situations. I’d hold him, but he’s not ready to be touched yet.”
“It's not his fault,” she said, wiping her eyes with a tissue. “I’m sorry. We’re all a little shaken up today. There’s a family here putting their sick dog down. Becca. The sweetest old girl.
Twenty-two years old.”
“Ah,” I said. “That must never get easier—”
“Bad dog! Bad dog!” Papageno screamed, rattling the carrier door. “Birds go to hell!”
“Use inside voices, please,” I whispered encouragingly to him, but Papageno's rage had no bounds.
“You shut up!” he hollered, pacing back and forth with his crest raised and his feathers fluffed. “Shut up! Do you feel lucky, punk?! Do ya? HELP! HELP!”
“Shh,” I shushed him, again, as the exam room door opened to the lobby.
“Go ahead! Make my day!” he carried on. “Bomb that bird to hell!”
The door shut softly. A man walked past us, holding in his arms a bundle wrapped in a pink blanket with a furry tail sticking out.
He and the woman and child with him were sobbing inconsolably as they crossed the lobby.
Papageno fell suddenly silent. The feathers on his crest slowly lowered. His beak closed, and he stopped pacing.
Only his head moved, turning, following the three figures as they trudged out the front door.
“Take a seat,” the receptionist said. “We’ll call you when it’s your turn.”
Later that night, I tried to make Papageno happy with his favorite foods and treats. The diagnosis had been terminal.
The vet declared there was nothing to be done but be there for him, and soothe him if he seemed in pain.
At midnight, Papageno finally spoke, the first words he’d said since being in the waiting room, hours before.
“Good dog?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “Becca was a very good dog.”
“I’m a good boy?” he said, softly.
“You always were,” I whispered. “Always.”
He climbed down from his wooden perch, slowly, weakly. For the first and last time, my boy settled into my arms, leaning his soft head against my chest, letting me stroke his wing.
He closed his eyes, and was very still.