The Birds Deserved Better

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I work on Saturdays and Sundays. Don’t pity me, though. I make more money for working on Saturdays and Sundays. It pays the bills. I also get the opportunity to listen to some really cool programming on the radio. On Sundays, I listen to The Splendid Table and I get to bring home factoids to my wife (the extraordinary baker and cook) about how to cook pasta without using much water or whether cinnamon can be categorized as “spicy.” On Saturdays, I listen to Snap Judgment, a program where people tell stories.

Recently, I was listening to a Snap Judgment segment called “The Birds” featuring Nikki Moustaki, the author of The Bird Market of Paris. You can listen to this story here:

Because of an interesting series of events, Moustaki ended up with cages and cages full of birds at her apartment. When Hurricane Andrew hit, she waited until the last minute to evacuate, and when she did she was only able to take a few of the younger birds with her. Eventually the coast was clear — well, not really, because she described having to crawl over beached yachts in the middle of the street — and Moustaki returned to her apartment to find twisted cages, drowned bird, and one screaming lovebird. If you don’t know anything about lovebirds, these birds bond either to another bird or to their owner and they bond for life. Moustaki’s lovebird had bonded with her and she had left it to die…

If you know me, you know that at this point in the story I am balling. It is a Saturday afternoon, I’m on my way to work an eight hour shift, there is snow and ice on the road, it is cold as heck, and I can barely see the road for the tears in my eyes. Thankfully, I do not wear mascara, or I would have had an awkward day at work.

Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that I do not agree with what Nikki Moustaki did. I don’t care if most of these birds were gifts or if she acquired them of her own volition — the moment they entered her life and her home they became her responsibility. Those birds died a horrible death and the ones who survived went through unimaginable torture. Someone who allows that kind of harm to happen to creatures that she is tasked to take care of should be in jail, not telling quirky and whistful stories on public radio.

When I think about Moustaki’s love bird screaming in her apartment, the image that comes to mind is my 10-month-old puppy Tiberius making noises of unimaginable anguish in a bent and busted crate, surrounded by water, crumbled apartment bits, and carnage, and it makes me think, “Justin, you can never shirk on your responsibilities like this woman did. That little boy depends on you for everything. What happens to him is on you.”

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Before you start saying, “Oh, Justin, we know you would never do anything like that,” I want you to know that I have done something like that before. My brother once bought an albino rat from Chow Hound and put it in the dropbox at Hollywood Video while I was working there. The rat found a little recess in the concrete DVD depository, but I was able to pull him out with little more than a light nip to my hand. When I brought the rat home, my mom slapped me. She is deathly afraid of rodents, so she didn’t see my actions as charity. Neither would the rat. I was forced to keep the rat in our shed, and over the next week I suffered from a rampant case of “out of sight, out of mind.” I never once fed that rat, and when I first thought to bring some food out to him, my rat was just a pile of ribs covered with a thin layer of skin. The rat I was in charge of had died of starvation, which is probably one of the worst ways to go.

Some of you are going to say it was my brother’s fault for buying the rat and pulling the prank. You’re wrong. I could have returned the rat to Chow Hound. Others might think it was my mother’s fault for not allowing me to keep the rat in the house. You’re wrong. I could have given the rat to a friend or let him loose in the back yard. There’s probably a contingent of people who think it was nobody’s fault — I was just a kid and I didn’t understand the consequences of my actions. I was nineteen years of age when I started working at Hollywood Video, old enough to be charged as an adult for any crime I might be guilty of.

My personal belief is that if you have pets, you need to make sure that each and every pet is able to get to safety in the event of an emergency. If you cannot guarantee that your animals will have at least as good of a chance of surviving a fire, tornado, earthquake, or hurricane, then you need to find another home for that animal. I think this is also the case with children. If you have multiple children, you need to make sure that they have a fair chance at escaping your house during a catastrophic event. This might mean waiting until your first-born is old enough to climb down a ladder until you have your second born. Whatever it takes — your children and your pets are your responsibility. You need to have a plan to get them to safety.

I live on the third floor of an old apartment building with my wife and my dog. If there is a fire that blocks our front door, we would have to climb out our bedroom window and down the fire escape. When Tiberius was a much smaller puppy, my plan was much more simple. I would bust out the screen in the window and help my wife to climb down. After that, I would scoop little Tiber up and place him into my wife’s school backpack, which I would wear on my front side like a baby bjorn. That way if he wiggled himself into a bad situation while we were climbing down the fire escape, I would have more options for stabilizing the situation and I wouldn’t have to rely on my wife’s puppy catching abilities.

Now that Tiberius is much, much bigger, I’m not sure how I’d get him out of the apartment in the event of a fire. I’ve actually spent some time thinking over this issue for the past few days. I know there are dog harnesses that people use instead of attaching a leash to a collar, but could any of those harnesses hold a dog’s entire weight without doing physical harm while a dog is lowered 30-feet to the ground? What of a harness that could bind him tightly to my own chest or back? Does that kind of equipment even exist? I brought this question up to my wife and she matter-of-factly said, “We’ve got a big duffle bag. We could put him in that. It’s even got a strap that you can wrap around you.”

Amy’s solution would work — I know it would — but I still find myself going back to the question. It would work, but is Amy’s solution the best solution? I know I’m not the first person to have a fairly large pet in a residence that is not on the ground floor. How would you, the reader, solve this problem?

This post has been full of meanderings and I’m not sure there’s any uncomplicated way to tie everything together. When you let someone else into your life, everything gets messy. If you’re not responsible with the power you have over them, things get messier still. If you can come up with any conclusions from this mess, I’d be happy to hear them. I just know that Nikki Moustaki’s story on Snap Judgment hit me with a big, wet, mess of emotions and I’m still trying to put them all together.

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